Vegetable Gardening in February
While February is still winter in Virginia, it is a time when vegetable and edible plant gardeners can get moving. Use the wintry days for planning this year’s gardens and the nice days for pruning, cleaning pots and equipment and sowing seeds indoors for transplanting in mid to late March.
Some worthwhile February activities include:
- Review your vegetable garden plans. Be sure to rotate crops where possible to minimize pest risks and consider positioning for water, sun and harvesting convenience. Maybe you want to try some intensive gardening techniques to increase yields and use plant positioning to help manage weed growth.
- Checking your seed inventory, doing germination testing, or disposing of older seeds. Guidance on managing your seed cache is found in the January 2019 Garden Shed article “Good Seed, Bad Seed”.
- Once you know which seeds you already have, you can review seed catalogs to choose what to purchase this year. Check the new All-American Selection Winners for 2020 to see what’s new and interesting.
- This is a good time to clean, sharpen and disinfect equipment. Pots and seed flats should definitely be disinfected before re-use to protect against disease. Ditto for all cutting tools.
- It is also time to tune up any power tools to have them ready for use.
- As an alternative to using power tilling equipment, many organic gardeners are turning to no-till techniques that include:
- Cover cropping in the fall to keep soil covered during the winter
- Mowing or cutting the cover crop growth in spring, preferably during flowering, prior to seed setting
- Covering the beds with a silage tarp or black plastic sheeting for 4-6 weeks to kill weeds
- Using a broadfork to loosen soil without the loss of organic matter, soil life and structure that results from tilling
- Adding 4 inches or so of weed free compost to the soil surface as a mulch and planting medium
- Planting right into the compost and allowing soil life, mainly earthworms, to move decomposed organic matter down into the soil, creating a desirable soil structure
- Using an inexpensive weed-free mulch, like wheat straw or landscaper wood chips, on garden paths to reduce weed growth.
Many organic market farmers are using these or similar practices now. It takes a certain faith to believe that soil life can actually loosen soil to any depth, but it does, in fact, work. Also, covering beds with a black plastic sheet or tarp (occultation) is gaining acceptance as an effective non-chemical method of weed control, at least for smaller growers and gardeners. If you would like to save the time and cost of tilling while benefiting your soil, you might want to check this option out. I recommend the book The Organic No Till Farming Revolution by Andrew Mefferd, which reveals — through conversations with a number of organic farmers — that this practice is consistent farm to farm, and I found these discussions to be very convincing.
- Mid to late February is a good time to plant seeds indoors for transplanting in late March. These include onion, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and kale. Other leafy greens should be started indoors late February to early March. In any case, it is time to get ready to plant. Clean flats and pots and fresh potting mix are highly recommended.
- February is also a good time to prune fruit-bearing shrubs. Remove dead or damaged parts. Overall pruning timing varies by cultivar and should be investigated, if in doubt. However, removing older canes and thinning the center of shrubs to allow good light penetration will lead to better yield. General pruning guidance can be found in the article “A Pruning Primer: Tools, Techniques and Timing” in this month’s Garden Shed.
Spring is on its way. Let’s get ready!