February is the month when the keenest gardeners really get going, sowing seeds into heated propagators indoors, perhaps even rigging up the grow lights. They’re aiming to give their tender veg (tomatoes, aubergines, chillies and sweet peppers, for the most part) the longest possible growing season, and to have the earliest crops.
For most people, though, February is too early to sow any but the hardiest crops. Remember that spring (and the end of frosty weather) is still a very long way off. Tender crops sown now may well grow ‘leggy’ on the windowsill, growing every upwards in search of the light that is absent in these wintry days. Although it’s possible to bury some of the stem when you pot them on, these plants are fragile and may never produce good crops. On the other hand, seeds sown a bit later in the year will have the benefit of higher light levels and more heat, and can catch up with crops sown earlier.
So if you want to start now, and sow early, that’s fine. But don’t feel under pressure to do so because everyone else is!
Vegetables to sow in February
- Broad beans, if the soil is not too cold/wet (or into pots/modules)
- Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi and sprouting broccoli (early varieties)
- Peas (winter hardy varieties)
- Rhubarb (from seed)
- Tomatoes and cucumbers (for greenhouse crops)
- Radishes, spinach and leafy greens
- Onions and leeks
- Jerusalem artichokes
- Bare root fruit trees and bushes
Now is also a good time to think about seed potatoes, when Potato Day events are in full swing, and you’ll have your pick of varieties. They’ll need ‘chitting’ – setting out in the light – to grow strong, green sprouts rather than long, spindly white ones.
What to harvest in February
It’s still all about the leafy brassicas, with cabbages and kale continuing unabated. Brussels sprouts are coming to an end, but the earliest varieties of sprouting broccoli will be just coming into crop.
You may have forced chicories to crop, or overwintered salad leaves in the greenhouse/polytunnel or on the windowsill. Parsnips, swedes, celeriac and Jerusalem artichokes are also coming to the end of their season, and you need to be thinking about using them up. Harvest alternate leeks as you need them, leaving the rest to fatten up in the extra space.
If you want to grow apples and pears, then you’ll need to get to grips with winter pruning, which is done whilst the trees are still dormant. Winter pruning, while the branches are bare, allows you develop a strong structure for fruit growth, but it also encourages rapid growth. (Pruning in summer helps to control growth.)
Pruning is about increasing the amount of light and air that make it into the otherwise dense canopy of the tree. It’s about removing dead and diseased wood, and encouraging the tree to grow in the direction we want it to. Pruning a tree every year is better than letting it get out of control, which is more difficult to remedy. If you have inherited a tree that needs remedial pruning, plan on doing it over two or three winters, rather than all at once.
Get a good book, volunteer to help out at a community orchard, or watch pruning videos on YouTube, to get an idea of what needs to be done. Remember to keep your secateurs sharp, and clean. You may find you need a pruning saw to hand for larger branches. Then it’s just a case of getting stuck in, and learning by doing!