February on the plot
The old countryman’s’ saying ‘February fill dyke’ should prepare us for the sort of weather we can expect in the month ahead. Low water levels have been reported for many of the rivers across the country. So perhaps we should welcome any rain that falls this month.
Hopefully as the days lengthen and the sun climbs higher in the sky the soil will begin to warm up. This is usually from the middle of the month onwards. After this point we can begin think about getting on with the first early sowings and plantings. But always be prepared to garden according to the weather and not to the calendar. Invest in a soil thermometer and consider delaying planting and sowing until the soil reads above 8C over 7 consecutive days. If you are tempted to rush plants and seeds out in to cold soil they will take a check and either rot in the ground or run to seed later in the summer. If it is practical to do, cover the ground with a heavy duty plastic sheet to warm the soil, but always remember to balance any potential growth to the prevailing conditions. Warm feet and a cold head is no good to anyone.
Garlic and shallots are top of the list for planting outdoors followed by a sowing of the hardy round seeded peas. It is often recommended to sow parsnips during February but they can’t tolerate cold, wet soil. Delay sowing until warmer growing conditions arrive. Start to chit the first early potatoes this month and they should be ready for planting out by the middle of March. Aim to produce green shoots that are about 20 cms long before planting the tubers out. Potatoes hate cold soil. If you cover the ground with a sheet to warm it up the seed tubers can be planted and the sheet returned to keep them warm.
February is a good time to dig in green manures. Always allow at least three weeks from digging in to sowing or planting. Pick a dry spell of weather to carry out the operation. This helps to wilt the top growth. First of all cut down the foliage leaving it on the top of the soil to wilt for a couple of days. Then begin the process of turning/inverting the soil to completely bury the foliage and leave the roots exposed to the air. There will be a hot spike of nitrogen in the soil as the green foliage is broken down before the soil is in a safe condition to be used. Try a small test sowing of radish or lettuce using new, fresh seed to see if the soil is ready to go. If there is no germination you will have to repeat this exercise.