We are now into the New Year and looking forward to a new growing season. Some gardeners will have started by sowing their onions traditionally on Boxing day but its not too late to sow them now through to early February to obtain good strong plants for growing on for showing or the kitchen garden.
January is a good time to clean propagators, ideally washing with warm soapy water. Check that the thermostat is working by using a good quality maximum and minimum thermometer.
Propagators that contain young plants need a daily wipe off to remove unwanted condensation. Ventilate cold frames on warm days to give plants a change of air as this will help to stop them growing soft or succumbing to Botrytis (grey mould).
Clean and sterilise the greenhouse and insulate with bubble plastic, taking care not to restrict ventilators as it is vital at this time of year to ventilate whenever possible. Plants need much light therefore ensure that the glass is kept clean by regular washing. Check the greenhouse heaters are working properly using a good quality maximum and minimum thermometer.
If you did not finish your winter digging before Christmas, there is still time, weather permitting, as heavy soils will benefit from weathering by frost and rain.
| February |
In February, we can start to plan for the growing season, by doing things in the potting shed and the greenhouse to get vegetable production off to a good start.
To get a good crop of potatoes you should start them into growth now. To do this place them in seed box's or egg cartons with eye's uppermost, this is where shoots develop, (this is known as chitting) place the trays in a cool, frost free place, ideally around 5 to 10°C with plenty of light but not direct sunlight. Four weeks before planting, water the tubers at regular intervals with a diluted mix of seaweed extract.
Shallots can be planted now until the end of March, but the soil must be fairly dry and warm, ideally above 5°C, covering the soil with polythene or fleece 2 weeks before planting will help. When planting, don't push the bulbs into the ground as this will compact the soil, dig a small hole and put the bulb in leaving the tip showing, plant 225mm apart in rows 300mm apart. Well dug fertile soil in full sun yields the best results, if you didn't manure the soil the previous autumn rake in pelleted chicken manure before planting.
February is the time to sow summer cabbage and onions can also be sown under cover in multi cell trays, harden off before planting. Towards the end of the month you can start in the greenhouse by sowing tomatoes, peppers and aubergines, sow the seeds in small pots, cover with a fine layer of sieved compost and keep evenly moist, a fairly high temperature is 18-21°C to give good germination.
| March |
March is the month when sowing starts to get under way, but if your soil is still too wet or it is cold, warm it up with cloches, fleece or black plastic, and delay sowing or you could be wasting your time and expensive seed. Use a soil thermometer to confirm the soil temperature.
In the greenhouse, it is now time to sow tomatoes, peppers and aubergines, if you have not already done so, plus sweet chillies and indoor cucumbers. Sow the seeds in small 75mm pots, cover with a fine layer of sieved compost and keep evenly moist, a fairly high temperature of 18 to 21°C is needed to give good germination.
Early varieties of cauliflowers calabrese, can be sown in a seed bed but they often do better if sown in small 75mm pots or in modules in a cold frame or cool greenhouse. Self-blanching celery and celeriac can be sown in 75mm pots in a heated propagator or in a heated greenhouse. Sow lettuce in modules every two weeks to have a continuous supply throughout the growing season, and plant them out 300mm apart when large enough after hardening them off.
Outdoors we can still sow broad beans in double rows, spacing the beans 200mm apart. Sow leeks in a seedbed 300mm deep, in short rows about 200mm apart, giving them plenty of space to develop if you intend to plant them where you grew your early potatoes. Now is the time to sow parsnips 12mm deep. I sow them 3 seeds every 100mm and thin them out when they are big enough to handle. Parsnips take a long time to germinate, at least 3 weeks, but you can cover them with fleece or cloches to warm the soil and hasten germination.
Brussels sprouts and summer cabbages can be sown into a seedbed that has been raked smooth, sowing them 12mm deep towards the end of this month. Alternatively, sow two seeds in a small pot thinning to the strongest and allowing them to grow on under cover until they are ready to transplant, not forgetting to harden them off before planting out.
Sow peas in a flat bottom drill. I use a hoe to make a drill about 150mm wide and 50mm deep and then space seeds 75mm each way allowing the height of the peas between rows if sowing more then one row. Now is the time to plant early potatoes if the soil is workable. Plant the tubers 300mm apart, in rows 600mm apart. I normally make a trench with a spade and fork in some manure and set the tubers 150mm deep, sprinkling slug pellets in the trench to keep down the slugs.
| April |
April is a busy month in the gardener's calendar, when the sowing of vegetables really gets under way.
