From February onwards, it is time to sprout (or ‘chit’) new potatoes and the first big sign that the gardening year has started. Put your potatoes in a tray or egg box with the ‘rose’ end, where all the buds are, at the top, keep them at about 7C (45F), then, after four to five weeks in a cool greenhouse until the shoots should be about 5cm (2”) when they are ready for planting. Make sure your timing is right, so they are ready to plant just after the last frosts. Keep a few sheets of newspaper or horticultural fleece on standby and listen to the weather forecast and cover young shoots, if surprise late frosts are forecast.
Plants like peppers, chillies and aubergines need up to five months to mature. Most gardeners who complain later in the year, that their peppers are unripe, simply sowed their seed too late. The third week in February is ideal, mid-March is fine and the first week in April is the limit. They need light warm conditions and constant temperatures for germination, so if you are unable to provide these, buy young plants from the garden centre or via the internet. (This saves space in the greenhouse, too).
Water the surface of a 10cm pot of seed or multipurpose compost with a fine rose, using tepid water and leave it to drain for at least half an hour. Sow the seeds over the surface, six to a pot, then sprinkle a shallow layer of fine grade vermiculite over the top. Put the pot in a propagator at 18-21C (64 -70F) and around three weeks later they will germinate. Transplant when they are large enough to handle by lifting the seedlings gently by a leaf, (not the stem) into a 9cm pot and grow on in the greenhouse at 10-15C. Make sure that there is enough space between the pots so the seedlings don’t become elongated in search of the light or the greenhouse gets too hot. Once the pots are full of roots but not ‘pot bound’ move them into their final growing position in a heated greenhouse in 25cm pots of growing bag compost or growing bags. If the greenhouse is unheated, sow later in March and April and do not plant them out until May.
Peas can be sown in the greenhouse in clean old plastic guttering, once they have germinated and there are plenty of roots to bind the compost together, dig a trench the shape of the guttering, water the compost well with a tiny drop of detergent to help with lubrication. Put the end of the guttering at one end, hold it at an angle and peas and compost will slide slowly out into the preformed trench. Cover immediately with fleece or netting to protect from pigeons.
Keep feeding citrus plants with winter feed and thin out overcrowded branches and remove badly placed shoots, especially those rubbing against others, those growing into the centre and any that spoil the shape of the plant you’re your plant is sparsely furnished, cut the stems back by up to two-thirds and the tallest shoots cut back, by a third, to stimulate denser, bushy growth. Happy gardening! Matt