How to Start Growing Your Own Vegetables
February is a fantastic time to prepare your garden and greenhouse for spring, whether you’re sowing or planting there is a large variety of plants you can continue to grow, or newly introduce. Often being the coldest month of the year, growing in February can be touch and go depending on where you’re located in the country. As a result, it’s always best to leave the sowing of seeds to later in the year if the ground is particularly frozen or waterlogged. However, if you can start working on your garden, our handy little guide will help you on your way, read along to find out how!
If you’re looking to sow seeds, the very first thing you must do is ensure that the ground is suitable for the seeds you’re sowing. No matter what type of soil you have, one thing you can do that will benefit your plant growth is supplement the soil with compost. Compost will provide vital nutrients and minerals, which are essential to plant growth, while also helping to retain moisture and making the ground generally easier to work. There are numerous ways to produce your own compost, from using a hot composter, a wormery, and more. This ensures you can have a fresh supply, of perpetual compost all year round.
To prepare your ground for sowing there are a few small steps you can take to make the most of the soil in your garden or allotment:
- Remove weeds from the site you intend to sow your seeds. At this time of year there may not be too many weeds taking root, but you may start to see a few sprouting. There are a few ways to make sure that weeds don’t return, the most effective being to remove the weed in its entirety, root, and all, if there is even a small part of the root left it can potentially grow back.
- The site for sowing is also incredibly important, different plants will have varying needs in terms of shade/sunlight, so check this before sowing. Generally, you want to choose a spot which won’t be affected by strong winds, and that receives an adequate amount of light.
- Break up the soil using a garden fork, this can help with moisture drainage, you can also remove any large stones or debris at the same time. You want to aim for the consistency of breadcrumbs for the most effective soil, take some of this soil from the ground and mix it together with your compost, reapply this mix to the top of your soil.
- Depending on how many varieties of plants you are sowing, you can arrange your seeds in what is known as drills, these are rows made in the soil which differ in depth (depending on the type of seed being planted), this can help to arrange your plants effectively and maximise the space available to you.
Once your seeds are in place, you’re going to want to keep a careful eye on them as often as possible, the re-emergence of weeds, frost, and insects, can and will cause issues. To repel pests, we recommend alternatives to harmful chemicals and pesticides. One of the most effective ways to keep your garden pest free is by embracing the biodiversity that is present in most gardens. Frogs, birds, and hedgehogs all love to feast on slugs, so they do a great job at keeping the most common pests at bay.
Keep an eye out for any weeds that come back, if you see any hints of them simply remove them by hand, if possible, this will keep the root intact when you pull it out. Alternatively, you can also use a hoe to remove them.
Frost will potentially become an issue this time of year, one way to protect your seeds from the cold is to employ some cold protection, such as a cloche or hoop tunnel. Not only will this retain heat around the seeds, but it will also stop them getting buffeted by wind. Once the seeds have started to grow you can also use a layer of mulch to insulate them further.
You can also sow your seeds in containers, which in many ways is similar to planting in the ground. Simply fill your pot or seed tray with a mix of compost and soil, firming down the top layer, and then placing your seeds at their required depth, cover lightly with more compost (some seeds may need more coverage than others). When you’re watering your seeds, the best approach is to use a spray bottle, or a watering can with a rose head (if you’re not familiar with these, they look like shower heads), this helps to avoid dislodging the seeds by avoiding large quantities of water all at once. One benefit to sowing seeds in a container is that you can keep them indoors, or in a greenhouse, until the weather becomes warmer, or until the plant is big enough to brace the cold weather, and then transplant them outdoors.
Transplanting plants comes with it’s own set of problems too, you want to prepare the ground first by creating a hole at least as tall as the root of the plants, and twice as wide, this will ensure there is adequate space for it to grow. Water the plant once more before transplanting it to the hole, this will help the soil adhere to the roots much easier. Once you have added your layer of soil and compost back over the roots, you’re going to want to maintain the soil be keeping it moist, when you start to see any sign of growth from your plant, you will know that the transplant was successful.
No matter how your seeds are planted, you might run in to the issue of overcrowding. If too many plants are growing close together there may be too much competition for light and nutrients, this will have detrimental effect on all the plants, so it’s best to remove any seedlings which are looking weak and keep the healthiest ones.
If you want to start sowing right now, or even next month these are some great choices of vegetables that will grow well this time of year:
Parsnips – 14 weeks to harvest
Parsnip seeds only last for a year, so be sure to use them if you’ve got them! If you want to increase the likelihood of successful growth you can pre-germinate the seeds prior to sowing them, this is achieved by mixing the seeds with compost and leaving in a small bag for a few days somewhere warm and dark. When you go back to the bag after a few days you’ll start to see evidence of growth. It’s then just a case of transplanting these to the outdoors.
