February always feels like Spring is near and with a relatively mild winter behind us, we can already see signs that a new season is on the horizon. Recent storms have seen some damage to trees within the garden but with regular checks for breakages and disease we can remedy effective treatment and make sure they are strong and healthy. We caught up with head gardener – Phil Harper to find out what was happening in the kitchen garden over the coming weeks.
What preparation is underway to get the kitchen garden ready?
Some of the buds are already beginning to swell on our fruit trees and bushes and as the garden comes back to life, there’s no doubt our team will soon be caught up in a frenzy of sowing and growing, so we are making the most of the next few weeks to get a head start on the new gardening year.
We are preparing all of the vegetable plots and raised beds to get them ready for planting which involves a huge amount of ridding weeds, cleaning out the beds and digging in the manure that one of our local farmers supplies. We add a mix of natural fertiliser and some of the leaf mould that we have collected over the winter to the manure as well as some fresh topsoil so that the beds are in peak condition when we start planting.
We have lots of discussions with the kitchen team to create a ‘wish-list’ of produce and seeds that we will be using.
What will be the first crops to be harvested?
Rhubarb is the first new crop that will be ready for picking in the next couple of weeks and you will undoubtedly see it appearing on the dessert menu in February and March. We use a method called ‘forcing rhubarb’ which essentially means we cover the crowns with baskets to stop light reaching them which encourages the rhubarb to make early growth.
We have also been growing some herbs in the poly tunnels over the winter, and now that there is a bit of warmth, we can begin picking these for the kitchen.
Our first crop of salad leaves will be ready in the next couple of weeks too. Our poly tunnels are invaluable in extending the growing season and ensuring we have lettuces ready earlier than would be normally, hopefully towards the end of the month.
Have you planted anything new yet? What is planned for the next few weeks?
Having the glass-houses and poly tunnels means we can sow a range of early seeds, and have already got a very good mix of lettuce, tomatoes, salad leaves, cabbages and herbs coming on. Some of the leaves (including spinach) are under cloches in the raised beds and it will be safe to begin sowing courgettes, pumpkins, cabbages, broccoli and squashes this month.
February is also the best month to plant out garlic and shallots.
What about other areas of the garden?
Throughout the gardens we have been busy thinning out several of the shrubbery areas, creating more space and light for the rhododendrons which are starting to show some buds. This time of year there is always lots of general maintenance required. Top dressing the fruit trees and soft fruit bushes with fertiliser and pruning them normally takes place in February as well as checking on the condition of any produce in store. With the warmer temperatures everything will wake up a little earlier after their winter dormancy and start to regrow.