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Nature blog - Jenny Bourne

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The RPA Nature blog with Jenny Bourne.

Watch the seasons unfold right here at our very own allotments

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Much of the work for February lies in preparation for the coming year: getting your plot ready for sowing and planting by digging in lots of organic matter and warming up the soil by covering it with cloches or sheets of plastic, old carpet, or even cardboard. Otherwise, probably the most important thing is to finish winter-pruning fruit trees and bushes. They will be starting to awaken from their winter dormancy now and next month may be too late.

Force rhubarb and chicory

Covering rhubarb crowns should stimulate them into producing an early crop in around March. And planting up Belgian or Witloof chicory roots and blanching new shoots can provide some welcome fresh salad leaves.

Beautiful terracotta forcing pots like these may be beyond the budget of most of us, but upturned plastic tubs or containers will do the job just as well.

Beautiful terracotta forcing pots like these may be beyond the budget of most of us, but upturned plastic tubs or containers will do the job just as well.

Finish digging over your plot

Complete your winter digging. Turn over the soil to help aerate it and remove any weeds that have survived the winter. If the ground is still very wet lay planks over the surface to spread your weight and prevent you compacting the soil.

Spread compost or manure

There’s still time to feed your soil with compost or well-rotted stable manure. Work it in as you dig or simply spread it over the surface as a top dressing, to be drawn underground by worms.

Turn your compost heap

A new compost heap full of last year’s old plant material will benefit from raking through with a fork in order to aerate it. Add some water if it seems dry, then cover it up again to keep it warm and ensure everything decomposes.

Warm up seedbeds

If you covered areas of your plot with polythene sheeting last autumn, it should already be dry and relatively warm, ready for your first sowing of seeds this month or next. Homemade cloches constructed from clear sheeting or fleece stretched over wire hoops will prepare the ground still further.

Make a runner bean trench

Because they grow so large, runner beans are notoriously hungry plants. Traditionally, a specially dug bean trench filled with compost or manure has always been the way of creating a super-rich bed to supply them with all the nutrients they need.

Continue “chitting” seed potatoes

You should have bought all your seed potatoes for the year by the end of this month. And they should all be spread out in egg boxes or seed trays in a cool, light room busily sprouting shoots or “chits”. If the chits look pale and spindly, then the room is probably too warm or too dark.

Protect cauliflowers from frost

Continue to cover the curds of overwintering cauliflowers by tying their own leaves around them. It helps protect them from both frost and light.

Order new asparagus crowns

New asparagus is best planted in March or April, so it’s worth ordering crowns from a specialist nursery now. Consider carefully where you’re going to site a new asparagus bed, since it’s likely to occupy that space for several years. Prepare the ground in advance by digging it over and adding lots of well-rotted compost.

Finish winter-pruning of fruit trees

Any remaining winter-pruning of apples and pears should be completed by the end of this month. The trees will be starting to come out of dormancy and if you leave it any later to prune them, they will bleed sap where they are cut.

Winter-prune gooseberries, currants, and blueberries

If you’ve not already done so, winter-prune gooseberry and currant bushes. Established blueberry bushes may need some pruning, too.

Prune long gooseberry stems by removing about half of last summer’s new growth. Cut back to a healthy bud.

Prune long gooseberry stems by removing about half of last summer’s new growth. Cut back to a healthy bud.

Prune raspberries

Summer and autumn raspberries need pruning in different ways. Summer raspberries, which you should have pruned after they finished fruiting last July or August, should need no more than a trim. Cut off the tops of any tall canes so that they are only slightly taller than their supports or bend them over and tie them in the shape of hoops. Autumn raspberries should be cut right down to the ground now. They’ll produce fruits on new canes that grow during the summer.

Inspect fruit supports

Check all stakes, wires, and ties before new growth starts. Once new foliage appears it’s harder to see what needs attention. Replace any that are worn or broken.

Feed and mulch fruit trees and bushes

Spread a high-potash fertilizer or an organic mixture of blood, fish, and bone or seaweed around the base of your fruit bushes and trees. If possible, follow up with a covering layer of rotted-down farmyard manure or compost to retain moisture in the soil and suppress weeds.

Protect apricots, peaches, and nectarines

Trained apricot, peach, and nectarine trees grown in a sheltered, south-facing spot should begin to come into blossom in February. Cover them to protect them from rain and frost – although, if you do so, you may have to hand-pollinate the flowers.

Pest and disease watch

 

Vegetables

Slugs

Mice and rats

Pigeons

 

Fruit

Aphids

Big bud mite

Brown rot

Canker

Winter moths

Bullfinches

 

 

 

Text and photographs copyright © 2010 Alan Buckingham.

 

Allotment month by month by Alan Buckingham, front cover thumbnail Allotment Month by Month
(Dorling Kindersley, 2009)
Grow Vegetables by Alan Buckingham, front cover thumbnail Grow Vegetables
(Dorling Kindersley, 2007)
Grow Fruit by Alan Buckingham, front cover thumbnail Grow Fruit
(Dorling Kindersley, 2010)