This winter is like the winters of old and is the coldest for over ten yars, with snow and chilling winds. It will be interesting to discover how many of the plants that have overwintered over the past few milder years, still survive. Unfortunately, the thermostat on my greenhouse heater failed during one of the colder snaps and the plants suffered and fortunately even though I didn’t have a ‘back up’, most of the plants survived after the initial chilling by being covered with horticultural fleece as the image shows. The cold weather means that there won’t be any early sowing as the soil temperatures will be too low, it is worth buying a soil thermometer to check the soil temperature before you start sowing outdoors.
This year I’m determined to plan a proper crop rotation system for my vegetable garden, rather than simply ensuring that the crops weren’t planted in the same place that they were the previous year. There are a number of benefits with crop rotation. Soil pests and diseases usually attack specific plant families, by rotating crops, their life-cycles are disrupted and numbers are reduced. Some crops like potatoes and squashes with dense foliage or large leaves suppress weeds, reducing the problem for following crops. Crops have differing nutrient requirements; changing crops annually reduces the chance of deficiencies and allows the soil to recover from the previous year’s crop and alternating between deep-rooted and fibrous-rooted crops improves the soil structure.
Vegetable plots are easier to organize when they are divided into smaller sections, depending on how much of each crop you want to grow, each section is then moved forward every year so that brassica’s replace legumes or podded vegetables, members of the pea and bean family and legumes follow onions. Leave an extra section for vegetables that are not included in the rotation plan like perennial vegetables and asparagus or globe artichokes and members of the cucumber family like Courgettes, Pumpkins, Squashes, Marrows, Cucumbers. Rotation plans vary but the following works very well.
Brassicas – Cabbage, cauliflower, radish, swede, oriental greens, kale, kohl-rabi, Brussels sprouts. 2) Legumes – Pea, bean (broad, French and runner).3) Onions – Onion, garlic, shallot, leek.3) Potato family – Potato, tomato, pepper, aubergine and 4) Umbellifers – Carrot, parsnip, parsley, celery, Fennel. Always grow more of those vegetables which you like, it is amazing how many people grow vegetables that are not in demand for the table.
From mid to late February, sow chilies and sweet peppers in a propagator at 21deg C (70F). They need a long growing season – it takes up to 12 weeks for them to grow to a size where they are large enough to be planted out. Sow them thinly, allowing 1cm between seeds; cover them with a fine layer of sieved compost or ‘Vermiculite’ and label. I was late sowing last year and ended up harvesting ‘Sweet Peppers’ in November but whatever time you harvest they are always a tasty or superheated treat! Happy gardening!