Outdoors start sowing early Carrots and turnips, sow very thinly 15mm deep and allow 300mm between rows. It is a good idea to cover with carrots with fleece or fine netting when they appear, to avoid the dreaded carrot fly. brussels sprouts, cabbages, cauliflower's and calabrese can be sown into a seed bed 15mm deep towards the end of the month, alternatively sow 2 seeds into a 75mm pot and grow undercover thinning to one seedling allowing the strongest to grow on, and transplant in May.
Beetroot can be sown direct into the ground, I prefer bolt-resistant varieties. Sow in rows 25mm deep and 300mm apart, sow very thinly to avoid having to thin or sow two or three seeds every 100mm. Sow leeks in a seed bed 15mm deep in short rows 200mm apart with plenty of room to develop.
There is still time to sow spring varieties of broad bean, sow in double rows 200mm apart with 600mm between the double rows; it is a good idea to a few extra seeds at the end of each row to fill in any gaps. Start sowing peas, sow from now to early June for succession. I make a drill 150mm wide and 50mm deep by using a hoe. Put the seeds in 3 rows, staggered, spacing the seeds 50mm apart. If sowing more than one row, space them well apart.
Start regular sowings of radishes in the seedbed in small quantities, sowing them 15mm deep, 300mm apart. Sow spinach thinly, 25mm deep, 300mm between rows.
Indoors, start sowing aubergines, indoor cucumbers, outdoor tomatoes, and capsicums both sweet/chilli, sowing two seeds in small pots, 15mm deep before putting into a heated propagator, or on a warm window sill, but keep checking them daily as you will be surprised at how quick they can germinate. Self-blanching celery and celeriac can be sown in pots in modules in a heated propagator.
| May |
May is the month we are able to start sowing the tender crops, such as french beans, and courgettes, direct in the place you want them to grow outdoors. Its a chance to 'catch up', particularly if you were not able to start lots of vegetables in the greenhouse last month. If like me you only have a small greenhouse that you can keep heated to a temperature of around 15°C, then you are limited to the amount you can raise under glass.
Now is the time to prepare a seed bed and sow seeds for winter cabbages such as 'January King' or 'Tundra'. Sow quite thinly and be ready to transplant them to their position in July.
Sow courgette's, marrow's, pumpkin's, squash's & ridge type cucumber's.
Sow two seed per station outside from about the middle of the month. Remember to sow the seeds on their sides to avoid them rotting before they germinate. Bury a plastic lemonade bottle either side of them, neck down with the bottom cut off, to aid watering & feeding later in the season. Cover seeds with a cloche, remove it during the day, replacing it at night until the plant has hardened off.
Sow both french & runner beans, these can be sown outside from about the middle of the month. It's a good idea to rake in a general fertiliser and to warm the soil with a covering of fleece, or cloches, two weeks before sowing. Sow french beans 250mm apart in rows 250mm apart and sow a few seeds at the end of the rows for spares to fill in any gaps, as slugs will always steal a few of the emerging beans. For runner beans, sow two seeds at the base of each cane.
Many herbs can be sown directly outdoors this month, borage, chervil, dill, fennel, coriander and even basil in a warm sheltered spot.
| June |
In most parts of the country, June should be free of frosts but in the North of England it pays to keep an eye on the weather forecast.
Now is the time to plant out those tender crops, that were raised in the greenhouse, but before you do, don't forget to harden them off by slowly introducing them to the outdoor environment. This you can do by putting the trays and pots out during the day and taking them back indoors at night for several days eventually leaving them out over night to acclimatise them. When planted out, many will benefit from an extra protection of fleece, this will reward you with stronger plants and therefore better results at harvest time.
Plant out runner beans, sweetcorn, courgettes, melons, and tomatoes, which have all been hardened off. Transplant broccoli, spacing them 450mm apart and fit collars around the base of each plant - these can be made out of old felt to stop the dreaded cabbage root fly. Transplant brussels sprouts 600mm apart each way. Kale can be transplanted 450mm apart.
