January can go either way as a vegetable grower. It can offer up beautiful crisp, blue skied days, or it can bring the sort of cold dampness that gets into your bones. It can be dry and frosty or wet and muddy and the conditions often determine my mood. There is not much better than working outside on a frosty day with clear blue skies, as long as you have warm clothes and gloves. On the flipside working outside in damp, muddy conditions can be a real drag, and getting anywhere in the garden can be hard work, especially if you have half the field on your boots by the time you come back inside.
We hope for dry, cold conditions in January so that we can mow or strim down some of the green manures that were sown in the autumn to get them ready for plantings in March. We then sprinkle a little compost over the beds and cover them with black plastic weighed down with sandbags. This kills off all the crop residue and weeds in time for planting in March. We also re-apply woodchip on the paths of the no-dig beds. This feeds the soil life and makes for walking up and down the paths a much more pleasant experience. We usually put a layer of cardboard down before applying an inch or two of semi-composted woodchip. This sort of work is great when it is dry, but it can be tricky when the ground is saturated.
We also make the most of not having much to harvest, plant or weed in January by getting the winter job list underway. This changes each year, but there are always some things that we try to do each year. For example washing all of the polytunnels with a window cleaner’s extendable hose with a brush on the end. Alternatively you can use an old bed sheet with rope tied onto each end and have one person either side of the tunnel going back and forth in unison with the sheet—this works best on a rainy day. We make sure the propagating tunnel and sheds are tidied and organised so that when work in the garden gets underway in Spring we are fully prepared and not looking around for tools or working around things. We also finish any crop planning for the upcoming year so that we are fully prepared when the sowing starts.
Don’t worry if you don’t get much done in the veg garden in January, and don’t be too tempted to tidy it up too much—making sure you leave plenty of old crops and weeds as habitat for overwintering beneficial insects. But, do try and get out there—it’s important to get outside as much as possible on the short days of the year, and it often looks less appealing than it is when you are looking from inside a warm, dry house.
We have new dates for courses for 2022, focusing on Salad Growing year round and a more general Introduction to Market Gardening with two other growers in East Devon and West Dorset—Ruth at Fresh and Green near Ottery St Mary and Lally and Tomas at Springtail Farm in Wootton Fitzpaine. To find out more go to trillfarmgarden.co.uk
WHAT TO SOW THIS MONTH: It is still too early to sow most veg, but we will be sowing a few sugarsnap peas, lettuce, spring onions and agretti on a heated propagation bench for early tunnel production. But, there is no rush for sowing anything until the end of February/early March.
WHAT TO PLANT THIS MONTH:
Nothing to plant this month (unless you still haven’t planted garlic, in which case it’s not too late!)
OTHER IMPORTANT TASKS THIS MONTH: Keep working through your winter job list of getting everything sorted for the season ahead. Soon enough it will be time to start sowing in earnest, so the more prepared for this the better. Do your seed ordering now if you haven’t already—and try to use some of the great smaller seed companies growing open pollinated seed in the UK such as Real Seeds, Vital Seeds and the Seed Cooperative. Make sure you have gone through all of your seed packets, and throw out any that don’t last more than a year. We find that parsnip seed is no good after a year, and parsley, carrots, spring onions and leek seed doesn’t last particularly long so we tend to buy seed each year for these.