January

Harvest sprouting broccoli, Brussels sprouts, Jerusalem artichokes and leeks. Parsnips, swede, celeriac and turnips can still be harvested. Parsnips improve in flavour with a touch of frost, but other root vegetables are better harvested earlier in the winter, so that they are safe from frost and easily accessible for the kitchen. They can be stored in the shed, or in a shallow trench, covered to protect from frost.

Stake or earth up Brussels sprouts stalks that look leggy and vulnerable to wind rock. Pick the biggest sprouts from low down the stalks first.

Chicory and seakale can be forced. Dig up selected chicory roots, pot them up, and position them in a dark warm place (10-13°C/50-55°F), with an upturned pot over them. The tasty chicons will appear in three to six weeks. Seakale is best forced outside at seasonal temperatures, with an upturned pot or cardboard box/tube over the top to exclude the light.

Plan a rotation system for vegetable plots to ensure the same crops are not grown in the same beds year after year to help prevent disease build-up.

In mild areas, sow broad beans in pots, placing them in a cold frame or unheated greenhouse. These will be ready for planting out in spring.

Other crops can also be germinated in pots on the windowsill, and then grown on in the greenhouse or frame for planting out in February. This should result in early crops next year. Lettuces, summer brassicas (e.g. cabbages and cauliflowers), radishes, tiny round carrots, spinach, salad onions and turnips are all suitable.

Onions from seed need a long growing season, and you could sow them now in a heated propagator, for planting out in March.

The mildest south-west regions of the country could get away with sowing seed directly into the ground - if the winter is mild, and the ground has been covered for the previous few weeks. Tunnel cloches or polythene sheeting are ideal covers. Lettuces, radishes, early peas, broad beans, spinach and salad onions could work from such early sowings.

Dig over and incorporate soil improvers into vacant areas of the vegetable plot. You can cover these areas with thick polythene to keep the soil dry and make it easier to work in the spring - particularly useful for heavy clay soils. Clear polythene will increase the soil temperature, enabling earlier sowings in spring. Black polythene will suppress weeds.

If the weather is reliably dry and frosty, then heavy soils can benefit from being left exposed - the frosts will kill pests and improve soil structure by the continual freezing and thawing of soil water.

Save egg boxes as they will come in handy for potato chitting next month. Source your seed potatoes if you have not already done so.

When gardening on wet soils work from a plank of wood, rather than treading on the bed, to avoid compacting the soil.

Improve the drainage of heavy soils by working in lots of organic matter. Grit will only be effective when used in conjunction with organic matter.

Material Courtesy of www.rhs.org.uk

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