Now is the Time to go Undercover

It’s still pretty chilly during February and March, but planting seedlings under glass (or plastic) can give you a great start for the season ahead. A bit of time and money invested now in a polytunnel or greenhouse will give you benefits for years to come. Can’t wait for spring to come? There are plenty of vegetables that can be started off indoors now.

The days are getting a little longer, green shoots are starting to appear and we’re all just itching to get out in the garden now. Just one problem – it’s still likely to be cold! Extremes in weather are typical for this month so even if we do have a warmer spell I wouldn’t be in too much of a hurry to start sowing seeds outdoors. It’s at this time of year that having some undercover growing space is a real boon – not least because it’s so much more of a pleasure working in a protected environment, basking in the glory of those few rays of sun, than it is feeling a gale force wind that seems as if it’s come straight from the Arctic! If you don’t have a greenhouse, polytunnel or cold frame then why not think about investing in one now? Get it built in February and you can get a head start on many plants for the season to come.

Which is best? Consider the space available – if space is limited then a cold frame may be a good option. Green houses can offer lots of benefits but are generally not a great idea if your garden is also the kids play area and they can be hugely expensive. On the plus side, they are not easy to get rid of so if you’re prepared for a bit of work you may be able to pick up a second-hand one very cheaply, providing you are happy to dismantle and move it yourself (try Freecycle). We opted for a polytunnel, which was very reasonable in price and gave us several weekends of entertainment building it.  Follow the instructions carefully, don’t rush it and you’ll need at least two of you when it comes to putting the plastic on. With both greenhouses and polytunnels you need to remember that they can become very hot in the summer and ensure that adequate ventilation is available.

So, now that you have this great new space what can you plant in it? Early tomatoes can be started off in pots and if you plant some summer cabbages now you can get them established and benefit from a crop by late spring or early summer. Cucumbers, beetroot, leeks and lettuces can also be sown indoors and if you want to try something a little more exotic why not plant some peppers, aubergines and even a melon?

This is also a good time of year to think about soft fruit. Most fruit bushes, trees and canes need time to get established before you start to get a good yield and it is easy to overlook them in favour of crops that give a quicker return.

If you don’t have any fruit growing on your plot, how about adding just one type of fruit each year?  You could plant raspberry canes this month, or incorporate a gooseberry or blackcurrant bush into your border. If you have pot grown strawberries that have spent the winter indoors then place them outside as they will only flower after exposure to cold weather. Plants that have over wintered outside can be brought in now.

Jobs for February and March:

  • Erect a cold frame, polytunnel or greenhouse
  • Plant out onion sets
  • Sow tomatoes indoors
  • Chit seed potatoes
  • Sow early beetroot and summer cabbages
  • Plant soft fruit bushes