Here’s the second column from our new allotment columnist Sean O’Dobhain, from Cwmbran


SOME seed packets, including those of onion, leeks, carrots and parsnip, will tell the eager allotment holder that they can be sown outside from February onward.

However, seedlings are rarely successful in open ground this month; it’s just too cold and wet, even with cloche protection. So, don’t rip open those foil packets just yet; for best results wait at least another month for early outdoor sowings.

Nevertheless, some seed is worth trying in February if you have a heated propagator or a warm windowsill to get them started. While many seeds will germinate indoors, the lack of daylight and cool conditions often stops plants from growing strongly.

As both broad beans and leeks are relatively cold tolerant I’m going to start them indoors this month, then move them to an unheated greenhouse in March. They’ll still be covered with horticultural fleece at night to protect against freezing temperatures. I’ll be growing two old favourites that seem to perform well season after season, the dwarf broad bean ‘The Sutton’ and the leek ‘Musselburgh’. Neither of which will let you down if properly grown.

At the end of February, tomatoes and sweet peppers will be started in the propagator too. Again I’m growing reliable varieties; ‘Alicante’ and ‘Gardener’s Delight’ tomatoes, along with ‘California Wonder’ peppers. After germination, the plants will be kept indoors for a number of weeks as temperatures need to climb somewhat before they can be safely placed in an unheated greenhouse.

For the first time I’m trying root trainers for some crops. These are plastic modules called ‘books’ that channel the roots of the seedlings straight downward. The beauty of root trainers is that they open up to create plug-plants that can be easily transplanted with the minimum of disturbance.

You can purchase ‘standard’ or ‘deep’ versions; I’m using deep root trainers to start my broad beans as these plants have large tap roots. Hopefully my broad beans will germinate well and I can plant them out next month, weather permitting of course.

Allotment jobs for February

• Cut down any remaining autumn fruiting raspberry canes. Remember: autumn raspberries annually grow a cane, produce fruit on the same cane and then it dies; summer fruiting raspberries grow fruit on canes in the second year. Tip: if the cane looks alive and not dead, leave it.

• Prune back other fruit varieties before the sap begins to rise next month. Now is the time to add fruit plants to your plot too.

• Check on forced rhubarb, it should be well underway by now.

• Only with protection and warmth, sow early crops of broad beans, leeks, beetroot, parsnip, swede, greenhouse tomatoes, peppers and some brassicas, though wait until at least next month or even later before sowing outside.

• If you have a large cold-frame or greenhouse, you can try sowing an early pea like Kelvedon Wonder, Sugar Ann or Early Onward in old guttering full of compost. Next month you can slide the established plants into prepared trenches for a flying start.

• Carry on with winter digging during any dry spells; cover some of the ground with black plastic to warm it ready for early planting in March.

• Check on your chitting potatoes, the stalks or ‘chits’ should be developing now. It’s not too late to buy your spuds.

• Ensure your allotment structures are OK, especially after snow and wind; make safe until you can repair damages.