February in the Allotment or Garden

Purple sprouting broccoli in December

by William Brennan from Blarney Park Community Garden and Allotments

As we continue in this Lockdown, please remember to keep you distance and wash or sanitize your hands, cover your mouth and nose with a face covering.

Overview

We get a glimpse of the early signs of the arrival of Spring this month. The soil begins to warm up around the middle of February and we can see for the first time this year the buds beginning to swell on fruit trees and bushes. Overwintering vegetables begin to look less sorry for themselves and they start to produce new growth. These are the signals that it is now safe to think about sowing a row of early, peas and broad beans using a hardy cultivar.

Sowing and Planting

After the middle of the month, it is safe to think about sowing the seeds of early vegetables. Prepare a seed bed and sow Spring onion, early short horn carrots, early types of lettuce, try a cut and come again it saves on time waiting for a heart to form. It may be too early to make a start in the colder areas of the country but try sowing of parsnip seed if you really want large roots but use a canker resistant cultivar.

Garlic Bulbs

February is the best month to plant out garlic and shallots. Prepare the ground as you would a seed bed and plant using a trowel don’t push the bulbs into the soil. Plant the garlic cloves about 2ins/5cms deep and leave the tips of the shallot bulbs just at the soil surface. The birds will pull one or two out leaving them lying on the ground. Replant them as soon as possible the birds will quickly lose interest.

General

  • Top dress all of the fruit trees and soft fruit bushes with a general fertiliser at the recommended application rate. At the same time top dress the rest of the plot with a general fertiliser as land becomes available.
  • Check over any fruit trees and bushes for damage and disease problems and take appropriate action.
  • Check over any fruit trees and bushes for damage and disease problems and take appropriate action.
  • Prune late/autumn fruiting raspberries down as low as possible and mulch around them. Tip back summer fruiting back to around 6ft/1.9mts to encourage the development of fruiting side growths.
  • Complete any outstanding winter pruning of soft fruit bushes cutting out down to soil level the older dark stemmed shoots of blackcurrants.
  • Cover the soil with cloches or sheets of plastic to warm it up in readiness for the next batch of sowing and planting. Don’t overdo it little and often is the plan over the coming weeks.
  • Check over the chitting potatoes and begin to rub off any eyes that are unwanted leaving three or four well-spaced shoots. Keep some fleece or newspapers nearby to cover them up on starry, frosty nights you don’t want to run the risk of losing them at this late date.
  • Keep checking frequently on the condition of any produce in store it will begin to wake up after its winter dormancy and start to regrow.

Vegetable Growing Guide for February

February, being the last of the winter months, ften has a sting and ends up being the coldest month. So, more than any other month, this one you need to play according to local conditions. It’s best to hold off than try to sow in waterlogged, near frozen ground that will most likely rot any seeds. Watch out for good weather in early February, in my experience it means the end of the month will be wicked.

Sowing & Planting in February on the Vegetable Plot

The seed potatoes should be with you by now but it’s too early to plant outside so I’d chit them. Chitting is the process of pre-sprouting before planting. Some authorities say it benefits maincrops but not earlies, some say it’s of no benefit and some it is of benefit to all types.

When you get your seed potatoes you put them in a cool but frost-free place where they get some light but not direct sunlight. The potatoes will then grow short stubby shoots to get them off to a fast start when planted out.

Chitting potatoes in a cool spare bedroom with a north facing window
Onion seedlings started in modules in an unheated greenhouse

Some people suggest rubbing off all but three shoots to help get larger potatoes with the maincrops. I don’t do this myself – knowing my luck I’d lose the remaining three at planting!

If the weather allows, you can direct sow your broad beans in February along with early peas such as “Feltham First” and “Meteor” for a May / June harvest. This early in the year your best chance would be to start your peas in the greenhouse or a cold frame and plant later.

Conventional advice is often to sow parsnips now, but I believe their reputation for poor germination rates is due to being placed in cold wet soil and I have had much better germination rates by sowing in March or even April.

Jerusalem artichokes and shallots can be planted now, although shallots will benefit from covering with a cloche.

Under Cover in Greenhouse, Cold frame and Polytunnel

If you have a greenhouse, you can get an early crop of lettuce, rocket and radish away in there. You can utilise cloches outdoors, but success will be more dependent on the weather.

Time to sow your summer cabbages such as “Greyhound” and “Primo”, as well as turnips and spinach.

Onions from seed should be started now. They need about 15 degrees C to get them going so you may be best using the windowsill in a cool room to start them off.

With a heated propagator or using windowsills you can start off aubergine and peppers, chillies, and tomatoes. I have often found better results by waiting until March, which I put down to day length, but many people feel this is the right time.

As I said for January, the big problem at this time of year is available light. Covering cardboard with aluminium foil and standing it to the north side of the seed tray will reflect extra light and help prevent leggy, drawn seedlings without the expense of special horticultural lights.

Fruit

Planting & Pruning

There is still time to finish planting fruit trees and bushes, especially raspberries and other cane fruits.

Early this month you can prune apple and pear trees while they are still dormant. It’s also time to prune gooseberries and currants. With currants shorten the side-shoots to just one bud and remove old stems from the centre of the bushes.

Protection & Forcing

If you are in a sheltered area and grow early flowering fruit trees like nectarines, peaches, and apricots, protect the flowers with horticultural fleece against frost. You can also use old net curtains for this job.

Forcing Rhubarb

Rhubarb forcing pot and manure to insulate

Rhubarb can be forced for an early crop of the sweetest stalks. Just cover a crown or two with large buckets or even an upturned black bin and insulate the outside with straw or manure for added heat. The stalks will grow in the dark.

The drawback is that this takes a lot out of the crown and it won’t recover for a couple of years.

In years gone by there were specialist forcing pots for this task but a large one like the one in the picture with a lid could set you back €60!

The professional growers in the famous Rhubarb Triangle dig up their crowns and take them into huge dark warm sheds to produce forced rhubarb. Once the season ends these exhausted crowns are discarded as it will take them longer to recover than to grow new crowns.

General Jobs on the Plot

If you have finished all the major tasks, such as digging over, creating leaf mould heaps, etc you will not have a lot to do in February but if like most of us you are scrambling to keep up, this is your last chance before spring.

Double check the greenhouse, ensure the glass is firmly secured and replace any cracked panes, etc. If you’ve not managed to give it a thorough clean, now is the time before it is pressed into service.

Check last year’s potato bed for any volunteers (left over small potatoes) and remove them to avoid passing on disease problems and blight.

You’re going to be using your pots and seed trays next, so this is a good opportunity to wash out and sterilise them so your seedlings will get off to the best possible start.

This year’s potato bed will benefit from a good application of compost or rotted manure that can be forked in or rotavated in to get them away.

You can cover soil with dark plastic sheeting, fleece or cloches to warm it up for a couple of weeks before you start to sow and plant.

Harvest

Leeks may well be standing ready but if a long freeze seems likely you can dig some up and heel them in to dug ground for easy access – unless we have deep snow!

Parsnips and swedes in the ground can come up when you are ready, cover with fleece or straw to stop them freezing solid into the ground.

The cabbage family should be providing some sustenance with early purple sprouting broccoli, kale and Brussels sprouts still being available. Beet leaves (perpetual spinach) and chards may be available.

Other crops you may have are chicory, endive, celeriac, celery and Jerusalem artichokes.

Enjoy the New Season starting.  Stay Safe!