Vegetable Gardening in Winter
What to do in the Vegetable Garden in January
This is the time of year when vegetables are at their most expensive and when the greatest savings can be made by growing your own. Vegetables such as brussels sprouts, cabbages and parsnips and can still be harvested if the ground is not frozen. Empty beds can be dug over now to break up the soil and let the frost in to do the rest.
What Vegetables are in Season in January?
The following vegetables can be picked in January: brussels sprouts, spinach beet, cabbages, and savoys. Also if frost permits you can lift celery, leeks, parsnips and Jerusalem artichokes as required. Note that celery may need extra protection if the weather is severe.
Checking Stored Vegetables
Remember to check vegetables that were stored in the autumn, like carrots, onions, shallots, Swedes, turnips and potatoes because they can easily become infested with green fly and other pests. Full details of how to store various vegetables appear in our October section on vegetables.
Planning a Vegetable Plot
The first thing to do is write down a list the vegetables you want to grow, what date they should be sown and planted, and when they will mature. After this you will need to plan a map of the vegetable plot showing where you will plant each item. This is not quite as easy as it sounds because 'crop rotation' should always be considered. Careful rotation of vegetable crops will ensure that you do not grow the same type of vegetable on the same area of ground, for two or more years running. The reason for this is to prevent a possible build-up of soil born diseases that attack a particular group of vegetables.
With the planning stage out of the way, all seeds should be ordered and purchased as early as possible. If you are buying plug plants or tubers, record the date when they should be obtained on the list. Order or buy seed potatoes in plenty of time. The tubers are likely to be in better condition if you order early, and they need time to be 'chitted ' (put into a cool but frost-free, light place to sprout) before you need to plant them.
Seed orders that arrive early are best stored in a cool, dry place. Old, clean biscuit tins with well-fitting lids make excellent storage containers if placed in a cool cupboard.
Preparing a Vegetable Plot
Digging over the vegetable plot is vital. If you are gardening on heavy soil, finish digging as soon as you can. This will give the soil time to be broken up by the weather so that it can be cultivated easily in the spring.
If the ground has not been limed for some years, or if the soil is naturally acidic, ground limestone or chalk should be applied after digging. This will be washed in by the rain and will penetrate deeply into the soil. Lime helps plants to make the best use of the available nutrients in the ground. It also reduces acidity and will help to break up clay. However, if manure has just been dug in, leave the liming for one month or the lime will react with it, resulting in a loss of nitrogen. When the ground is hard with frost, compost or manure can be barrowed onto plots so it is ready for digging in.
Frames And Cloches
Cloches should be put in position several weeks before sowing, to warm the soil ready for early February sowings.
Vegetable Seeds to Sow Outdoors in January
If you have a sunny, sheltered site, with light soil, you can sow broad beans now to provide an early crop. Space the beans 15 cm (6 in) apart in rows 5cm (2 in) deep, and make the rows 37 cm (15 in) apart. 'Aquadulce' is a particularly hardy cultivar, and very good for early sowing. If space is limited, 'The Sutton' is a good choice.
If your garden is sheltered, you can also sow an early pea variety now. Use a round-seeded variety, such as 'Meteor', 'Little Marvel' or 'Feltham First'. Make a shallow trench, the width of a spade and about 4 cm (l.5 in)deep, then put the peas, in two parallel rows, 5cm (2 in) apart, zig-zag fashion. Return the soil to the trench and firm gently. If you are sowing more than one row, space them at least 45 cm (18 in) apart.
Block-sowing in short, squared-up rows is also an option.
Be prepared to give the young plants a bit of cloche protection if the weather turns cold.
Vegetable Seeds to Sow Indoors in January
A number of early vegetables can be started off indoors in January, such as French beans for forcing, early maturing cauliflowers and onions. Lettuce sown now can also provide a late spring crop.
When to Start Chitting (Sprouting) Potatoes
January is the time to get early potatoes under way, by 'chitting' (sprouting) them in a cool but frost free place. The developed shoots will then be well advanced when you plant them outdoors in spring. Choose potatoes the size of a hen's egg, though larger potatoes can be cut in half and both halves sprouted (however, make sure each piece has an 'eye', as the sprouts develop from the 'eyes').
Place the seed potatoes in the hollows of empty egg boxes, 'eye' upwards or simply place the potatoes upright in a single layer in a shallow box, in a cool (but frost-free), light place.
What Vegetables to Force in January
Rhubarb can be forced outdoors. It needs a rich soil if it is to give you a regular crop. Cover the crowns with soil, bracken or leaves and place a large clay pot, upturned box, dustbin or bucket.
Chicory can be forced indoors, in a minimum temperature of 10 deg C (50 deg F). Plant the roots vertically in moist peat or compost in boxes or pots. Cover the roots with 2.5cm (1 in) peat or compost and encase the pot in a black polythene bag to exclude all the light. In a about a month's time you will be rewarded with delicious, fat and creamy white chicons.
Enjoying Fresh Herbs in January
To enjoy out-of-season herbs, dig up a small piece of mint, thyme or a marjoram root, bring it indoors and pot it up in a warm place. Fresh shoots will soon appear once the plants get established.
Protecting Vegetables in January
Any vegetables which look as though they need protecting from severe weather should be attended to right away before they are damaged. This could involve supporting tall vegetables with canes or sticks. In addition, cover any root crops still in the ground, such as parsnips, with straw, bracken or even leaves (held down with netting) to enable you to lift them when the surrounding soil is frozen solid. Leeks also benefit from this treatment. Cauliflowers, especially the older varieties, can be improved when they are nearing maturity by breaking off an outside leaf and laying it across the curd to protect it from the cold. Lettuce and other vegetables being over wintered in the open can be covered with cloches to help them through the worst weather.
Vegetables in Season
Jerusalem artichokes (tubers)