February in the Vegie Patch

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butterfly on verbena

Summer has been an up and down affair in Horowhenua. To be fair it’s not that unusual in our neck of the woods. For us, summer proper generally starts when school goes back. Last night the over night low was 7 degrees. What! I shouldn’t complain, our cousins over the hill are having a hard time with the heat. Pros and cons to everything my gardening friends.

The thing is to match what you plant and sow in your vegie patch this month, to the season that you are having. If its roasting hot and dry you’d be smart to delay the planting of your carrots and winter brassicas for instance.

Do all you can to support new plantings in this hot, hot weather.

Here are your monthly garden tasks for February:

Direct sow in February

  • Greencrops – phacelia, lupin, buckwheat, red clover or mustard to give your soil a rest between crops, to provide a living mulch for autumn plantings.
  • Basil. Little and often sowings of basil are super useful. Basil is at its best when fresh and young – such a beautiful summer herb. Let the old plants flower for the bees and to save the seed.
  • Dwarf beans. Another row sown now will take you through autumn.
  • Rootcrops – beetroot, kohlrabi, carrot, parsnip or radish. I sow my winter carrots and parsnips later this month. Such good carrots these ones, sown in the heat and harvested in the cold.
  • Companion flowers like calendula, chamomile, larkspur, wallflower, cornflower, snapdragons, love in a mist and borage to keep your garden blooming.
  • Shade loving herbs and greens like coriander, parsley, saladings, bok choy, kale, rocket beneath taller crops or flowers. Parsley sown now will supply your kitchen  autumn through spring – kitchen essential!

Tray sow

pricked on seedlings
  • Start autumn brassicas off now in a little, gentle fashion. A few each of cauli, cabbage and broccoli makes a useful mixed and staggered harvest. Generally speaking – broccoli are ready first, then cabbage then cauli.
  • Tray sow silverbeet, spring onion, onion, celery

What to plant in February

january seedlings

Prepare

shade for broccoli
  • A simple shadecloth bivvy above new seedlings keeps them growing onward when the sun beats down. Without shade they wilt in the heat and waste precious growing energy recovering from dehydration. Remove the cloth after a few days or when they’re bold enough to handle it.
  • Prepare for May brassica plantings with a lupin greencrop.
  • Manage cabbage whites on your new brassica plantings to prevent them getting gobbled up.

Old crops nursery

nursery plants

Those dry brown stalky plants dotted about my garden are providing seed for another round of crops, building carbon and making little nurseries for new seedlings – the ground beneath is protected from birds, sun and rain. Seeds + seedlings flourish in this environment. No surprises right, its how nature does it after all.

Once the new crop is ready to face the world and stand on its own two feet, simply crunch up the old crop to use as mulch. It’s the natural order of things don’t you agree – the old giving life to the new. Not only saving the gardener time and effort, but our soil and crops do best when we leave things be and follow nature as closely as we can. Pause before you yank old crops out. Do they still have function?

Save Seeds

Drying tomato seed

When a crop does well ie no disease, abundant, great flavour, no fuss – its a very smart move to save the seed. Your own saved seed grows in strength every year, more disesase resistant + better adapted to your garden – worth its weight in gold. Having your own little seed bank is solid and it avoids disappointment when the seed company stops stocking your favourite.

I generally save my own peas, beans, salads, flowers and tomatoes. Self fertile plants like these are easy to seed save for the home gardener.

All the rest are promiscuous cross pollinators, requiring expertise I dont have or cant be bothered with. Cucurbits (cucumber, zuchinni, pumpkin, squash) require isolation for the seed to grow true to type. I prefer to grow a mix, so leave these to the experts. Genetic strength is the other key factor here – for example corn needs a minimum of 100 plants (inbreeding never ends well) and that’s a bit tricky my end.

Summer Carrots

Carrots don’t sit around in the heat, so as soon as they have sized up – get them up, washed and stored away. For best storage do this in the cool of the morning. Don’t feel sad if they are a bit pale and not so sweet – summer carrots aren’t the greatest.

Avoid bitter green shoulders by keeping carrots below ground – its the sun that turns them green. Keep them covered right up to the base of the foliage with dense mulch or scrape the soil up around them.