“FEBRUARY. Now the Weather begins to alter, although sometimes January be open and temperate, and this Month severely cold, yet to the most part the inclining of the Sun to the Vernal Equinox, doth produce a moderation of the past colds, and encourage the ingenious Gardener to trim his Trees, and stir his Ground, mixing his rotten Dung in the digging thereof, for the setting and sowing of Beans, Pease, Carrots, Parsnips, Onions, parsley, Spinage, Asparagus, Anniseeds, Corn-sallet, Fennel. Which being now sown in a fair and open season, will come early, and prosper well. …….plant out your Cabbage Plants to have them early. Make your hot Bed for melons, Cucumbers &c”
Maybe it was warmer in the 17th centuary although I doubt it! It is possible to plant broad beans seeds now, weather permitting, also parsley, cabbage and lettuce. The ‘corn-sallet’ is presumably cornsalad / lambs lettuce, though mine has over-wintered and I’m still cropping it.
It’s no use planting anything outside if the ground is soggy though as seeds will rot.
A note regarding ‘rotten dung’; it should have spent the winter on the veg plot so the worms can mix it in, but if you didn’t then it’s fine to spread it now (and the same goes for garden compost) as long as it is well rotted.
I am always impressed by the ingenuity of gardeners in past times. I saw a hot-bed once at a National Trust property which was attempting to grow pineapples. It was like a giant cold frame sitting on manure or maybe the heat from the nearby manure heap was being pumped into the hot-bed. Very labour intensive. No wonder pineapples were a sign of wealth in those days. It’s difficult to understand now considering they’re only £1 in Sainsbury’s!
Here’s a summary of my RHS ‘Gardening Through the Year’ advice for February with my comments in brackets:
- Spread compost and organic fertiliser if not already done so, e.g. chicken pellets or seaweed meal, where you intend planting later.
- Warm up your soil where your early crops will go, by covering with polythene cloches or similar. (Old windows perhaps?)
- Start off early crops indoors or under glass, planting seeds in modules or trays (lots of re-cycling of containers possible here). Plant small amounts of seeds of lettuce, summer cabbage, chard, spinach, salad onions, peas and broad beans. (Some types of broad beans like aquadulce can go straight into the ground. Peas can be planted in a short length of guttering with drainage holes drilled in the bottom. This is so you can slide them into a prepared trench when they are ready, without harming the roots. (I tried this once but the mice ate them so I reverted to toilet rolls in containers covered with an inverted clear plastic box to keep out the mice! That seemed to work better.)
- Start chitting early varieties of potatoes in egg boxes on the window sill. The ‘eyes’ will start to turn into shoots. This will take a few weeks, ready for planting out in March.
- Prune Autumn raspberries down to the ground. Summer fruiting raspberries need tying to their wire supports and feeding with potash based fertiliser.
I have probably forgotten something important but I’m sure this is enough to be going on with. Spring is on its way – although it will probably get side-tracked! Happy gardening!