Spring into Gardening

Ideas for January to February:

Tough winter weather means there is more to do in our gardens; catching up with things like clearing old winter crops.  Brussels sprouts and leeks can still be harvested.  Purple sprouting broccoli may have taken a hit with the weight of snow but it will revive and start sprouting again if left in, if you’ve the space to do that.  Some crops like garlic need cold weather to get going and some varieties can still be planted at this time of year.


Time now for onions and shallots:  the ‘sets’ for these are still available for planting now and through to March.  (Sets are small dormant bulbs which grow on, cutting out the ‘growing from seed stage.) Try different varieties to see which do best in your ground – and red as well as white onions for variety in your cooking.  Shallots keep very well – and for each ‘set’ planted you will get between 5-8 shallots at summer harvest. 

Fork into the soil well-rotted compost and rake the top level.  Sets need careful planting.  Use a garden-line for the rows; string & two sticks will do.  Make a small hole in the soil the depth of the set; place the set in the hole without pressing it in, and cover it with the growing tip just below soil level. (take care to get the set the right way up, rooting end down) Pressing the set in will compact the soil beneath – so emerging roots will less easily get going.  Uncovered growing tips may be pulled out by birds; if they are, replace and cover again.

 Distances between sets and rows:  imagine they’ll grow the size of a medium apple or orange.  You’ll need to get a hoe between them for weeding in the summer.  Onions hate weed competition.  Say 20cms (8”) apart, same with the rows, and plant each row so that the sets are ‘staggered’ like this:

x                        x                        x                        x                        x                        x                       


            x                        x                        x                        x                        x                        x


Note:  In raised beds/large containers/tubs they can be closer together.  Containers need to be as large, and as deep as possible to share the limited soil resources.

Potatoes:  We’re also coming into the potato season.  Seed potatoes are now available. There are hundreds – see: http://varieties.potato.org.uk/varietyindex.php%20%20%20%20?page_no=1  

The Potato Council lists the top 10 varieties: Desiree, Maris Piper, Cara, Vivaldi, Charlotte, Record, Anya, Harmony, Accord and Agria. 

Note:  UK potato seed is highly regulated to prevent disease; the same goes for Garlic in France!  Of these my favourite is Anya, perfect for summer salads boiled with apple mint.  It’s a cross between Desiree & Pink Fir Apple an old, knobbly variety!

There are four general types of potatoes:

First Early

plant from end February to late May, harvest 10 weeks

Varieties: Accord, Rocket, British Queen

Second Early

plant from March to late May, harvest 13 weeks

Varieties: Anya, Bonnie, Arran Comrade

Early Maincrop:

as for Second Early, harvest 15 weeks

Varieties: Charlotte, Blue Danube, Belle de Fontenay


plant March to mid May, harvest 20 weeks

Varieties: Desiree, Maris Piper, Cara, Vivaldi

Note: These timings are UK general – allow for our colder condition.                       

Buy at local garden centres; in town, Homebase has a small range. Seed merchants have lists, for example: http://www.thompson-morgan.com/potatoes1/ilist/potatoes.html   

Planting:  first chitting the seed potatoes:

  • Chitting means encouraging the seed potatoes to sprout before planting.
  • Start chitting late January in warmer parts of the country or February in cooler areas (like Newsome) about 6 weeks before you plant them out.
  • Seed potatoes have a more rounded, blunt end that has several ‘eyes’.
  • Stand the tubers in natural light with the blunt end uppermost in trays or old egg boxes. They will begin to grow – making shoots.
  • The potatoes are ready to plant out when shoots are 1” (25mm) long.


Planting in the ground:

  • Plant chitted potatoes when the soil has warmed up, from mid-March or early April. Start by digging a trench 6”–9” deep (15-23 cm) although the exact depth should vary according to the variety of potato you’re planting.
  • Loosen the soil in the bottom of the trench and add a sprinkling of compost before planting.
  • Plant earlies about 12” (30cm) apart with 16”-20” (40-50cm) between rows; second earlies & maincrops about 15” (38cm) apart with 30” (75cm) between the rows. Note: These distances allow space for ‘earthing up’
  • Handle the chitted potatoes carefully (breaking the shoots sets them back) gently setting them into the trench with the shoots pointed upwards. Cover the seed potatoes lightly with soil from the dug trench.
  • As soon as shoots appear above ground (look carefully, they’re often purple and hard to see) earth up each plant with a draw hoe (one that you pull towards you) making a ridge of soil so that shoots are just buried.  Leave this too long and you may break the shoots.
  • Repeat this process regularly.  Your new potatoes will grow from these shoots and maximise your harvest – until the ridge is 6”-9” high.

Look out for more hints by the end of February!

David Browning

Growing Newsome Team

2 Responses

  1. […] February’s tips: Spring into Gardening […]

  2. […] back to February tips (Spring into Gardening) for hints on potatoes. They can still be planted – and seed potatoes are half price at Homebase […]

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