Just like January, take the opportunity to spend time in the garden on the good weather days. This month there are already signs that spring is approaching, with bulbs appearing and buds forming on deciduous shrubs.
If you followed last months article and used up your winter veg from the veg plot, you may find February is a ‘hungry gap’. Why not try sprouting some seeds? ‘Sprouts’ will keep your green fingers busy until it’s warm enough for spring sowings to begin outside. Most veggies produce crunchy, tasty shoots including beetroot, peas, broccoli, cress, alfalfa and mustard however, grow seeds sold specifically for sprouting as seed for sowing outdoors may have been treated with chemicals to aid germination.
Begin by adding one or two heaped tablespoons of seed to a squeaky-clean jam jar, then fill the jar with water. (Don’t be tempted to add more seed as they will swell upto 30 times their original size). Leave the seeds to soak overnight. Cut a square of muslin (or similar free-draining cloth) and cover the mouth of the jar with a tight fitting elastic band. Tip the jar upside down and drain. Tap the muslin to dislodge any attached seeds. Keep your seeds in a warm, dark place to commence germination. Seeds will now need rinsing twice daily. (breakfast and evening meal times are perfect times). Simply fill the jar with water, gently swirl the seeds around and drain off as before. Keep the muslin cap in place between rinsing’s to prevent the seeds from drying out and to reduce the risk of contamination. The sprouts are ready to eat once they have reached 1-5cm (0.5-2in) long (exactly when is a matter of personal preference). Bring them out into the light a day or two before eating so they can take on some colour and improve in flavour. The whole process may take as little as two days and rarely more than a week.
Like any fresh produce that is consumed raw or lightly cooked, sprouts can carry a risk of foodborne illness if they are contaminated. Unlike other fresh produce, the warm, moist conditions required to grow sprouts are ideal for the rapid growth of bacteria, therefore people in vulnerable groups are therefore advised to cook all sprouts thoroughly until they are steaming hot throughout before eating them.
If the soil is not too frozen or waterlogged then finish digging it over and incorporate garden compost and manure. As you dig look out for ‘volunteer potatoes’ that were missed last season and have begun sprouting. They could spread disease and blight therefore you don’t want them growing amongst your other crops.
Here are my other top tips for February:
• Cut old and congested stems from bamboo plants (a pruning saw will be required!). Save the thickest canes for use as plant supports.
• Trim lawn edges and install lawn edging to create neat, defined borders. (keep off the lawn if it is frozen or wet)
• Hardwood cuttings taken last winter may need potting on into bigger pots. Gently tip them out of their pots to see if they have rooted successfully.
• Net fruit crops to keep hungry birds from stripping buds.
• Plant a container or hanging basket with colourful primroses and place by a doorway.
• Prune late flowering clematis (Group 3). Cut all of the stems of the plant down to a pair of strong buds 20-30cm above ground level.
Whatever February brings I hope you are able to spend some time in your garden.