What can we do to reduce our carbon footprint? We can try to eat as seasonally and as locally as possible – and we can grow some food of our own. ‘Growing a Greener Henley’ will be talking to local people throughout the year about the food we are eating and the things we are growing. Whether you are a lockdown convert or ‘an old hand’, let’s see what’s going on in our community.
Like many of us, Jean and her young family lead busy lives. They decided that the most convenient way to grow their own was to turn their small Henley garden into a fruit and vegetable plot. Raspberry and blackcurrant bushes, fruit trees and herbs are dotted through their flower beds. At the moment, they’re enjoying the crops they sowed last year – leeks, cabbage and kale – all growing in three raised beds in their front garden. We’ll be chatting regularly to Jean and sharing any tips and ideas that we can try in our own gardens.
As the months unfold, some of the plot holders on Henley’s two allotment sites will also share plans, successes and disasters – there’s rarely a growing season without a disaster!
Tips for February (if not too cold and wet)
This month is mostly about soil preparation and planning. Don’t panic if you haven’t bought seeds yet. Unless you have a heated greenhouse there’s little point sowing too early. As I’ve discovered, windowsills can fill up with tall, straggly seedlings rather than the stocky, robust ones we hoped for. Have a look at Dave and Sally’s May 2020 Henley Herald Gardening post for a seed website ideas. I’ll add a few more next month.
‘Chitting’ seed potatoes is something we can do now. Stand seed potatoes (not the potatoes we buy to cook) in a light but cool place – a north facing windowsill will do. This encourages little green shoots to grow. Empty egg boxes make perfect containers. I’m not sure there’s any research confirming that ‘chitting’ before planting makes them more productive, but it’s a comforting ‘start of the season’ ritual for many of us.
New potatoes are so delicious that it’s worth growing a few in pots in the garden. https://schoolgardening.rhs.org.uk/Resources/Sequence-Card/How-to-grow-potatoes-in-containers
Broad beans can be sown in late Autumn and in Spring. Try dwarf varieties if you are thinking of growing them in the garden.
Andrew made sure the Autumn sowings on his Greencroft plot were 15cm deep to protect them from mice. He’ll be sowing another lot about now, after the February new moon. He covers them with chicken wire to stop pigeons eating the small, new plants as they appear. That could explain the bedraggled appearance of my Autumn sown plants. Chicken wire is now on the shopping list.
Dave and Sally sow their allotment broad beans in double rows, 20cm apart and 5 cm deep. Dave says that rather than sowing the rows opposite each other, they stagger them. “The pairs of staggered rows support each other – but taller varieties may need string tied around them for extra support as they grow.”
Parsnips can also be sown now, but not when the soil is wet and cold. They take 6-8 weeks to germinate by which time some of us have given up on them. Sowing fast germinating radishes alongside can help to mark the rows. Dave says that he and Sally make their drills a little deeper than the recommended 2cm. They put potting compost in the bottom of the drill and water it before sowing in rows 40 cm apart. I might try their method this year as germination is always a bit hit and miss for me.
Andrew has already planted his shallot sets. Mine are still sitting in a box in the kitchen. Dave and Sally recommend planting them 15cm apart and just deep enough for the tips to be showing. Make sure there’s enough space for hoeing between the rows otherwise weeding is difficult.
Dave says these can be sown this month in an unheated greenhouse or cold frame. He recommends growing them in root trainers, 1 seed per module and suggests searching online for ‘root trainers for sweet peas’.
Tips – short version
- Prepare the soil for sowing in a few weeks time. Add compost and remove perennial weeds.
- Sow broad beans and protect from pigeons.
- Plant shallots
- Sow parsnips
- Sow sweet peas
Wildlife Friendly Gardening
This is a good time to think about the wildlife we’d like to attract to our gardens. Wild Oxfordshire https://www.wildoxfordshire.org.uk/ has some Bee Friendly Tips to think about when planning the planting for the year ahead:
- Provide flowers through the year – some bees appear as early as February.
- Buy organic bulbs and plants in order to avoid neonicotinoids.
- Have a flowering lawn.
- Provide a source of water for bees.
- Leave a patch of bare earth – mason bees gather mud to build egg cells.
- Include a variety of flower shapes – different species have different tongue lengths.
While we’re on the subject of bees, as customers of Bosley Patch might already know, there’s a post about making houses for solitary bees on their Facebook page, 17th February. Apparently, they are amazing pollinators!
We’ll be back in March.