While those in colder parts of the country are counting down the days until spring, gardeners in warmer climes will already have sown main crops such as carrots, beetroot, parsnips, and peas. Keep these seedlings well protected from slugs and snails with a scattering of bait, and net the garden to ward off attack from cats, dogs and birds. While attentive gardeners will want to begin thinning as soon as possible to enable remaining seedlings to take advantage of light and nutrients, my policy (this early in the season) is to thin in two stages. Pluck out about half the seedlings you eventually mean to remove, and wait to see how the others get on. At this time of year, a sudden cold snap, too much precipitation or an unexpected plague of slugs and snails can make unwelcome inroads into a row of small plants. You can afford to loose a few seedlings but if you’ve thinned too severely, you may wish you’d been less harsh. Once the weather is more reliable, thin again for a final time.
Warm climate gardeners should now be sowing, indoors (or outdoors under cover) seed of leafy greens that don’t mind being transplanted. These include endive, lettuce, silver beet, celery and perpetual spinach beet. Vegetables that prefer to grow where they are sown (that is, they dislike being transplanted) can be sown outdoors and covered in clear plastic until they come through the ground. These include spinach, New Zealand Spinach (kohikohi), and early Asian greens such as misome, bok choy, pak choy, nappa (Chinese) cabbage, mibuna and mizuna. If you didn’t get your spring onion seed into the ground back in autumn, now is the time to do so. Hardy brassicas such as cauli, broccoli and cabbage can be grown in pots or outdoors in the garden.
In pots, under cover, or inside on a sunny window ledge, heat-loving tender vegetables can be sown. These include tomato, capsicum, chilli, courgette and cucumber. Sow seeds into larger pots of soil so there is plenty of room for root growth if warmth is late arriving and plants must stay inside for longer than anticipated.
Those who sowed broad beans and garlic back in July should keep a weed watch on young plants and replace mulch as required. Stake broad beans as soon as possible to avoid wind damage.
Cold-climate gardeners can be sowing hardy brassicas and beets in pots under cover, dividing cloves of garlic and exposing them to the light to encourage sprouting, setting out seed potatoes to harden off existing shoots and encourage new ones, and checking out the seed box to ensure supplies are on hand for sowing at the end of the month. This is the time to clean up the glasshouse: wash down the glass and sterilize (if this is your usual practice). Check that tools are sharpened, mowers and cultivators are in good working order, and secateurs and clippers are oiled. It’s not too late to add animal manure and seaweed to the garden, just don’t leave it any longer. If weather permits, compost can be turned and mature compost scattered over garden beds (try not to walk on the soil as you do this). If the days are dry and your beds are well drained, it may be possible to sow broad beans and spring onion seed, and to plant garlic and shallots. In some regions, the adventurous may even like to pop a few early potatoes into a sunny north-facing section of the garden (plant deep and cover to protect from frost as the shoots come through the ground).
Above all, at this time of the year, resist the temptation to sow root vegetables too soon. A slow start is not a good start and vegetables hit by late snow and on-going rain are quickly deprived of nutrients and become more susceptible to attack from pests and disease. Patience is what is required this month, along with a sense of excitement and anticipation!