Fresh from the excesses of Christmas, and with the urge to turn over a new leaf, now might be a good time to tackle getting the garden ready for the season ahead! If you need to make structural changes, such as building or moving beds, or adding/improving paths, then bright days are useful. But, of course, January tends to be cold and wet, and the short days mean gardening is usually confined to the weekends.
It’s not nice to sow seeds outside at this time of year. If the soil is not waterlogged then you could sow broad beans, or plant garlic – but in reality they’re probably best left to next month.
January is a time for armchair gardening, pouring over seed catalogues to choose your varieties for this year, reading gardening books for inspiration, and coming up with a garden plan. There are one or two crops you can sow indoors, or under cover if you have a greenhouse or polytunnel.
Vegetables to sow in January
- Salad leaves. Carry on sowing these in small batches, indoors or under cover, for continuous harvests. Growth will be slower during the winter, because of the short days.
- Onions. Can be sown from seed now, particularly if you want mammoth onions to show. Or wait to plant sets in spring.
- Leeks. Can be sown now to plant out in March/April.
- Peas. Sow a winter hardy variety under cover, for planting out in March/April for a very early crop.
- Radishes. A very early crop can be sown in the polytunnel/greenhouse.
- Bare root fruit.
- Rhubarb crowns (or divisions).
- Jerusalem artichokes (although tubers generally aren’t on sale until later in the year, you can plant ones for eating, or some of your own crop – they’re very hardy).
What to harvest in January
We’re in the depths of winter, so harvests are mainly hardy brassicas, parsnips and leeks. You may also have celeriac, Jerusalem artichokes and winter radishes. Your windowsills could be supplying regular small batches of salad/stir-fry greens, and/or sprouted seeds for sandwich fillings.
Use the force
Forcing, in horticultural terms, is simply using an artificial environment to bring on a crop out of season. So, at its most basic, we’re forcing veg when we use a cloche to protect them from the weather.
But forcing is most often used to mean something a little bit more specific, such as when you use a forcing pot (or a bucket!) to force rhubarb. The microclimate inside the pot makes the rhubarb grow faster (and the lack of light also blanches the plant).
Sea kale is another plant that is often forced, to produce an early crop of blanched and tender leaves. It was very popular with the Victorians, who had the staff and the money to make it work!
Witloof chicory is forced, in the depths of winter. It’s a long process, that involves growing the plants outside to begin with, then potting them up after a frost and bring them indoors to a warm and dark place. Cutting all of the foliage back to a stump encourages them to grow a snowy white ‘chicon’ in the dark, in about 4 weeks.
Whether you think forcing is fascinating, or too much of a faff, it’s interesting to see the lengths gardeners used to go to, to get fresh food in winter!