Leeks should be ready to put out. Make holes at least 150mm deep and simply drop seedling into each hole, gently fill the hole with water to bed in the roots, do not back fill the holes. I like to trim the tops and roots of the seedlings by a third, this helps to keep the tops from laying on the surface of the soil and the roots lay well in the bottom of the hole making sure they are well down and not turned back on themselves. Space each leek 150mm apart, 300mm between rows.
Continue to sow direct into their growing positions, crops such as carrots and beetroot, in rows 15mm deep, allowing 300mm between rows.
Sow marrow's, pumpkins and squashes where you want them to grow, sowing the seed on its side, 25mm deep. Keep sowing short rows of radishes and lettuces for summer salads, sow thinly, 15mm deep. Thin lettuce, 300mm apart
There is still time to sow a late crop of runner beans, sow 2 or 3 seeds at the base of each cane about 20mm deep, thin to two plants, likewise continue to sow french beans 250mm apart in staggered rows, 250mm apart.
Sow swedes 15mm deep, in rows 300mm apart. Thin gradually to leave 200mm between plants, choosing an open sunny site for best results.
| July |
Make your final sowing of early peas, which should mature by the end of September. There is still time to make a further sowing of french beans for good crops into the autumn. Keep all sowings well watered until plants become established, as growth can be very rapid this time of the year.
Check your potatoes for the dreaded potato blight, which can be a problem, particularly in wet damp weather. Apply a suitable fungicide such as Dithane 945 every two weeks if in doubt. As cauliflower's start to form their curds, break a few leaves over the curd to protect them from the sun, to keep the curd white.
Continue to make further sowings of salad cultivars such as lettuce, radish, beetroot, carrots and turnips. Sow also winter radish for use from October, at the end of the month. Water drills before sowing.
Thin carrots and beetroot as they start to fill out. Those remaining in the rows will benefit from the extra space, ensuring to back fill any holes to deter the dreaded carrot fly.
A lot of vegetables are ready for harvesting this month so keep your eye on them as they can soon be past their best. Don't forget to hoe whenever possible. I try never to let a week go by without giving the plot a good hoe as one years seeds gives 7 years weeds!
Pinch out the side shoots of cordon tomatoes (not bush types) and look out for potato blight as you work, as it also attacks tomatoes. Apply a suitable fungicide such as Dithane 945 every two weeks, if in doubt.
After watering the runner beans, mulch along each side of the row, before the soil dries out, with lawn cuttings or compost, to help conserve moisture in hot dry spells.
| August |
Continue to harvest crops particularly french & runner beans. If old beans are left on the plant, they will stop producing any more flowers, so ensure they are all removed. Make sure marrows and courgettes do not go short of water, courgettes will also need to be harvested to keep the plant producing.
Keep planting out leeks, sprouts, late cabbage and cauliflower plants as space becomes available. If caterpillars or white fly are seen on any brassicas, spray immediately with an insecticide. SB plant invigorator is a good environmentally friendly growth stimulant and pesticide.
Sow winter salad crops such as corn salad, land cress and winter radish. These should all be ready to harvest from the end of October.
Sow spring cabbage for planting in late autumn.
Where early potato foliage has died back the crop can be lifted. Let the tubers dry in the sun before putting them in paper sacks to store. Make sure they are kept in a dark, but dry place otherwise they will turn green or start to rot. Blanch celery with 300mm wide black builder's damp course plastic. Beware of slugs, as they love celery.
Japanese onion seed can be sown this month. Take out a shallow drill 300mm apart, if soil is dry, water drills before sowing. Sow the seeds as thinly as possible, young seedlings do not transplant well, sowing too thickly leads to waste.
Winter lettuce for growing in the greenhouse can be sown now in trays of multi-compost.
| September |
Towards the end of September is the time to plant Japanese onion sets, this will give them time to establish before the cold weather sets in. Good well-drained soil is required if you want good solid onions.
Lift main crop carrots, cutting off the tops. Use split roots as soon as possible, store other roots in layers of sand in seed boxes and keep in a frost- free shed at around 5 to 10°C. Lift beetroot when they are the size of cricket balls and store in the same way.
All outdoor tomatoes and marrow's should be gathered in, before frost damage occurs. Well ripened (yellow) marrows can keep until Easter in a frost-free place, ideally between 5 to 10°C.
Brussels sprouts, which are not cropping well, can be given a liquid feed. It is a good idea to stake tall plants against winter winds.