Broad Beans – 15 weeks to harvest
Broad beans can grow very well with full sun coverage, being placed around 5cm deep and 25cm apart from each other. Due to their weight, it’s wise to provide some sort of support for the plants once they start to get larger. A pair of sticks and a suspended string is more than adequate to provide the support needed.
Salad Onions – 10 weeks to harvest
Salad onions are best harvested before they grow too large, when they are smaller they are much sweeter and easy to eat, once they get to a certain size the flavour becomes too strong to eat raw.
Garlic – 39 weeks to harvest
Keeping garlic well-watered is key to ensuring they reach a decent size, you will want to stop watering as soon as they become large, as any more water can instigate the onset of rot.
Shallots – 20 weeks to harvest
Shallots are prone to flowering, so the moment you see any starting to form it’s best to remove the flower entirely. This will prevent the shallot from expending energy into the flower and preserve it for the bulb.
Sometimes it’s not always practical or advisable to sow certain plants in February, instead there is always the option of planting, normally from a container or pot, as previously mentioned. There are several advantages to planting, rather than sowing, one benefit is that it makes it much easier to allocate space for plants, as you already have a good idea of the space they will take up, they will also grow quicker than starting from seed, so if the weather is particularly poor you can still make some headway. Conversely, plants will be more expensive than seeds, and you’re normally more limited with the range that is available.
Some vegetables which grow well when planted this time of year include:
Kale – 30 days to harvest
Kale is a particularly hardy vegetable, able to grow in almost any type of soil and soil conditions. However, soil should generally be more alkaline than acidic, if this isn’t the case you can always add lime to the soil to bring the pH level in line with what you need.
Tomatoes – 40 days to harvest
Tomatoes need a lot of sunlight so take care when choosing where to plant them, if light levels are waning you can always start the tomatoes indoors and use LED light strips to supplement their needs.
Chillies – 70 days to harvest
Chillies are best suited to being kept under cold protection if being planted outdoors and supported with a stake and string, so they don’t buckle under their own weight. Harvest them when green for a milder flavour, harvest when they are red for some bite.
Aubergines – 6 months to harvest
Spider mites are a common pest for Aubergines, one way to prevent this is to give the leaves a light misting a few times a day with a spray bottle. Remove any flowers that appear to ensure that energy is conserved.
Basil – 21 days to harvest
Once basil has fully grown, simply clip off the amount of leaves you need to use for food and more, this will allow more to grow, giving you a long-term supply for up to two years. Regularly harvest the leaves in order to encourage growth.
Whilst it is possible to grow the following vegetables outdoors this time of year, it’s advisable to keep them under cover, on a windowsill, in a cold frame, or in a greenhouse for the most part. One of the many advantages of growing in a greenhouse is that you can have a large degree of control over the temperature throughout the year.
Lettuce – 30 days to harvest
Lettuce needs at least six hours of sunlight per day, and adequate watering, try to maintain a gap of 8 – 16 inches between each plant to ensure maximum growth.
Carrots - 14 weeks to harvest
If growing in a greenhouse, it’s vital to make sure that any container used is deep enough for it. Any container that has a depth of between 6 and 15 inches is ideal for carrots.
Radish – 4 weeks to harvest
Radish’s quick maturing time makes them the perfect vegetable to grow in between other, more time intensive crops. Unlike carrots, they do not need a great depth to grow, 1cm is more than enough.
Rocket – 4 weeks
Much like basil, rocket can be harvested as needed, simply cut off the leaves to the desired amount, and then wait for them to grow back. Taking too much off of the leaves can cause the growth to be weakened, so it’s best to allow time for leaves to grow back.
One useful technique to help your runner beans grow to their full potential is a bean trench. A bean trench consists of a trench around 50 cm front to back, and as wide as needed for your seeds. You want to dig to a depth of around 30 cm’s and then start lining your trench with newspaper, this will help the trench to maintain moisture. The trench then effectively acts as a composter, with garden and food waste being added. Alternatively, you can remove some of your half broken down compost from any composters you have and add that to the trench. Simply cover the trench with soil once full, and then start sowing your bean seeds, not only will the compost provide the much-needed nutrients to your seeds, but the decomposition process will also produce heat, which is essential for this colder time of year.
The lack of light is one of the biggest problems this time of year, especially in areas of the garden with shade. One handy trick is to use mirrors or other reflective materials such as foil, to direct sunlight to those areas which are starved of sunlight, while this may not seem like it would make a big difference, it can be very effective.