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6 January 2014

January Tasks for the Vegetable Gardener

Although the weather is getting colder, there are still jobs for the vegetable gardener to be getting on with.

If you planted any of the following, you may have some to harvest:- brussels sprouts, sprouting broccoli, leeks, parsnips, celeriac, turnips, swedes and Jerusalem artichokes.

You can sow broad beans in pots in mild areas, provided that you have a cold frame or unheated greenhouse. I have just put my last few seeds in a bag of damp compost in the airing cupboard to get them started. This way you don't bother planting any that aren't going to sprout.

If you have suitable space, try some early sowings in trays in January. Lettuce, summer cabbage and cauliflowers, plus round varieties of carrots, spinach, salad onions and turnips are all suitable. You will need a germination temperature of about 13C so a windowsill is fine to get these seeds going, then a bright, cool spot to keep them safe until they are planted out under cloches or in cold frames in February.

Sow onions in January, as onions from seed need a long growing season. Raise them in modules on a warm windowsill for planting out in March.

You can sow greenhouse tomatoes in January, for growing on in a heated greenhouse. Suitable cultivars are available specifically for growing under cover, such as Shirley F1 (medium size) and F1 Aromata (large).

You can start forcing rhubarb and chicory in January. Rhubarb is forced by placing an up-turned bucket/pot over the plant to exclude light, while the warmer the environment the quicker it will grow.

Chicory is treated differently however, as you need to dig up well-grown chicory roots from the ground, pot them up, and then cover with an upturned pot. They should then be kept in a dark, warm place at 10-14C. The chicons will be ready for late winter salads in about 4-6 weeks. If the compost is kept moist the roots may produce several more chicons following the removal of the first one.

Prepare your seed beds for the coming spring, covering them with clear polythene, cloches or fleece to warm up the soil before sowing.

If the weather is reliably dry and frosty, leave heavy soils exposed to be broken down by frost action. The frosts will also kill pests.

Improve the drainage of heavy soils by working in lots of grit and organic matter.

You can save egg boxes to stand your potatoes in for chitting next month, although this seems a waste of egg boxes to me. Return them to your egg supplier and stand your potatoes up in trays instead - it has always worked for me.

Try to stick to a rotation system for your vegetable plots to ensure that the same crops aren't grown in the same beds year after year, as this will help prevent disease build-up.

Tidy your vegetable plot, removing all remaining plant debris, but don't compost any diseased material such as blight-infected potatoes. Burn or bin the diseased material instead.

Don't forget to protect early seed sowings from slugs and protect brassicas from pigeons.

I hope you have a productive new year of vegetable growing.

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