Although my vegetable garden is still very wet, there are several jobs that need doing now if I am to stay ahead when the weather improves and the soil gets warm enough to plant.
I have already purchased my seed potatoes from Notcutts and am saving egg boxes so that the seed can be stood in them to ‘chit’. ‘Chitting’ is said to produce an earlier crop and encourages strong, short shoots that enable the plants to grow away more quickly.
At the moment the seed potatoes, along with my onion sets are still in their bags, stored in the utility room which is cool, light and frost free. The end of the month is plenty of time to start the chitting process – I don’t usually plant my potatoes until the beginning of April, starting with first earlies and continuing with second earlies half way through the month. I have grown main crop potatoes but they would take up too much room now that I have given up my allotment for the time being and by the time they are ready, potatoes are very cheap to buy.
I have opted for ‘Charlotte’ as a first early – it is a lovely salad potato that only needs to be boiled and served with some butter. Digging the first of the potatoes at the beginning of June is a highlight of my vegetable gardening year and I am always impatient, digging too early so that the first tubers are very small. The disappointment at their size is quickly replaced by the joy of their taste and a spell of rain means that as the day’s progress, the rest grow at an alarming rate and we are soon inundated, eating new potatoes in salads, roasted with garlic and rosemary and also trawling the internet for new ways to use them!
I will plant my onion sets at the beginning of April as well, on a firm seed bed which I tread several times by walking up and down the area on my heels to compact the soil. Raking and treading like this will produce a fine ‘tilth’ that onions like to grow in – last year’s crop was very good and we have only just used the last of it from the net bags that I stored in the garage. Any that are bruised or damaged when I lift them in September go into chutney or are used within a few days and only the perfect dry bulbs are stored through the winter – there is nothing worse than the smell of a rotten onion!
One other job that I can do now is sow some Broad beans in pots ready to plant out when the soil is warmer and the beans are big enough to fend for themselves. I usually opt for ‘The Sutton’ which is a dwarf variety but last year grew a row of ‘Bunyard’s Exhibition’ which need to be staked with bamboo canes but gave a tasty crop of long pods for several weeks.
So for now it’s back to browsing the vegetable seed varieties available on Notcutt’s website and getting ready to take advantage of the weather for those much prized early crops as soon as the soil starts to dry up.