Preparing for the Growing Season

February always feels to me like the lowest time of the year but it is also the time when all the potential of the new fruit and vegetable season starts to appear. I know that March and April can be pretty dire but at least we are in a position to start preparing for the growing season. There is still time to order fruit trees, fruit bushes and strawberry plants and now is seedlingsa good time to think about those old seed packets which are left behind from previous seasons. Some seeds such as lettuce, peas, beans and tomatoes may last for several years without the percentage which germinate reducing significantly. Others, like parsnips,carrots, parsley and onions will scarcely be viable for more than one or two growing seasons. Planting seeds which are past their best can be very disappointing and waste a lot of precious time and optimism. Seeds are generally pretty cheap so buying now to replace old seeds is a good idea. I buy both online (for example from vegetableseeds.net and the organiccatalogue.com) and from local stores. If you have a warm window, preferably south facing, you could try planting some of the earlier seeds now such as tomatoes and celery. More exotic plant seeds like peppers and aubergines can also be planted now.

This is also a good time to think about which varieties to grow. Every year I start with one or two new ones which I hope will improve on the seeds I grew last year. This year I hope to grow Sweet Nugget sweet corn which I hope will be a big improvement on last year’s variety. However there are one or two stalwarts which I always like to grow such as lettuce Little Gem, climbing French bean Fasold, early potato Charlotte, beetroot Boltardy, leek Musselburgh and carrot Early Nantes. All these have proved easy and delicious. I would certainly like to hear any of your favourites which I can try out and share on this blog. Any particular successes or failures which you would like to share can be passed on. As an example, a fellow allotmenteer advised me to try carrot seeds on tape which had been very successful for him last year when my own carrots had been a little patchy. This year I intend to try Early Nantes and Amsterdam Forcing as seeds on seed tapes to see whether they will do better than hand sown seeds which often need thinning as they grow. Suttons Seeds can supply them both. Thinning carrot seeds can attract the pest carrot root fly which can smell carrots being handled from huge distances away. If they find your carrots and lay eggs on them you will probably find small holes through the carrots at harvest time. I’ll let you know if seed tapes seem to make a difference.

This is a good time to start chitting seed potatoes. This is the process of keeping them in a chittingdark, frost free place for a week or two and then moving them to a sunny windowsill once the shoots are an inch or so long. This gets them off to a quick start before you plant them
in the soil, generally somewhere around Easter, when the soil should be warmer. Chitting them in egg boxes works pretty well. The end of the seed potato with more “eyes” (the growing points of the shoots) should be placed uppermost.

I have mentioned previously my experiments with home recycling which have so far proved pretty successful. None of our food waste or garden waste goes into the Council waste or recycling. All of it is recycled at the end of my garden – even fish, bread, pasta and meat. Not only does this give me a good feeling of minimising my waste but also provides nutrients and mulch for my vegetables, fruit and garden plants. This year I would like to try to extend this experiment by trying to see whether the system will work for other households. I’m looking for four households keen to give it a try. I’ll provide the basic equipment – all I need is a commitment to let me know the results in your own homes. Full printed information and telephone backup will be provided. If you are interested please contact me at john.ingham@yahoo.co.uk.