Cloches need to be cleaned ready to protect a variety of winter crops including lettuce, spring cabbage, carrots and broad beans.
Where land is cleared of crops, sow a quick growing green manure and dig in before it flowers, this builds up humus in the soil and stops excess fertilisers not used by crops, from leaching away with the winter rain.
| October |
Plant new potatoes. If you want new potatoes for Christmas and the New Year then now is the time to plant some tubers. Select healthy tubers of early cultivators. Any that have started to sprout, even if they have long white sprouts and are soft, are ideal. Plant them in 250mm pots or black plastic sacks. Stand the tubers on a thick layer of compost or good garden soil, then cover them with more of the same, keeping them moist. As the shoots grow, continue to cover them with compost until the top of the container is reached. If you are using plastic sacks, roll the sides down and keep unrolling as you add compost. Keep the compost moist and feed regularly.
Dig the plot over as ground becomes vacant as you clear crops. Draw up plans for next years cropping, not forgetting crop rotation.
Its important to lift potatoes before the end of the month as the black keel slugs get going in November. Allow them to dry off and store in hessian or paper sacks (never in plastic).
Pick green tomatoes, great for making green tomato chutney.
Cloches can prolong the cropping season at both ends of the year. Cover lettuces, french beans, dwarf beans and any potatoes planted in July or August.
In mild areas, sow early peas (choose round seeded cultivators) and winter lettuce. Cover with cloches later.
Lift both beetroot and carrots, twist off the tops, and store both in hessian or paper sacks or boxes
| November |
Collect the autumn leaves, (not evergreen leaves) and either put them on a compost heap, or into black bin liners with several holes poked into them, they will rot down and make an excellent compost, Don't let them collect on the lawn as this can result in weak and yellow turf. The black bag technique should only be used on leaves. With other plant material you would just get a smelly, slimly, useless mess.
Sow broad beans. If you live in a mild area of the country, a November sowing of broad beans will usually give a very early crop from May onwards the following year. Soil that has been deeply dug and well drained is essential. Before sowing apply a general fertiliser and sow seeds 50mm deep and 200mm apart in a double row. Cloche protection will prove beneficial.
Continue winter digging, especially on clay soils. Sandy soil is best left until spring. Spread manure on the surface leaving the worms to take it down over the winter. Then when spring arrives all your soil needs is raking or lightly forking over.
Autumn is a good time to check soil pH. This is measured on a scale of 1 to 14 with 7 being regarded as neutral. For most gardening plants 6.5 is considered ideal. If you have a digital pH meter, make a slurry before testing, by mixing a handful of soil with 200ml of water. It is good idea to take several samples before deciding on any remedial action.
November is the time to take hardwood cuttings of soft fruit - gooseberries, red, white and blackcurrants. All can be propagated by inserting cuttings into the open ground now. Choose sturdy well-ripened shoots of this years growth, cutting them just below a bud and trimming to just above a bud. For blackcurrants take them about 250mm long, 350mm for all other fruits. Insert them into the soil to half their length. For blackcurrants leave all the buds on the cutting. On other fruits remove all the buds on the lower part of the cutting so they grow on a short stem.
| December |
Onions sown late in December will make good plants, benefiting from a longer growing period. Sow them in seed boxes in the greenhouse, ideally in a propagator, or you can use a cold frame if they can be kept frost free. Remember that a little winter sun can raise the heat in cold frames to unacceptable levels, so pay close attention to give ventilation as and when required.
Lift celery, parsnips and swedes before the ground becomes frozen, although parsnips and swedes are very hardy and can be left in the ground. Leeks are much better harvested as required, but in frosty weather this can be difficult. Lift a few and heel them into freshly dug soil, to ensure they do not freeze solid.
Plant and prune soft fruit, apples and pears. Fruit trees in grass can be given an application of nitrogenous fertiliser.
Stake tall brussel sprouts, put the stake on the windward side and tie the plant to it.
Plant shallots outside when the soil is capable of being worked, or alternatively you can plant them in pots, the shortest day of the year is traditionally the time to plant them.
Prepare a bean trench by digging a trench 600mm wide and 450mm deep. Line the base with newspapers, 50mm thick on sandy soil, then add manure, garden compost and green kitchen waste.
Put your feet up and browse next years seed catalogues.