Sowing broad beans in pots – February

Although broad beans can be sown directly into the ground in late Autumn (last week of October or early November) this is not ideal in colder areas, as they may need protection over winter, or where the soil is waterlogged – which is a problem many of us face in the heavy clay soil in the Vale of York. One alternative, particularly suited to wetter soil, is to sow the seed in pots under glass in late February for planting out the following month. Once sown, the pots need cool (but not freezing) conditions for the seeds to germinate. If the seeds are grown on in a warmer location (such as indoors) they will become ‘leggy’ and will be difficult to plant out. So a cold frame or unheated greenhouse is ideal.

Use 7cm/3-inch pots filled with a general purpose compost. It is a good idea to stand the pots in shallow water for half an hour before planting. The germination rate for broad beans is high so one seed per pot should be sufficient. Make a hole 4cm (1 1/2″) and drop the broad bean seed in.

It doesn’t matter much which way up the seed is planted. Fill the hole with compost and pat down. Don’t forget to mark your pots – let’s be honest, most of us have planted seeds and then got our pots mixed up at some point! The ideal temperature for germination is around 12 C but anything above 7 C will give good results.

Once the seedlings appear, move the pots to a position where they will get plenty of light. Seeds planted in the last week of February should be ready for planting out on the allotment in the last week of March.

Good luck – broad beans eaten young and tender are really delicious!

Planting new rhubarb crowns – February

February is a month of preparation. There is a lot to do and a great deal of anticipation focused on the coming year. In one of last month’s posts, we talked about forcing rhubarb. Well February is the month you can add to your stock of rhubarb by planting new crowns, and maybe try some new varieties. Growing rhubarb is remarkably easy as, once established, it needs little maintenance and will produce a great crop year after year in the same location without too many problems.

You need a moist, but well-drained location – so if drainage is a problem, consider a raised bed, as the crowns will rot if waterlogged. Although rhubarb prefers a sunny location, it will grow quite happily in semi-shade. Rhubarb needs a lot of nutrients to thrive so dig the ground to a depth of 24 inches and work in a lot of well composted manure.  Make sure the bed has been cleared of all weeds.

The rhubarb crowns should be planted so that the top is 1 inch below soil level. although, if the soil is heavy and wet, plant them slightly higher, so that the top of the crown sits at ground level. This will help prevent rotting. Rhubarb plants  get quite large so allow a spacing of 24 to 30 inches between them. Water well in dry spells.

Do not harvest during the first year after planting as this will reduce overall plant growth. Remove a few stems the next year, then up to half from then on. Always leave some stems to allow the plant to continue growing. Whilst some gardeners advise harvesting by gently removing the stem from the crown, a sharp knife is probably easier. Cut the ripe stem at the base. After you have cut the stems, remove the leaves and toss onto the compost heap. Never eat the leaves as they are poisonous.

Technically, rhubarb can be harvested right up until autumn – but it is better to stop harvesting in July or August to allow the plant to build up its energy for the winter. Allow the foliage to die back naturally in autumn then cut away the old leaves to expose the growing tips to winter cold.

Planting garlic – January/February

At this time of year, most of us are not thinking about planting. But there is one crop that, if you didn’t plant in the autumn, you could consider allocating some space to this year. Garlic requires frost to kick-start its growing process, so planting before the last frost is best and there are many varieties that you can happily plant in January or February.
You buy seed garlic in bulbs, so you will need to separate the individual cloves for planting. You should choose a sunny well-drained spot for planting (so those of us with plots at the wetter end of the site will need to plant in raised beds otherwise the seed bulbs will rot). For nice big heads of garlic, the soil should be loose with a good level of nutrients; so fork the soil over well and dig in a couple of buckets of well rotted compost or a general purpose compost from the garden centre (not fresh manure –  this should ideally be composted first).

Plant the cloves pointy-end up a couple of inches underground and about 4 to 5 inches apart. Pack the soil down lightly.
The garlic will need watering well in late spring and into summer for nice plump bulbs (but be careful not to overwater!). Stop watering 3 or 4 weeks before your estimated harvesting time (which will vary depending on variety).

Good Luck! – Chicken and 40 cloves of Garlic – Yummm!