Resolving to grow in the garden for the year ahead

It’s a quiet time for the garden, so Fiann Ó Nualláin takes the time to map out a plan for the year ahead.

Kale is a vegetable that can be grown through winter.

If you are thinking that one of your New Year’s resolutions might be to grow your own — be it for health reasons, for fiscal reasons or for fun — then here is a quick overview of what to
expect.

January

This month may be the first calendar month of the New Year, but it is not necessarily the first month of planting action.

If there is snow on the ground or a flooded garden outside the window, then send off for catalogues and plan to commence in February.

No point doing more harm than good by working out in weather that is not conducive to growth or task. If soil can be dug then bare root fruit trees can be planted.

You can commence building raised beds, positioning trellis or support systems for beans and raspberry canes and general setting out the site.

Chose a place to grow your veg that gets good light and is not too breezy, (wind creates a need for more water than usual and it damages edible foliage). If your spot is prone to gusty — put up a fence or hedge to shelter.

Fill raised beds or cover the ground with compost and manure which will add nutrients and bacteria that will increase the fertility of your soil, via the action of earthworms and other beneficial insects, while garden organisms will physically improve the structure of your soil.

Add a layer of membrane over that and you will heat your soil up in the coming weeks, enough for February sown seeds to think it is March.

February

It can be the coldest month of the year. Ice or not. Sometimes it is the wettest; if not in actual direct rainfall then simply in the saturation of the soil, which has been building all winter.

Don’t over walk the garden, work off a plank if you can, to spread weight and avoid compaction of the soil which only makes nutrients less available and stunts root growth.

Seed sowing on window sills and greenhouses can start in earnest and some plug plants are available too.

Plant with crop rotation in mind— that’s simply not planting the same vegetable in the same position in two consecutive years (aim to have quadrants of four and move clockwise with plantings).

It keeps the plant moving ahead of diseases that can linger in soil and lets you manage fertility more efficiently too.

March

A month traditionally associated with planting potatoes as well as crowns and tubers so you could also start a corner of Jerusalem artichokes and establish an asparagus row.

It is the ideal time to direct sow root crops (beetroot, turnips, radish, parsnips and carrots, etc) but also to start early peas and broad beans. Under cloches or fleece try lettuces, summer cabbages, early cauliflowers, brussels sprouts.

If you don’t have a crop of comfrey (Symphytum × uplandicum or S officinale) on the go then consider starting one; the first cut of comfrey at this time of the year is often
utilised as a fertiliser under seed potatoes to boost the future yield and the fermented tea is a wonderful tonic for all edibles at any stage of the year.

April

This month will see mounting vigour in previously-planted crops. You will feel it in your own eagerness to get on with tasks and to get new edibles started.

Plants are photosynthesizing like crazy and the temperatures are lifting but sudden cold snaps can be a problem this month — so be vigilant and wrap tenders with horticultural fleece if cloud cover is absent at night.

April can be the month that reveals a ‘Hungry Gap’, this juncture between the last of the winter crops and period that is just a little prior to the availability of early summer crops.

It reminds us that now is the time to sow and there is always a lot to sow this month from saved seed or garden centre packets.

April will see plugs (seedlings and baby plants) available in garden centres alongside tubers, sets and crowns.

So do plant out asparagus, globe artichokes, jerusalem artichokes, potato, onion sets, shallot sets and strawberries.

May

This is the thinning month. Thinning enables space for roots to swell and spread and gives space too to top surface foliage to spread.

All this lessens competition for water and nutrients and that extra availability of space and nutrition proffers non stunted crops.

Similarly to thinning, disbudding can be a practice of strengthening the vigour of plants for future years.

Traditionally new Strawberries (those only planted earlier in the current year), have their flowers removed preventing them from setting fruit and thus focusing their energies into building good roots to support a bumper crop next year.

May can see weed explosions — permeable membrane will suppress between rows but plastic will cook your veg roots at this time of year.

Mulches are not so good around growing crops either, due to heat and potential nitrogen-stealing upon breakdown, and top dressing will only feed weeds underneath if you have left any behind.

The best tip is to hoe weeds on dry days as they will sizzle off in the sun and not retake.

June

Will see all those salad crops, lettuce, spring onion, radish etc, summer cabbage for coleslaw and early carrots come on. Early harvestable veg are new potatoes. beetroot; turnips; peas; beans and spinach too.

Harvest as you go but continue to sow and grow on. June is ideal to start off squash, courgette and marrows or cucumber, celery; leeks; chicory; endive; maincrop peas; kohlrabi and even sweetcorn.

Successional sowing ensures you always have fresh crops at their peak for your table, so keep planting out the likes of broccoli and calabrese, brussels sprout and summer cabbage for later in the year.

July

This month sees abundance but also pest and diseases, which become the focus of attention. Watch out for potato and tomato blight, spray with organic solutions if you haven’t planted blight-resistant crops.

Aphids and blackfly are a particular problem this month but are simple to deal with, just wash them off with a strong jet of water or spray with soapy water or blend a garlic clove up in the sudsy water.

Alternately, you can plant some nasturtiums at the other end of the garden to attract blackfly away from the veg patch.

Broad beans are most often hit but you can pinch out the tops and the aphids generally venture elsewhere. Keep harvesting peas and beans and all your delicious crops.

August

Is a wicked month for blight weather — stay vigilant. When harvesting potatoes, take care to lift all the tubers even the smallest allegedly uncookable ones, along with the fork-pierced and spade-split ones.

Any left behind may sprout again and spoil your rotation or worse be a potential reservoir for pest/disease.

The trick is to harvest away and then fork over again a few days later to turn up any you may have missed. Runner beans that have reached the top of their supports will benefit from having the growing tip pinched out and if your aim is masses of tomatoes not masses of foliage, then cut to keep side-shoots in check.

September

This month is officially the end of summer but some Septembers can be as good as June on the edible front.

Main crop potatoes should be ready. Still cropping are courgettes, beetroot, cabbage, carrots, cauliflowers, cucumbers, globe artichokes, kale, lettuce, kohlrabi, spring onions, spinach, sweetcorn, tomatoes, turnips, leeks, marrows, onions, pumpkins and radishes.

This is the month to start again with onion and shallot sets and to get going on winter and over-wintering crops. If you have picked all your beans and lifted all your spuds you can move to the next allocations in crop rotations.

October

A full-on harvest time, lifting main crop potatoes and cabbages continues and the last of the peas and beans should be picked now. Also, I like to compost the foliage, but I cut at the base and leave the roots in, with all their nitrogen filled nodules left behind in the soil they will act as a fertiliser for next year.

Lots of gardeners lift carrots and other roots now to store in peat or sand. I always leave some in as I find they are sweeter after a touch of frost, especially the parsnips. Garlic can go in. Squashes and pumpkins are ready to eat or carve.

November

A month which sees a slow down, but you can sow broad beans and hardy peas now to gain an early crop next year.

I use the emptying of the veg beds as an opportunity to sow an overwintering green manure (a mix of grazing rye and legumes) this acts as a ground cover that suppresses weeds but also hold nutrients in the soil for the spring, the legumes will even add nutrients and the rye add bulk matter when dug in come spring.

You can add farmyard manure and compost now and let it breakdown and improve soil over the next two generally unproductive months of deep winter. Now is about boosting fertility for next year.

December

A month in which you may let the garden rest and yourself too. Oh how quick it all comes around again.


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