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16 October 2014
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Autumn 2001
  Kitchen Garden
  February: start sowing and planting
by Barbara Pilcher February 2002

When we turn the corner into February, and see signs of life resuming in the borders with snowdrops, crocus and hellebores flowering away in spite of the storms, it’s a signal to seedsfinish the seed orders and get cracking on preparations for the coming year. With luck and good management, the greenhouse, propagators and seed trays have been cleaned out and sterilised, seeds and seed compost has been bought in, and we are ready to go!

It’s a good time to seek out some new or old varieties that you haven't tried before as well as the standard vegetables, salads, herbs and associated plants that you want to grow. I'll be growing crimson-flowered broad beans, mange-tout peas of various kinds, climbing French and runner beans, a variety of squash, numerous artichokes and a good many brassicas especially of the cut and come again variety. Among the salads will be my favourite Little Gem and a range of saladini, seedling leaves. And as well as all the usual herbs I'll be trailing a Provencal thyme and an Italian rosemary. From now on I'll be sowing these and at the same time making preparations outside to receive the young plants and for later outdoor sowings.

Potatoes should be already chitting somewhere frost-free in good light, the porch or as cool spare bedroom. My favourite salad types such as the French 'Ratte', second early, and 'Cherie' a development from 'Roseval', last year's favourite salad potato, with Scottish 'Dunluce', a tasty extra early, and 'Picasso', a good maincrop, and a few 'Arran Victory' that great old Scottish blue, late maincrop. These will give me a good range of types and flavours and long period of cropping. Outside I am digging in the compost and manure, and covering with black polythene, so that I'll be able to make the ridges and plant the well-sprouted potatoes in March.

It’s a good time to start leeks and onions from seed - a small electric propagator is ideal for this. Sweet peas pots in propagator(I scratch them carefully with a file before sowing and they come up very quickly) need to be sown now and some early tomatoes. I sow my broad beans in February in individual pots in a little heat. Sowing outside this early is not an option in my cold heavy soil. I get much better germination under cover (just frost free is enough), and I'll have sturdy little plants ready to be planted outside when the soil has warmed up.

So, outside on those fine days we have from time to time, there is much that can be usefully done to prepare the kitchen garden. The garden compost or well-rotted manure can be dug in and do go gently to save your back! It is sensible to start with the rows or beds that you will be planting first. This implies that you have worked out your rotation plan for the season - that is a good task for one of those wet days. I like to allow a minimum of three years before a crop is grown again in the same place and for potatoes a minimum of five years. It needn't be more complicated than that, though you may wish to follow recommendations that brassicas , if you are liming the soil for them, follow rather than precede potatoes in the rotation. And carrots are less liable to fork if you grow them where the soil has been manured the previous year for, say, potatoes. Brassicas and other leafy vegetables do well in the pea or bean row of the previous year as legumes contribute to the nitrogen levels in the soil. So, keep records from year to year and draw up a plan for this year. We know that rotation is worth practising to keep disease levels down and avoid depleting the soil of particular nutrients.

Planting a herb trough| Compost heaps, seakale and rhubarb | Harvesting, drying and storage | Extending the season for fresh herbs | Autumn Kitchen Garden | Winter herbs | February sowing | Soil Preparation | April Kitchen Garden


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