February brings the tipping point between winter and early spring when the days become long enough and the sun strong enough to see plants undercover start to grow. It means serious sowing and planting can begin.

vegetablesSow and Plant

Sow out undercover (in pots or pitches):  tomatoes, chillies, aubergines, spring onions, lettuce, kohl rabi, сalabrese, sugar peas, summer cabbage, spring onions.

Sow on the veg plot (in pots or pitches): onions, broad beans, early peas, celery, celeriac. Sow direct undercover: radish, sugar peas, annual spinach, culling salads (leaf lettuce, rocket, cress, asian greens), carrots.

Plant undercover: Early potatoes

Sow crops such as radish, spinach and cutting salads directly in the polytunnel border.

Covering with clear polythene will warm the soil and help speedy germination.

Harvest

Winter salads (chicories, oriental greens, Iambs lettuce, claytonia spring onions), spinach, chard, spring onions, parsley.

A Colourful Harvest

The cold weather has one edge it deepens the red/purple colour in overwintered leafy crops, so homegrown salads pot look sensational. As well as red chicories, there are purple mizunas, purple pak chois and both plain and feathery reddish mustards (‘Giant Red’ and ‘Red frills’). If you haven’t grown any of these this year, add a few to your sowing list for the fall.lettuce

Don’t be in a hurry to pull up any overwintering leafy crops, even if they look scrappy. Instead, remove diseased and yellowing leaves, and weed between plants while you have chance. They have had time to make strong root systems and should put on plenty of growth before bolting – much more than their spring sown counterparts to give you several more weeks of harvesting.

Clean up overwintered crops – weed between them and remove diseased leaves before vigorous growth begins.

Sowing Priorities

Warmth makes all the difference to seed germination, so make the most of any heated space. The tender crops which benefit most from early sowing are the slow-growing ones such as peppers, chillies and aubergines. Tomatoes can wait until the beginning of next month if necessary.

Large seeds such as peas can be ‘pregerminated’ indoors. Spread them thinly on moist paper towels in a flat plastic container, and put them in a warm place (around 18-20C/65-68F) and airing cupboard is ideal. Check daily to make sure they are still moist. Once the tiny white roots start to emerge, sow them carefully in pots or the polytunnel border.

Growing On

Remember that if you sow tender crops now, the seedlings will continue to need extra heat and good light to grow on. If you have no heat in your greenhouse or tunnel, a warm windowsill can accommodate a few but the lack of all round light gives straggly plants. One possible solution is to put a grow light (one that mimics natural sunlight) over plant trays in a warm room.

Dig in green manures

Continue to prepare polytunnel and greenhouse beds, as the time for early summer planting is approaching fast. Green manures should be left to decompose for at least three weeks before any following crops are planted and longer if you are sowing direct. Undercover, this usually means digging them in during February or March. Cut off the foliage with shears first to make it easier. Water the prepared beds if they are dry, and cover them with polythene to keep in the moisture; clear polythene will also help to warm the soil.