Gardening in February

February is usually the driest and hottest month of the year and the time when a lot of the earlier plantings of vegetables have reached maturity and been harvested.
It is the second to last month to plant out crops for winter harvesting so make sure the empty spaces are manured and replanted with winter vegetables this month.
Watering is likely to be one of the main jobs during February, especially your container plants. Seeds or seedlings planted out need to have adequate moisture to establish so keep the growing medium moist but don’t soak. Plants that require a lot of water can be helped by spraying the foliage under and over with Vaporgard. This will reduce the plant’s water needs by about 30 to 40% and make life a lot easier on you. The film of Vaporgard lasts for about 3 months and will also offer protection from some diseases, pests and early frosts. If you would like your roses to look really good you should dead head them and then spray the foliage with Vaporgard – it will turn the leaves into a darker, richer green and make them shine.
Sometimes I get asked by gardeners who are hosting a wedding in their garden; “how do I have my roses flowering on a particular date”?
You can find out by cutting back the roses to make new growths now, recording the date, weather conditions, days watered or rained, when buds appeared and when the roses were in full flower. The time factor and what you did can be repeated for about this time of the year bearing in mind it’s not fool proof.
Tomatoes are about $5.00 a kg which is about $4.00 dearer than normal for this time of the year.
Two factors have caused this, one being a late season and the other is the floods in Australia and the great loss to the commercial growers over there as a result. Great news for our tomato growers but a bit sad for those people that have not got a few plants with ripening fruit in their gardens.
A problem with birds pecking the ripening fruit? I string Bird Repeller Ribbon around my plants once damage starts to occur and that usually works a treat for a month or so.
The other way is to pick any fruit as they start to change colour and ripen them indoors.
They will often ripen faster off the plant and no bird damage. Don’t put your ripe tomatoes in the fridge as it affects the flavour with sugar losses.
I am amazed with a tomato that I grow called Silvery Tree Fern (Available in seeds from Niche Seed Stands in garden centres). They have a dwarf growth habit, you do not remove laterals and the little plant can produce lots of good size fruit 40 to 80mm across.  The first time I grew them I found they grew well, produced a good crop of lots of tomatoes and then died back. That I thought was that, but because I keep feeding my tomato plants till they actually die, I found new shoots coming from the base and another crop to harvest later. This year I grew one in a 20 litre pot and the same thing has happened again. This tomato comes from Russia and is a cold setting plant so ideal to start off now for picking tomatoes in winter. Ideally you need a glasshouse or similar to do this and in some areas where you have early hard winters, heating would likely be needed also.
The key is to grow the plants now and get them into fruit as winter sets in. The fruit then can ripen slowly for you to pick. If you have one of these plants growing at this time then take a few seeds and put them into some compost and keep moist, they soon will germinate. Otherwise go and buy a packet of seed. With your existing plants keep feeding them and spray as required with Neem Tree Oil and Key Pyrethrum to control the white fly, caterpillars and psyllids. Whitefly Sticky Traps will help too.
Zucchini or courgettes are great growers and prolific producers taking a fair bit of room if you have a smaller garden. I grow mine in 45 litre containers which work well with a good amount of chicken manure for their tucker.  You can cut off the older early leaves as you are harvesting the fruit. This will free up room in the garden. If the leaves show any sign of powdery mildew them dissolve a tablespoon of baking soda into a litre of water, add 1 ml of Raingard and spray the foliage all over.  Aphids and whitefly like the plant so sprays of Neem Oil will be worthwhile especially under the leaves.
A gardener contacted me recently to tell about his method of keeping the edible part of the leek white. It is placing a cardboard tube, as found in rolls of plastic wrap etc over the leek leaving the top part of the leaves protruding. Because the shaft of the leek is out of sunlight it will remain white the sun light being the cause for the shaft to become green. If it is a narrow tube you could slit down one side so the leek can expand as it grows.  I don’t know whether this make much difference to the flavour but it is similar to the way leeks were grown years ago by some gardeners. The leeks would be planted at the bottom of a trench and as they grew the trench would be progressively filled with soil to stop any sunlight turning the shafts of the leeks green.
Sometimes similar methods are used to obtain white stalks of asparagus which is then called spargel. This can make the asparagus a little more tender with a milder flavour.
Dry times mean that annual weeds grow rapidly, flower and seed and then die if the soil is too dry. This does not mean the seeds created have died, they are sitting around waiting to the rains to come then they will germinate and be off with a new batch of weeds.  You can use this to advantage to control. During a dry period where the weeds have died off water the area lightly morning and night to germinate the weed seeds. Once a good show is there of baby weeds then stop watering and let them dry off before they reach maturity. If it rains in the meantime you will need to kill them off with a Dutch hoe or similar.

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