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February in the GIY Garden

And so it begins.  Another season starts with the determined act of seed sowing in the potting shed.  A bag of compost opened and tipped out on the sowing bench.  Cold black plastic pots filled with even colder blacker compost.  Seed labels lined up awaiting a scrawl of information.  Seed packets fished out from my big box of tricks and ripped open to reveal their bounty.  It’s just tomatoes, aubergines and peppers today so five tiny little seeds are placed gently on the surface of each pot (one for each variety I will sow and 17 pots in all).
Ah but it feels good to start again in to another season. While I work I try to remember whether it’s my tenth or eleventh season?  Then I find myself wondering how many seasons I have ahead of me.  Maybe thirty if I am lucky? I pull myself back from such existential thoughts and try to stay in the moment.  I plug in the heated cable to start the process of warming the sand beneath the seed pots.  I realize I am whistling.
It feels too cold to be sowing seeds.  The calendar says spring (in that strange Irish way that labels February spring) but it’s definitely still winter outside.  All day the weather has alternated erratically from sun to cold showers of rain.  I have shelter from the elements in here in the potting shed but I can feel my feet are numb in my wellies and the tips of my fingers are cold.  I’ve a hat on my head and several layers of fleece beneath my jacket, and I can see my breath while I work.  I would like to luxuriate over this process, particularly today since it’s the first sowing of the year, but it’s too damn cold – so I move quickly.  Sow a pot, label it, move on to the next one.
Before I finish I make a cloche over the pots with some rubber pipe and spread a layer of clear plastic over them, tucking the plastic in beneath them.  I am creating a little hothouse for these seeds, which need heat to germinate.  It feels a little artificial, but my growing year always starts like this – coaxing Mediterranean conditions from a cold February and trying to warm up the world.

Things to Do This Month

To Do
Turn over the soil only if the weather is dry – if the soil sticks to your boots it’s too early for digging!  Keep off the soil to prevent soil compaction - use timber planks to stand on for access.  If you have not already done so order/buy your seeds, spuds and onion sets.  “Chit” or sprout seed potatoes – put them in a container (e.g. used egg carton or empty seed tray) and leave them in a bright warm place.  Check the pH of your soil – you can buy a soil pH testing kit in any garden centre.  Lime your soil now if required (to reduce acidity in very acid soils), particularly important in your brassica bed. 
Finally, we can sow some seeds.  On a sunny windowsill indoors, in a heated greenhouse or on a heating mat: sow celery, globe artichokes, celeriac, leeks, onions, lettuce, tomatoes, peas, aubergines, peppers/chilli-peppers.  In polytunnel or greenhouse: beetroot, Brussels sprouts, summer and autumn cabbage, carrots, leeks, lettuce, radish. Outside: Weather permitting you can try planting out broadbeans, spinach, kohlrabi, onion and shallot sets, Jerusalem artichokes, parsnip and early pea varieties.  
Winter cabbage and cauliflowers, Brussels sprouts, spinach, kale and leeks.
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