So, we’ve made it to February and Spring is approaching. The days are getting noticeably longer, the sap in plants is starting to rise, buds are beginning to swell and, most cheering of all, spring bulbs are appearing and snowdrops are already in flower. On mild days, too, the birds are starting to sing but it can still be very cold, grey and wet, so now’s the time to prepare for next month, when the gardening year really starts.
2021 has been designated by the UN as the International Year of Fruit and Vegetables, so there’s never been a better time to start growing your own. There’s the double bonus of the delicious taste of your own home-grown produce, as well as all the physical and mental health benefits of gardening.
Start by preparing the vegetable seed beds, by digging over the soil and raking it to a nice fine tilth. Some gardeners like to cover the surface with a fleece, which will warm the soil slightly, prior to sowing seeds when conditions are a bit better.
Growing from seed is easy to do, but plan ahead which vegetables to grow, and also when to sow throughout the year, which helps prevent both gluts and shortages. So, for example, when growing lettuce, radishes, carrots and beetroots, plan to sow small amounts on a regular basis.
If space permits, consider using a cold frame or perhaps a Gro-zone Max poly tunnel, or a Gro-zone cloche, all readily available, as all these will extend the growing season and provide excellent frost insulation. They will be useful for germinating seeds, propagating plants and giving extra warmth and protection when growing tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, aubergines and melons, i.e. all the plants which need warmer growing conditions.
There’s a wide range of seed potatoes available to suit the requirements of any cook, so whether for salads, boiling, baking, mashing, roasting, choose from First early, Second early or Maincrop potatoes. The first and second early crops, as the name suggests, will be ready to harvest earlier than Maincrop potatoes, i.e. in July and August, and the flavours are wonderful.
Now is the time to ‘chit’ potatoes, which just means encouraging them to produce 4 to 5 strong sturdy shoots before being planted out in March and April. To chit potatoes, place the seed potatoes in a clean seed tray lined with newspaper, or else place them in empty egg boxes, with the tiny buds facing upwards. Then stand your seed tray or egg boxes in a warm, bright position where they’ll receive a reasonable amount of light.
A bright, frost-free spot like a bright garage, shed or spare bedroom windowsill, is ideal. If it’s too shady, the shoots tend to be long and spindly and will produce weaker plants. When the shoots are approximately 2.5cm-4cm long(1 –1.5 inches) the potato tubers are ‘chitted’. This normally takes about 6 weeks so they’ll be ready to plant out from mid-March to Aprilonwards, depending on whether your variety is early or maincrop.
If you have well-drained soil, now is a good time to plant onion and shallot sets. However, after the damp, wet winter we’ve had, it would be better to plant them in modular seed trays, which you then place in a cold frame in a sheltered spot outside to start them into growth, and then plant out when conditions improve. It’s probably best to also do the same with broad bean seeds, which can normally be sown in furrows outside in February - but this year, start them off in trays because sowing them straight into cold wet soil can lead to early seed rotting.
Chilli seeds can also be sown now, as they require a long growing season to produce a good crop, so the quicker you can get them going, the better your crop will be. They need warmth to germinate, which means a heated propagator or a warm kitchen windowsill, and after that, a bright and warm position to grow – if it’s too cold, this will stunt and damage growth.
Don’t forget with just a bright kitchen windowsill, you can grow a quick crop of micro-leaves or cress seeds for some early fresh veg - and a vitamin boost!
They can be sown using a small propagator with lids and trays which
are very useful to fit on windowsills.
We have a great range of summer flowering tubers and bulbs available now. Dahlias are stunning, and come in a wide range of colours and flower sizes, from golf-ball size to blooms the size of dinner plates! The flowers can be single, double, cactus or waterlily types, even anemone shaped. These are plants for all positions in the garden, be it in pots or borders, and will flower from July to the early frosts, giving 5 months of brilliant colour throughout summer and into autumn. They make stunning cut flowers for the house too!
Focus on Ficus
When the weather is too cold and wet to go outside, Houseplants could be the answer, and Ficus, as a beautiful, easy-to-grow plant cannot be beaten. Ficus is a member of the Mulberry and Fig family which includes some 850 species of trees, shrubs and vines growing in tropical regions throughout the world. The Ficus family includes f.benjamina, f.robusta, (aka rubber plant), the large-leaved f.lyrata which is becoming increasingly popular, and the tiny-leaved creeping fig, f.pumila. It’s hard to believe that all these varieties come from the same family. They enjoy temperatures between 15C and 24C, a bright spot with indirect sunlight and, as with most houseplants, they do not like to be overwatered. Some misting with a spray bottle of water is helpful, and the Ficus can be fed in the winter once a month, and every 2 weeks in the summer. Leaf drop, which is normally due to a sudden change in temperature, cold draughts, and overwatering, is sometimes a problem, and your Ficus will not like being moved around too much, especially if you have found a spot it thrives in!
Plants and gardening bring us all together in these very disturbing and uncertain times, and the Van Hage team are always happy to help with any gardening questions, and to provide ideas and inspiration for your growing success. Be it in the garden, on a balcony, inside the house or growing your own fruit and vegetables, we’re here to help.
The Van Hage team