February in the cool temperate garden by Chrstina Giudici of Food In My Backyard
WHAT TO PLANT?
There’s not usually much spare space in the February garden, as tomatoes start to ripen, sweet corn and pumpkins and zucchinis are doing their thing, and beans are producing daily garden snacks. Its worth being ruthless, and making space if you can for long season vegies that will grow into autumn and winter. Hoick out those gone to seed lettuces, kale and Asian greens, and any straggling broad beans or peas. The long season vegies to plant now that will feed you in winter include:
- Leeks, parsnips, celery, celeriac, Florence fennel, brussel sprouts and other brassicas (like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower). You don’t have to panic or rush though, most of these things can be comfortably planted well into March. Brussel sprouts need the longest growing season of this tribe, so it’s a good idea to plant them as seedlings this month. They are hungry plants, so feed them well with good compost and regular doses of liquid fertilisers.
In any gaps or edges of beds where there is a bit of space, keep up the succession and replacement plantings as per the January guide, including:
- Carrots, beetroot, radish, turnip (hakurei are awesome!), Asian greens (eg rocket, mizuna, mibuna, mustard, cress), silver beet, spring onions.
- Keep your fruit trees well watered and mulched as they ripen fruit like plums, apples, pears and quinces. Collect and compost any fallen fruit, or let your chickens provide the cleanup service for you in exchange for eggs. This will help break the cycle of many fungal disease and insect problems.
- Don’t be afraid to snip a few leaves off the zucchini’s or sunflowers or pumpkins if they are bullying and shading their neighbours. They’ll keep producing new leaves to replace what you remove, and the new growth will be more resistant to mildew.
- Keep tying up your tomatoes, if you’re that way inclined, and break off any lower leaves that are all yellowed and curled up. Once fruit is developing and starting to ripen, try to keep the watering even to prevent blossom end rot. In other words, don’t let the garden bed totally dry out then soak it, but rather (in contrast to our normal advice) give water little and often to keep an even moisture level.
PESTS AND DISEASE
- Cabbage white butterflies will quickly find your new brassica seedlings. Keep a close eye out for little green grubs on the underside of leaves, and squish on sight. If you have many plants and can’t find the little buggers that are eating holes in the leaves, you can apply Dipel (a powder that you mix up in the watering can and water onto the leaves). This is a biological control agent that must be eaten by the grubs, and will only kill the caterpillars, not good insects like bees, hoverflies and ladybirds.
- Watch your tomatoes carefully for fungal and virus diseases. If you see little yellow or brown patches on the leaves or stems you may have one of several possible pathogens. Give any affected plants a good dose of fish emulsion, or even better home made nettle ‘tea’. If the plants don’t respond after a week or two or tender loving care, and if they seem to be getting much sicker, its best to remove them all together (don’t compost these diseased plants, best to bin them). Some virus diseases are transmitted through touch, so don’t handle diseased plants then go and caress your healthy ones. Wash your hands thoroughly first!
HARVEST AND PRESERVE
- Harvesting and preserving is in full swing in Cool Temperate areas right now. Why not invite a few people around for a pickling party? Its amazing how much zucchini and onion you can slice and salt while catching up on news, swapping recipes, drinking tea (or wine!), eating plum cake and laughing! The last of the seasons berries can be used to flavour vinegars, make cordial, syrups and jam. If you don’t have a dehydrator, you can dry things like sliced strawberries on a tray in the warm oven after you’ve cooked something else. Let it cool a bit first, then utilise that residual warmth.
PERMACULTURE PRINCIPLE NO 2: CATCH AND STORE ENERGY
- Seeing as preserving is such a big focus in February, you can really make the most of the energy used to heat water in vacola systems. Once your bottled fruit is finished, you can CAREFULLY empty the still very hot water into a watering can (in a few batches is a good idea) and then pour this hot water onto weeds in pathway cracks. It will ‘cook’ the weeds and kill these plants that can otherwise be tricky to deal with. WEAR SOLID SHOES when you’re on the hot water weed killing rampage, or you might end up cooking your toes too.
- Plant leaves are essentially solar panels, catching the energy of the sun and using it to convert atmospheric carbon dioxide into plant tissue, with some help from minerals and nutrients in the soil. So any spare corner of your garden or patio that catches the sun can be an energy collector. If you grow a plant like comfrey, or borage, or yarrow in that spot, then regularly harvest and put the leaves from that plant in the compost, or feed it to your chooks, you’ll be building the fertility of your garden, building the carbon reserves in your soil, and ‘charging’ the great life-giving energy bank of the soil that we need to keep us healthy.