Gardening in the Cold

New potatoes (1)

Now is a good time to start chitting first early new potatoes so that they can be harvested in June (1). Chitting potatoes gives them a head start so that they can be planted around St. Patrick’s Day and harvested about 80 days later.  Make sure your seed potatoes are certified which means they are free from diseases (2).

Chitting potatoes (2)

Place the seed potatoes in empty egg cartons in a cool, light, frost-free place with the ends with most eyes facing upwards. These eyes are tiny buds from which new stems grow. The end with the most eyes is called the rose end. Short, stubby, sprouts will grow from these eyes.  If the seeds are exposed to too much light and heat the sprouts will grow long and spindly.  These will produce less potatoes and indeed may break off when the seeds are about to be planted (3).

Seed potatoes with long sprouts (3)

Around St. Patrick’s Day the sprouts will be about 1.5 to 2 cm in length.  You don’t need a raised bed for planting them. Good yields can be obtained from plastic waste sacks.  Simply roll down the sack, put holes in the bottom, cover these with grit or pebbles for drainage and fill to a height of 15cm with a mixture of peat-free compost and garden compost or vegetable compost. Place 3 seed potatoes in each sack and cover. As the stems grow, place planting mixture around them and roll up the sack until a height of about 40 to 50 cm is reached (4a; 4b).

Growing in polythene bag (4a)
Growing in grow bag (4b)

Broad beans are hardy plants and will germinate at temperatures of between 8° and 10° C which are colder conditions than for °most other vegetables. A variety such as Aquadulce claudia sown in February will be ready for harvesting in late May and June.  Sow them individually, upright 5cm deep in toilet roll tubes of peat-free compost and place the pots on a windowsill or in a cloche, tunnel or greenhouse to germinate the seed.  (Toilet roll tubes are suitable because these beans have long root systems). When they germinate, the pots can be kept in a home-made cloche or in a tunnel or greenhouse for about 4 weeks and then the seedlings can be planted 15cm apart in raised beds or containers (5).  Garlic requires a long growing season and can be grown now in window boxes (6).

Broad beans (5)
Garlic planted in January (6)