What to do in February

IMG_6304

With spring just round the corner, February is a month of expectation in the container garden. You can also start sowing seeds again (hurrah!).

Chillies, peppers and aubergines are particularly worth sowing now.

For keen growers who want to get a head start, there are other crops you can sow this month, too – see below. It is also true, though, that later sowings will often do better – and with less chance of failing due to heavy frosts, lack of light or cold winds. So you can happily wait a month or two. (A cunning strategy can be to sow just a few now and the rest later).

The advice here is for container gardeners in the Northern hemisphere. The timings will be good for most of the UK. For those of you in cooler or warmer regions, the timings will be similar but slightly different: I recommend you look for a seed sowing calendar for your area and use it in conjunction with the advice here. Container growers in India can check out Monica Bathija’s tips from her roof terrace in Mumbai.

This month

  1. What you can sow inside
  2. What you can sow outside
  3. Other jobs this month

 

Broad beans do well with an early outdoor start. This is a red variety, ‘Epicure’. If you are looking for productive container crops, you’ll find French and Runner beans produce a far higher yield than broad beans (by maybe 5 to 10 times).

1. What you can sow inside

The following seeds can be started inside if you have a bright space, next to a window for example. Seedlings do need light to grow healthily - if you do not have a bright place you may find it easier to buy chilli, aubergine and tomato plants later in April / May instead.

  • Aubergines, chillies and peppers – need to grow for about 20 weeks before they fruit. Starting them now improves your chances of a good harvest, but any time before the end of March should be OK.
  • Tomatoes – can be sown until early April. Sowing some now will improve your chances of early tomatoes (hopefully by late June / early July) but beware: they grow big, quickly! Your flat can quickly feel like invasion of the triffids as they take over. (I’ve learnt from experience! These days I just sow one or two tomatoes this month).

The above will be killed by frost and so can only be planted outside (in a sunny place) once the threat of frost is over (April in many places).

Their seeds will germinate better if you can provide some warmth (25 – 30 degrees C is optimal, 16 degrees the minimum). A heated propagator (a container with a perspex lid for starting seedlings) will make germination speedier and more reliable. But it is not essential – a simple plastic propagator with a perspex lid, placed in a warm place, is a good alternative. Or you can improvise with a clear polythene bag over small pots or seed trays.

Chilli, and aubergine seedlings start small but quite quickly begin to take up space. Tomato plants get bigger even quicker!

Chilli, and aubergine seedlings start small but quite quickly begin to take up room in a small flat. Tomato plants get bigger even quicker!

The following crops are less sensitive to frost. They can be sown in a bright place inside now, then moved outside later in March, ideally under cover (eg a plastic cloche) to begin with. There is no urgency to sow these this month – they will quite happily wait for a month or two.

  • Salad crops like rocket, mizuna, mibuna, pak choi and red giant.
  • Peas. Freshly picked peas are a luxury and if you sow some inside now, you should have a crop for late May, early June. For containers, mangetout or sugar snap peas are significantly more productive than the traditional podded peas.
  • Beetroot. You need to sow beetroot in individual modules so that, later, you can move it to a bigger container without disturbing its roots (it hates having its roots disturbed).
This is a variety of 'sugar' or 'snap' pea - these will give you a better yield in containers than the more conventional podded types.

This is a variety of ‘sugar’ or ‘snap’ pea – these will give you a better yield in containers than the more conventional podded types.

2. What you can sow outside

Although it is still cold in many parts, a few seeds and plants are tough enough to be started outside now:

  • Broad beans – can be sown outside from now until April. Starting them now can help get them off to a strong start.   You won’t get a very good yield of broad beans from a container (you really need lots of space to grow them) but if you love them as much as I do, you may find it hard to resist growing a few.
  • Jerusalem artichokes are a tall (6 foot and more) and bushy crop, with delicious, edible tubers. They grow well in large containers – if you can find enough space. You grow them from a tuber, just like a potato. You can plant them now, or wait until March / April.
  • Garlic – February is your last chance to sow garlic – get the cloves in the ground before the end of the month.
  • Potatoes and carrots can, in warmer places, be sown outside now if you can protect the tender shoots from frost with a cloche or a fleece. Wait until March or April if you live in a cooler part of the UK (like I do).
  • Blueberry plants: blueberries are usually sold in pots and can be bought at any time of year. They make an excellent container crop. Now, while they are still dormant over winter, is a particularly good time to get them started in the container garden. Remember that they need acid compost (known as ‘ericaceous’ compost) to grow and that you’ll get a better crop if you grow two different varieties (they like to cross pollinate).

