January is a time when we all look at our gardens, allotments or veg plots with fresh new eyes! It is likely to be very chilly outside but there we still be some of us outside finishing our winter jobs and if we are lucky enough to have finished all our winter jobs then we will be tucked up inside reading through the seed catalogues and planning for the year ahead!
Sowing, Planting and Harvesting!
If you are already thinking about sowing seeds this month then there are a few things you can start to get underway:
- Chilli peppers, aubergines and greenhouse tomatoes can be started towards the end of this month to give a long growing season.
- Microgreens and sprouting seeds can be started anytime to add that lovely crunch and zing to winter salads
- Onions can be started from seed this month, whether they are exhibition onions or not.
- Salad leaves can be started for growing on the windowsill or under cover if you are looking for that salad hit after a heavy festive period!
Now is the time to think about your fruit garden and replenishing, replacing or extending your stock.
- Plant bare rooted fruit trees and bushes now whilst it is still cold before the leaf and flower buds open in the spring.
- Bare rooted strawberry runners and raspberry canes can be ordered and planted now.
- Dormant rhubarb crowns can be planted now or old ones can be lifted and divided to keep them productive.
- If you didn’t get a chance to do it in the autumn, you can still plant garlic cloves if conditions are dry. Garlic needs the cold conditions of winter to form cloves. Don’t plant cloves when it is wet otherwise they will rot in the ground.
There can also be plenty to harvest this time of year if you have planned accordingly:
- Brussels sprouts will still be cropping depending on variety. These delicious little buttons aren’t just for Christmas!
- Winter cabbages and cauliflowers can be harvested now.
- If you are a lover of chicory, then this can be harvested now too.
- Jerusalem artichokes can be lifted now although remember to get all the tubers out of the ground otherwise they will come back next year.
- Kale, winter cabbages and winter cauliflowers are all ready to be harvested in these winter months
- Leeks are a staple in January, with plenty of Potato and Leek soup (recipe below) being made during these cold days.
- Parsnips are ready to be harvested with the cold frosts making these root vegetables even sweeter. They can be stored in the ground until needed but beware of frozen soil!
- If you have success with swede then they can also be harvested this month (mine were decimated by pigeons)
Jobs on the plot
It is good to make sure that the plot is ready for the spring when sowing and weeding will start in earnest. These next couple of months are the best time to try and get a head of the game by performing some routine tasks:
- In the fruit garden, consider applying oil-based winter washes to trees and bushes to kill off over-wintering aphid eggs and make sure apples, pears, currants, gooseberries, autumn raspberries and blueberries are given a good prune to encourage new shoots and keep their shape.
- Try not to let compost heaps become to cold. Turn the compost pile to encourage further decomposition and clad the pile with layers of cardboard or cover with carpet or polythene.
- Make sure you move any vegetables, fruits and herbs in clay pots to a frost free place in the garden or cover with bubble wrap to stop the pots getting frost damage and breaking!
- Practice good hygiene and rinse out any pots and trays you plan to use prior to the sowing season. It is also worthwhile to sort and tidy your shed and sharpen your tools ready for the new season!
- Whilst having a tidy up, cleaning down any greenhouse glass and polythene sheeting on polytunnels to ensure maximum light levels can reach your plants. Insulate your greenhouse and polytunnel if very cold conditions are forecast.
- Make sure that all guttering is clear of leaves and debris so you can efficiently save water. Install more water butts if possibly to make the most of the winter rains.
- Protect plants from pesky pigeons who will be on the look out for a brassica feast. Make sure that cabbages, cauliflowers, sprouts, broccoli and kale are covered with netting stretched tight to prevent them from being eaten.
- Don’t forget to do any winter digging on dry warmer days. Don’t work the soil when it is wet as you will ruin the structure of the soil. Turn over the soil with a fork and leave the big clumps on the soil for the frost and the worms to break down. Or you can work some well-rotted manure into the soil ready for planting later in the year.
It is often so cold in January that even the best intentions get put aside in favour of a nice hot cup of tea and some biscuits (I like a chocolate hobnob or two)!
- Now is the time to sort through seed tins and discard any old and out of date packets of seed. Make a list of what plants you want to grow this year and search through the seed catalogues to find the best varieties for you. Remember that you can make use of any extra, in date seed packets you no longer want at any of the seed swaps that happen around the country. Who knows what you may find in return.
- As well as seed swaps, potato days are also being held around the country this month and into February. This is a brilliant opportunity to go any look at a wide variety of potatoes, more varieties than you can find in a seed catalogue! There will also be opportunities to meet other like minded people and join your local National Vegetable Society or allotment association at these events.
- If you buy any potatoes remember to save your egg cartons so you can start chitting potatoes. Pop the potatoes in the egg cartons with the eyes facing up and place in a cool, light location such as a windowsill. You will soon see little shoots sprouting from the tuber. Also remember to save your empty toilet roll tubes for sowing seeds in. These are great, free biodegradable pots which are perfect for starting off peas, sweetcorn and beans in.
- Make a detailed plan of your plot and plan where plants are going to grow making sure you consider crop rotation where possible to stop the build up of pests and diseases.
Potato and Leek Soup
- 2 large leeks, sliced
- 50g butter
- 50g flour
- 200ml milk
- 1 litre vegetable stock
- 500g potatoes, peeled and cubed
- salt and pepper to season
- Add the butter to a large pan and heat until melted. Add the sliced leeks to the pan and cook for 3 minutes in the butter until slightly softened.
- Add the flour to the pan and mix together so the flour combines with the butter to form a type of roux. Stirring continuously, cook the roux for 2 minutes.
- Slowly start adding the milk to the pan, stirring continuously until the mixture thickens. Add the vegetable stock and potatoes and bring to the boil.
- Once the soup is starting to boil, remove any scum that has formed and then turn the heat down to a simmer and partially cover. Stir occasionally until the potatoes are cooked through and the soup has thickened slightly. Serve hot with warm crusty bread.
Hope you have a happy and productive January! I know I’ll be working away down the allotment. At least I have got my little kettle and gas hob to keep me warm with cups of tea!
Oh and the biscuit tin!