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February Allotment Tips

Sowing seeds

At last, the days are beginning to lengthen on the allotment. As the sun begins to get stronger, so nature begins to respond. The winter so far has been a non-event for many of us. Already there is a mix of daffodils, snowdrops and crocus in flower in parts of the UK. On my allotment, dandelions are promising to flower in record time!

My electric heated propagator comes into its own at this time of year. It sits on my windowsill, providing just enough heat to germinate long season favourites such as aubergine, sweet peppers, chilli peppers and later in the month, tomatoes.

I’ve recently sown a couple of trays of Sweet Peas ‘true fragrance’. The plants benefit from a long growing season and can be in flower on the allotment as early as mid-June.

Despite the above, generally, it is still a little too early in the year for most seeds. Many are best held back until March and April.

Shallots grown from bulbs can be started off this month in gentle heat. Or they can simply be planted in trays and left in the cold greenhouse to root slowly.

Seed potatoes in a chitting tray

When your seed potatoes arrive it is essential to unpack them straight away. Place them in a frost-free location to allow the chitting process to begin. The aim is for short, stocky immature shoots to form prior to planting. This process is especially beneficial to first and second early varieties.

This month the emphasis outdoors is on ground preparation in your early sowing or planting beds. It is a job that is very weather dependent. When the ground is frozen or claggy it is best to keep off the soil. Cover the soil with black ground cover fabric to help warm the soil, as the sun gets stronger.

Spurred on by the mild winter, rhubarb crowns are bursting into life. Now is the time to ‘force’ these plants. This simply means covering the crowns with an upturned forcing pot to exclude the light. This encourages quick-growing, succulent, blanched stems, with a distinct flavour.

My Brussels Sprout plants are coming to the end. There are typically a few small sprouts left at the top, which are still tasty when stir-fried. I’ll be composting the stems, rather than burning them. Contrary to popular belief, the thick stems will rot down if they are chopped into small pieces. This speeds up the rotting process. There is no need to have a smoky allotment fire for this kind of thing. If you do want to burn material such as this, a garden incinerator is a better option.

Purple sprouting broccoli plants are on the cusp of cropping. Regular harvesting of the tasty shoots will encourage cropping over a longer period.

Parsnips, swede, leeks and kale are all still producing nicely. Long may it continue!

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About Lee Senior

Lee Senior is an experienced horticultural writer, RHS Yorkshire in Bloom judge and horticultural consultant. He has also had an allotment for over 25 years. After initially spurning horticulture as a career option, to pursue his boyhood dream of becoming a train driver, Lee soon realised he couldn't resist getting his hands dirty to make a living. Horticultural College training led, to getting an allotment at the tender age of 18 (in the days when you could actually get a plot quickly). My gardening hero, is Geoff Hamilton" says Lee. "It was Geoff who convinced me that you didn't have to spray everything that moved in the garden. Watching him on Gardeners’ World in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s was a revelation. I was lucky enough to meet Geoff and I’ve also more recently had the pleasure of meeting Joe Swift. Now over two decades of practical experience has taught me to work with mother nature, not to fight against her and don't try to tame her, as so many gardeners seem to be on a mission to do. Small-scale food growing is my passion and I can't wait for my two daughters, one who is 8 years old and the other who is 5 to hopefully pick up the baton in the future. Nothing beats the flavour and satisfaction of growing your own food. You simply cannot buy the same quality and freshness. Everyone can have a go at growing something says Lee, no matter where they live. Lee has also written his two books; 'Pennine Way, The Highs and Lows' which is a humorous, personal account of walking this momentous iconic walk. His second book 'Walking in the Aire', features 14 short walks in Yorkshire.

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