What's in season: February
It's often pretty cold outside at this time of year. But if you're longing to do a bit of gardening then pruning, harvesting root veg and organising your tools are all worthwhile jobs for brighter days.
On greyer days, why not turn your thoughts to spring and create a crop rotation plan for your veg patch?
To help you make the most of the season, we've asked our gardeners and chefs to share their tips and favourite recipes.
There are lots of gardening jobs to keep you busy in February. Now is normally a good time to prune your rose bushes (before they start to leaf) and fruit trees if you haven't done so already. It's also a good idea to remove the dead fronds on your fern trees to tidy them up and stop them smothering other emerging plants.
If you're a fan of snowdrops, you can create your own winter wonderland next year by getting pots of plants that have finished flowering and planting them out. You may also be tempted to turn over your vegetable patch, but our gardeners would advise doing this when the soil isn't wet.
It's also the perfect time of year to tuck into warming soups, hot pots and stews packed with seasonal veg. What better way to reward yourself after a few hours out gardening on a crisp winter's day?
Vegetables to harvest and buy
- Brussel sprouts
- Spring green cabbage
- Savoy cabbage
This month it's all about carrots
Garden carrots are a domesticated form of a wild carrot native to Iran and Afghanistan.
Like many of our edible crops, carrots have changed greatly through centuries of cultivation. Wild carrots were much smaller and purple in colour and it wasn’t until around the 16th century that Dutch growers favoured orange carrots through selective breeding.
Carrots didn’t arrive in Britain until Elizabethan times but quickly became a popular part of the diet. We now eat around 10 billion carrots a year.
One of the great benefits of carrots is that they are available all year round. They are also eaten all over the world and can be adapted to a wide range of cuisines, both savoury and sweet, from soups to cakes.
Carrots are also really good for us. They are considered a ‘superfood’ due to their rich source of beta-carotene and vitamins. The common belief that carrots improve eyesight has an element of truth in it because beta-carotene is important for producing vitamin A, which is essential for healthy eyes. Unfortunately, eating large numbers of carrots won’t help you see in the dark.
Like potatoes, carrots are often referred to as early or main-crop varieties. Earlies can be sown from March but will need some protection from cold and frosts. It's more common to sow carrots between April and June, as the warmer weather makes the crops less vulnerable.
Harvesting begins in June or July and continues right through to winter. Carrots like well-drained sandy soil and many small-scale growers choose to grow them in tall containers to give them just the right soil conditions. The variety Chantenay, which originated in France in the mid-19th century, is often grown in this way and can be harvested in less than three months after sowing.
Harvesting in the garden
The versatile leek can be used to liven up all sorts of dishes. Make sure you clean carefully, removing soil from between the leaf layers.
Parsnips can be picked throughout the winter for a tasty soup or roast. It’s a good idea to pick a few for storage in case frozen soil makes harvesting impossible when you need them.
Sprouts are not just for Christmas and can be harvested as needed throughout the winter. They taste best after the first frost and should be picked from the bottom of the stalk upwards.
Most herbs are too tender to survive winter outdoors, but there are few hardy varieties. Sage, thyme, tarragon, bay and rosemary can all be grown outside, preferably close to the kitchen door for easy access.
Preparing for spring
As days get longer and soil temperatures begin to rise, it’s time to prepare for the growing season ahead. If you’re starting out with a new garden or allotment, time spent planning and designing will pay dividends later when it comes to laying out and planting.
Layout and plant choices
- Start by planning paths and physical features, then trees, shrubs and plants.
- Remember to allow space for composting, water collection, storage and wildlife havens.
- Once you’ve decided on the layout, it’s time to think about plants. It’s important to think about both spatial and seasonal planning. For example, a vegetable plot needs to spread the workload and give a continuous supply of produce whereas an ornamental garden should provide interest throughout the seasons.
- There are lots of books and information sources online to help you draw up a list of plants that meet your garden's conditions and design requirements. These guides also help source the chosen species and cultivars.
- It’s useful to produce a simple diary so that plants can be ordered and sown in good time. This planned approach is better than impulsive window shopping for whatever is looking good at the time at garden centres, particularly for plants that flower later in the year.
- Remember also to buy peat-free plants and growing soil to protect precious peatland landscapes.
For established gardens, it’s often best to propagate plants from existing ones. If you didn’t get around to lifting and dividing perennials in the autumn, late winter is also a suitable time to do this. It’s an effective and cost-free way to help fill your borders with plants. By swapping cuttings with your neighbours, you can also bring in new varieties and connect with fellow gardeners.
Looking after wildlife
Birds are also getting restless in anticipation of spring, and many species start looking for nesting sites from March onwards. Now’s the time to put out new boxes for both solitary and communal nesters such as house sparrows.