3. Other jobs

  • Continue with the preparation jobs from January‘s list.
  • Start collecting empty plastic bottles or clear plastic sheeting to put over your seedlings to protect them from cold and slugs (slugs love seedlings). Water cooler bottles, chopped in half are great if you can find them. Empty water / or plastic oil bottles etc are good, too.
  • Collect or buy some sticks or canes to support your peas and other climbing crops. Coppiced sticks can give your growing a more natural look if that appeals to you.

Empty plastic bottles, cut in half, are useful to protect your seedlings from weather and slugs. Start collecting them up now.

Empty plastic bottles, cut in half, are useful to protect your seedlings from weather and slugs. Start keeping an eye out for them now so that you have a supply ready for when you plant your seedlings outside.

19 comments… add one

  • Hi Mark,
    We have had a very cold and dry winter here in Norman, Oklahoma USA. Some of the soil at the bottom of my planter boxes was frozen solid this year! I have started onions and pototoes and will follow with edible pod peas in a couple of weeks. I am going to starts some seeds in the house using recycled tomatoe containers from the market. They are cone shaped with an open top and slots in the bottom for drainage. They look like little mini green houses. I used some last year and they worked great.
    I would like to make some suggestions for containers for growing in. For my containers I found small wooden crates that were used to ship scientific instruments in, large wooden drawers from dressers and woven wooden bushel baskets all make good containers. Another source of containers is from landscape companies. They usually throw away the plastic pots that small trees, bushes and perennial flowers come in after they are planted. This offers a good selection of sizes for various uses. They will usually give them to you if you ask for them.

    Reply
    • Hello Vy, lovely to hear from you in Oklahoma. I really like your ideas for recycled containers – I imagine the wooden drawers and woven bushel baskets must look great, too. And I hadn’t thought of getting pots from landscape gardeners before, that’s a very good idea.
      I hope that spring is warmer for you and very happy growing for 2014! Mark

      Reply
  • Here in Charentes Maritime in South West France we’ve had lots of wind and rain since the beginning of the year but virtually no frost – only two nights down to minus 1 in my polytunnel. Having a small polytunnel has allowed me to get on with a few things and in the dry! I supplemented my outdoor sowing of broad beans last November with some more initially sown in a freezer bag filled with compost and when germination had started by a week later transferred them into individual pots for continued growth. They’ve all done well so inspite of the wet and wind I’ve planted them out before they took root in the soil of my cold frame – hope they survive! Onions and leeks all doing well and ready for planting on in newspaper plant pots I’ve made so they wont be disturbed after the first move from seed tray to pot. Planted some early carrot – a variety called Torchon – in toilet roll tubes so again the roots wont be disturbed when I plant them out; I also plant 4 potatoes – Swift – in an old dustbin with holes drilled in for drainage; I did this in mid January and they are already growing and nearly ready for their first ‘earthing up’ – I’ve put the bin in my polytunnel for protection. The wet weather has given me a chance to make a few water réservoirs from old storage boxes following your advice note. Can’t wait to put them to use. Whilst I have plenty of land I want to create a small space garden concept around a Shepherd’s Hut I am building adjacent to my potager. When it’s done we’ll let it out for holidays so people can share my gardening experiences All for now

    Reply
    • Really enjoyed reading your update Paul, you have been very productive and it sounds like you will be enjoying some very early new potatoes this year! thanks for sharing your progress.

      Reply
  • Hi Mark, thanks for the pea tip!
    As for weather, we had a very strange January here in Vienna: no frost and no snow. Instead of minus temperatures all day, snow and the nasty eastern wind, it was as warm as early March with sunshine and first spring flowers in bloom. At the end of January, temperatures dropped (!) to a normally cold February. Let’s see how it continues. An old weather rule says that if you see mole hills in January, winter may last until May.

    Reply
  • Hey Mark: Thanks for the tips and planting suggestions. I love the idea with the plastic bottles. I do have trouble with little worms eating my broccoli. :) We’re still in winter here on Maui. Temps range from 70s during the day to 60s at night. We had lots of rain, but the sun is finally with us again.

