Kitchen Garden

What’s Growing On In February?

Biting winds, rain, hail and snow showers, we’ve never been so thankful for the occasional glimpse of sunshine to provide some respite. Ooh naughty February! Welcome back to our monthly catch up posts where we show you what’s growing on in our garden smallholding.

The vegetable garden in February still offers fabulous things to eat thanks to a bit of careful planning. By dedicating a whole bed to carrots rather than just a couple of rows for late summer/autumn use, we’re still pulling tasty roots of ‘Autumn King’. Standing well in our soil our garden tends to get rather boggy in winter so this variety really is worth growing. The same can be said for ‘Gladiator’ parsnip, fantastic roots right through to spring.

Another great crop providing nutritious leaves from summer right through to winter is kale. ‘Nero Di Toscana’ will grow in difficult conditions such as a shady spot and poor drainage (trust us, we know!). The flavour improves after a frost and once it finally bolts the flowers can be eaten too.

We’ve just finished picking the last of the Brussels Sprouts and now we’re patiently waiting for spears of beautiful early sprouting broccoli to make an appearance. Early purple sprouting is sown late spring one year and produces from February/March the following year – so you really do need to be patient!

The veg garden in February

Autumn-fruiting raspberry canes got their annual chop this week. Rich carefully tidied around to remove the old leaves and debris being careful not to damage emerging canes, finishing up with a mulch of compost afterwards.

The canes are very spiky – gloves are needed! In just a couple of months the whole bed will be brimming with fresh new growth.

Rather than burning or composting we’ve decided to keep the cut raspberry canes and use them as organic slug and snail deterrents (due to the spikes), laying them on the ground in and around seedlings.

Something has had a go at the broad bean seedlings underneath the cloche tunnels (unlikely to be a pigeon, a mouse perhaps?), a bit of soil disturbance and a couple of seedlings vanished – one is wilting so I guess the seed bean is damaged. This is the first place we’re going to use the canes. I wonder if mice will be that bothered by a few spikes? It’s an experiment so we’ll let you know if it works.

Our chickens were beginning to lay regularly (except for Mrs Broody pants), a couple have now decided to have another moult which means no eggs.

Some of our girls are getting on for retirement, perhaps nearer summer we’ll increase the flock seeing as we have a new coop!

 

Kitchen Garden

And Sow it Begins

I came home from hospital last weekend, my body is tired and sore but getting a little stronger every day. I ended up needing more surgery than expected which has set my recovery back with one thing or another but I am getting there, slowly. I miss spending time with the chickens and of course the day-to-day activities in the garden smallholding, family are mucking in and doing what’s needed. I long for the day I can join in rather than watch from the window but I’m not to lift anything heavier than a cup of tea for at least 6 weeks. Meh.

I guess I can cope with the tea bit.

After going through our seed stash last month we’ve ordered what we need for the new growing year with some new varieties to try, the rest will be our own saved seed. We will buy our seed potatoes very soon and set them out to chit in egg boxes.

We like to sow our tomatoes and chillies early, harvesting can begin as early as June/July depending on varieties grown. Chillies need constant heat to aid germinate so we’re using a seedling heat mat at the moment to help. We’ve never used anything like this before when germinating seeds such as chillies and peppers, we usually get decent germination results by using the warmest spots in the house but it can take up to a month to occur due to temperatures dipping at night. It’s a bit of a trial so we’ll let you know how the heat mat performs in terms of germination rate/time, and if we like it enough to recommend we’ll do a little blog post. Rich set everything up for sowing our seeds to avoid me lifting anything, all I had to do is pop the seeds in. It felt so good to be involved and gave me the lift I needed.

It’s official, gardening is therapy!

Kitchen Garden

It’s Funny How Tastes Change

As a child I hated Brussels sprouts. With a screwed up face I’d gingerly chew in slow motion, desperately thinking of a way to avoid swallowing the evil things. Of course they were in my mouth far longer than they should have been, so I’d end up gagging, mouth foaming with different shades of sprouty green. There were probably lots of tears too, followed by pitiful wailing in the hope mum would spare me.

Fast forward lots of years and I absolutely adore sprouts now. I grow them, cook them and happily eat them, especially raw straight off the plants. I can almost hear my inner child spewing. I admit I also pushed sprouts on our kids, but I think most parents introduce their children to these ‘yucky’ green balls at some point. Our daughter likes them now as a young adult but our teenage son is probably scarred for life.

brussels sprouts

I’m picking the first sprouts of the season now, ‘Seven Hills’ is a rare sprout that is almost extinct which makes them even more delicious! I got my seeds from Real Seeds if you’d like to give them a go next year.

Grow Your Own Guides · Kitchen Garden

How to Force Rhubarb

rhubarb forcer
If you’d like to get an earlier crop of rhubarb now is a good time to force it. Choose an  established rhubarb in your garden and simply cover the crown with a forcing jar, upturned dustbin or very large pot. Doing this creates a dark and warm environment inside, forcing the stems into premature growth. Restricted light creates baby pink stalks which taste less tart and not as fibrous, ready approximately 8 weeks after covering.
forced rhubarb stems
However, once you force a crown you should allow it to crop naturally the following year (preferably two years of recovery), forcing it year after year could seriously weaken it. Before forcing, be sure to clear away the area around the base of the crown, removing decaying leaves and weeds to avoid the rhubarb crown rotting. Add a mulch of homemade compost or well-rotted manure to give a boost of nutrients.

Timperley Early rhubarb beginning to grow in winter

A tip is to grow 3 crowns (providing you have the space), allow one to recover from being forced the previous year, force one and let the other crop naturally, when it should. A good variety for forcing is Victoria.
rhubarb january
Timperley Early rhubarb in our kitchen garden 8th January 2017
Our favourite rhubarb variety to grow is ‘Timperley Early’, it starts cropping naturally as early as March. If you grow this variety you have to get a wiggle on and force it earlier than other varieties to produce an earlier crop, usually December for cropping in February. As you can see, our young crowns (planted last year) are already well on their way to producing some fine stalks! They’re not established enough to start forcing them yet, it’ll be another year or two before we can use the forcing jars on them.