February in the Vegetable Garden
I quite like February, it's a bit of a renegade. Not only does it have a different number of days than any other month but it also reserves the right to change that date on a leap year. It is the month my birthday falls in (presents can be sent to the address at the bottom of the page) and one where we can enjoy the wild Winter weather in the knowledge it will soon pass. February is our chance to get some preparatory work done before everything starts to kick off in March and April. It won't be too long now until you'll be planting your potatoes and after that things ramp up pretty quickly.
February is a good month for building or repairing stuff you may think you'll get round to later in the year. You can just about see in the photo of my garden above that I have green windbreak protection mesh attached to the fence; this stuff makes a huge difference if your garden is any way exposed. Wind really does retard plant growth especially in the early stages and is often confused with frost or cold damage.
If you are constructing a wind break you want it to be about 50% permeable as a more solid barrier like a wall can create turbulence on the leeward side which can be just as damaging as the unimpeded wind. The mesh I used is about right but you could also plant an open hedge using the mesh as protection while you wait for the hedge to grow.
You can also use this mesh to create barriers within your garden to protect particularly vulnerable crops or to break up wind tunnel action if your surroundings tend to funnel wind down your garden.
Building Mini Tunnels
I know I have been going on about them a bit recently but our mini tunnel kits really are incredibly versatile for all sorts of weather and pest protection. The frame kit can be knocked together in about 15 minutes to produce a very strong and long lasting structure.
The beauty is you can attach any cover you like including green windbreak, insect protection mesh, fleece or polythene depending on what the tunnel is to be used for. February is a nice time to do this sort of stuff and I can guarantee you will be absolutely delighted with yourself in April when you proudly whip a ready made tunnel out of the shed.
If you have a polytunnel or greenhouse a mini tunnel is invaluable inside the main tunnel to create a double glazing effect for extra warmth to bring seedlings on. If you really want to up the ante mini tunnels are also ideal for use with a propagation heat mat to create a multipurpose propagator.
Once the main tunnel has warmed up in March/April the mini tunnel can be used outside to warm soil and to protect newly planted seedlings. It can also be put into service as a cold frame when hardening off seedlings grown indoors to get them acclimatised to outdoor temperatures. Anyway, you get the picture, I'm just saying I'll be making a few more of these this month.
February is too early to start sowing most crops but if you want to grow many of the warm climate crops like aubergines, tomatoes and chilis you can start now. If you do have a tunnel or greenhouse you can also start growing some outdoor cool climate crops in pots or modules if they are to spend their lives in the tunnel.
We have touched on it in previous articles but while you can create enough heat (between 18 and 24 degrees) to germinate seeds with a propagator low light levels and short daylight hours at this time of year make your seedlings prone to tall, weak or 'leggy' growth. The answer to this conundrum is to use a growlight to provide the extra light.
Growlights are different from ordinary household bulbs as they emit a different spectrum of light which has been tweaked to mimic sunlight. There are a number of different and interesting types including halogen, florescent and LED variants all with different pros and cons.
There has been a lot of fascinating work done recently on coloured LED growlights by Philips to answer the demand for food security and large urban indoor farms. They have developed a range of 'light recipes' tailored for different growing applications from producing seedlings to growing leafy greens or ripening fruit. The lights produce three different spectra of light including red, far-red, and blue light which have different effects on root formation, leafy growth, flowering and fruiting. The concentrations of the different spectra can be altered by changing the numbers of LEDs in the light fitting.
Of course we are always ahead of the curve and will the first to offer them for domestic use in Ireland and the UK, I literally can't wait till they arrive. We will be taking in a range for experimentation but will be offering the propagation version on our site to see how it goes.
We have researched and number of solutions to find the best and have come up with a shortlist and a number of cool new toys to play with. You can see the 'Geopod' to the left which is made by the clever folks who brought us the Vitpod (best propagator in the world) and features their heated base and accurate thermostat together with a moulded lid and two 'Sunblaster' propagation lights. If the Vitopod is anything to go by this is going to be pretty good.
By the way the product at the top of this bit is the Growlight Garden which is a very versatile little light system for seedling propagation but also growing salad crops on your kitchen counter. It also uses 'Sunblaster' lights and features a reservoir in the base to help keep everything from drying out. Sorry, I'll stop now, I realise this is turning into a bit of a sales pitch!
Feeding my soil
This is the time of year I look at feeding any soil I haven't attended to in the Autumn. Most of my beds are already covered with a manure, compost and seaweed mix but some of my raised beds and my polytunnel still need attention.
As many of you know I use a lot of Envirogrind in the garden and have just taken delivery of my annual tonne bag which I dip into when needed throughout the season. This compost mix is made in Donegal by mixing composted green material with composted fish waste from the fish processing industry. It is a fantastic product, try it with potatoes, you will nearly double your yield.
Garlic and Fruit
I will be putting some more garlic now as we still have time until the weather warms. I think I said it last week but fruit is also a big winner at this time of year and is nowhere near as complicated as some people think. You can just get it in the ground now and worry about pruning later. Just remember when planting that the fruit will be a permanent feature so make sure you amend a large area around the planting hole with plenty of well rotted manure.
Bourse Buds on Apples and Pears
While we're talking about fruit I am reminded of a question asked this week about swollen buds on a pear tree. I had a mail with photos of swollen buds on a 4 year old specimen and a rather worried owner concerned about the health of his tree.
The swelling pictured opposite is known as a bourse bud and is formed when a flower bud elongates. Bourse buds may appear from time to time on apple and pear trees and are not harmful to the tree so nothing to worry about, they will bear normal leaves and flowers when the season progresses.