    Reply
  • Hi love the ideas on this site, just wondered if anyone has tried using upturned wooden pallets as vertical growing space. They take up a small amount of space and last for a very long time. They can be sectioned into growing pockets by using a staple gun and black fabric (weed supressing membrane available at garden centres) then filled with good quality soil. They are great for strawberries and herbs and can be painted or left in their natural state.

    Reply
    • Yes, I have! And it was not good. The water didn’t stay put but leaked away or was dried by the wind very quickly. Even with two waterings a day, I couldn’t keep most of the plants alive. It’s difficult, too, to get water to the plants lower down in the pallet. Not enough soil to maintain good healthy plants, imho. Overall, that went into my “fail” column.

      Reply
  • cheers,enjoy reading all the tips and news

    Reply
  • Oh no, so you think this is a bad idea? I guess I might have to reconsider, I don’t want my containers to fall into pieces. As cool as you are in wanting to help me out – I don’t think you’ll know where to get containers in Kiel, Germany, do you? :)

    I guess I could ask our waste collection company if I can have some old recycling bins. Might ask about compost as well, because I’ve been buying seeds quite obsessively in the last weeks -it seems to be an effective way for me to fight winter blues at the moment.

    I’ve also been collecting some old plastic wraps from when I bought shelves, and I’m cutting the plastic into stripes and trying to crochet a container out of it – it works, I did a small prototype last year, but it’s not really efficient if you need many, fast, I’m doing it more for the fun of it. (Plus it’s really not doing my wrist any good-ouch! So no chance of going into mass production.)

    Reply
    • Hi Sarah, they might be OK, I just wanted you to know that, if you have a choice, UV treated ones last longer. Places that I’ve successfully found containers in the past include fish stalls (polystyrene & plastic), backs of restaurants (huge olive oil tins / plastic buckets), veg markets (plastic and wooden trays), mushroom farms (plastic trays) and Pizza Express (large tomato tins), and as you suggest, the local waste company / recycling point.

      Love the sound of your crochet pots – that’s very creative, and the first time I’ve heard that idea.

      Reply
    • You can also ask at the florist. They have a lot of plastic pots from the shop that just get thrown out. In Denmark you can just ask and you will usually get them for free. Regards Sara

      Reply
  • Mark, these tips are really great, especially for beginners like me. Thank you!
    News from my balcony garden project:
    I’ve started my wormery today. I emailed some people involved in urban gardening projects in my town to get some worms to start with, but they couldn’t help me, so I ended up ordering dendrobaena cocoons on the internet. (Fun fact that I learned during my inquiries: Dendrobaena venata, also known as eisenia hortensis, is a variety of worms you can also use for fishing – not like eisenia foetida, which secrete something that smells very bad to fish) I don’t expect them to hatch soon, since it’s still about 0 degrees, but I’m quite curious and must restrain myself from checking them every other hour.

    Another thing that’s on my list for february/march is to collect enough containers, especially bigger ones. You can find smaller pots on cemeteries, because people don’t need them any more after putting plants on the graves. There’s also some at Ikea’s, just not the things they sell as planting pots, which are quite expensive, but the boxes they sell for storing stuff. With a few holes drilled in, I guess they’ll work fine. That’s not ideal from an ecological standpoint, so I’ve also planned to scrounge a bit more, ask around if someone has pots they don’t need anymore, maybe go to flea markets and the like, but really, buying is just faster, so I don’t know what I’ll end up doing.

    Reply
    • Sarah: wow, it sounds like you’re doing amazing stuff. Love the worm facts (and I thought I knew everything was to know about worms!). And finding containers in cemeteries is a new idea to me, too. One quick word about using plastic boxes – ideally you want ones that are UV treated, as these will be less prone to go brittle when left outside in the sun. Anything that is designed to be outside – like a recycling bin or a plastic wormery – is usually UV treated. Plastic boxes for indoor storage are usually not. Can you remind me which city country that you live (just that I might have ideas for where you can source containers from).

      Reply
      • Empty paint buckets are also useful

        Reply
        • Hi Jean, paint buckets are fine for growing flowers but I’d be wary of using them for growing food. Most paints contain a lot of nasty toxic chemicals that you probably wouldn’t want in your food.

          Reply
    • You can get great help and advice, plus read an encyclopedic background on worm composting at vermicomposters.com. Lovely people, great sharing!

      Reply

Leave a Comment