Dig it

With Fulke Andel, Gardening for the new - and not so new - gardener

This monthly article is mainly designed for those new to gardening who are looking to enjoy the fruits of their labours on their dinner plate. For experienced gardeners, it will act more as an aide memoire as to what needs to be done. I would however ask those experienced gardeners out there to get in touch with their tips, to help those new to growing fruit, vegetables and flowers.

The one thing to remember about gardening is that it’s all about planning ahead. Sometimes you reap the rewards quickly (annuals flower within weeks of planting) or in years (asparagus beds take a few years to give good crops).

The thing to remember is that it’s not an exact science; you’re at the mercy of so many variables – mainly due to the weather. This dictates everything from the rate of germination, to plant growth, flowering and ripening.

There is no absolute set date for any job in the garden, so you’ll need to take your soil condition into account before sowing etc. In general, cold wet soil isn’t a welcoming place for most seeds. If your soil is wet and sticks to the soles of your boots, I’d wait a day or two for the soil to dry a bit more before doing anything.

Finally, grow what you like! There’s absolutely no value in growing something as prolific as courgettes for example, if you can’t abide them! Your neighbours will soon get fed up with your ‘surplus food parcels’ and will hide behind the settee rather than open the door to you!


So, if you’re thinking about starting a vegetable patch, here’s some advice……..

Get into the garden as soon as you can, and cover the area you intend using as a kitchen garden with thick polythene /tarpaulin weighed down with stones. Doing this now will help kill off the vegetation and make the next steps that much easier!

Once the ground has thawed and is reasonably dry, peel back the covering you’ve put on, mark the shape of your veg patch with sand trickled from an old plastic bottle. Remove the top layer of growing vegetation and dig the ground over, incorporating as much organic matter as possible. If you are making a bed in the lawn, remove the turf and stack it upside down somewhere out of the way – after a year or two it will rot down into fantastic compost. Alternatively chop it up and bury upside down in the planting hole a good spade’s depth down. Don’t just dig it in to the top surface, or it will just re-grow.

Start off with a small veg patch this year; if you find you enjoy growing your own and have some success, you can always make it bigger next year – assuming you have the space.

For a first year’s crop, potatoes are considered a good choice as they help break up the soil. In reality – it’s you, digging up the potatoes later in the year that breaks up the soil! If you’re planting in what used to be a lawn, you can expect to lose around 40% of the potatoes in the first year due to wireworm and / or keel slugs.

Buy good quality seeds as it’s a shame not to get the best rewards for all the hard work put into preparing your vegetable patch. Remember to take soil condition and weather into account when sowing seeds.

Don’t worry if you don’t have space for a veg patch, a large number of vegetables (including potatoes and carrots) can be successfully grown in tubs.

For those more interested in flowers, here are some things to keep you busy……. hardy annuals can be sown in pots or modules to provide colour in the garden. Place autumn-sown sweet peas in a sunny position, perhaps on a high shelf in the greenhouse that gets plenty of light. Sow summer bedding plants in a heated propagator or under glass. Early spring is an ideal time to plant herbaceous perennials, including Geranium, Astrantia and Oriental poppies.

Plant summer-flowering bulbs. Prepare the soil first, to ensure that drainage is sufficient to prevent the bulbs rotting.

Anemone coronaria tubers need particularly well-drained soils. Indoor forced bulbs that were in the house for winter displays, but which have now finished flowering, can now be planted into the garden, taking care not to disturb the roots.

Always check the instructions on the seed packets to establish when best to sow them.

Jobs to do in the garden for February

Sow: (under glass where appropriate)


Broad beans

Early peas

Brussels sprouts






Onion sets

Early Potatoes

Summer cabbages, turnips and spinach

Seed onions

Aubergine and peppers

Plant Out:

Jerusalem artichokes


Bare rooted fruit trees and bushes






Perpetual spinach and chard

Cabbage, Purple sprouting broccoli and kale

Brussels sprouts

Chicory and endive

Celeriac, celery and Jerusalem artichokes


Finish pruning currants (black, red and white), and gooseberries.

Force rhubarb by covering with a large purpose made pot (or an old dustbin).

Prune apple and pear trees.


Prepare vegetable seed beds, and sow some vegetables under cover

Chit potato tubers

Net fruit and vegetable crops to keep the birds off

Prune winter-flowering shrubs that have finished flowering

Divide bulbs such as snowdrops, and plant those that need planting ‘in the green’

Prune wisteria

Prune hardy evergreen hedges and renovate overgrown deciduous hedges

Prune conservatory climbers

Cut back deciduous grasses left uncut over the winter

Protect new spring shoots from slugs

Plant summer-flowering bulbs

Lift and divide overgrown clumps of perennials

Top dress containers with fresh compost

Mow the lawn on dry days (if needed)

Cut back cornus (dogwood) and salix (willow) grown for colourful winter stems

Weeds come back in to growth – deal with them before they get out of hand

Start feeding fish and using the pond fountain; remove pond heaters

Open the greenhouse or conservatory doors and vents on warm days

Use cloches to warm and dry out the soil before sowing seeds

Readers Tips:

When it comes to pruning clematis: ‘If it flowers before June – there’s no need to prune’ MD Southgate

 Seasonal Recipe:

 Here’s a recipe for Sautéed Kale with Lemon (serves 2)

You will need a bunch of kale, washed trimmed, with thick stalks removed – the remainder sliced into 2 inch pieces. 1 tsp of salt, 2 tsp of olive oil,

1 tbs of fresh lemon juice.

Chilli flakes (to taste) and plenty of grated parmesan.

Using a large saucepan

cover the base with around

1 inch of water, bring to the boil and add the Kale and

salt, cover and cook for 5mins – stirring occasionally, then drain.

Return kale to the saucepan. Drizzle with olive oil. Reheat. Add lemon juice, chilli flakes and parmesan cheese.

Toss and serve.




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