A Monthly Guide to Vegetable Gardening - January
Guest articles by Gardening Expert John Harrison
January usually brings hard frosts but with a bit of luck you will have the opportunity to catch up with those winter jobs you are behind on. It may well be your last chance before really cold weather sets in and the ground is frozen solid, so don't procrastinate. If the day is fine, get out into it. If nothing else you will feel better for the fresh air.
Check your stored vegetables carefully, for rot will pass easily one to another. The saying, 'one bad apple spoils the barrel' has a lot of truth in it. Empty the sacks of potatoes, checking them for rot and any slugs that might have been over-wintering unnoticed. Your nose is a good indicator, often you will smell rot even if it is not immediately apparent to the eye.
Strung onions should also be checked, rot usually starts from the underside of the onion and this is the place to look at closely.
Although January is definitely not a month for outdoor sowing and planting, you can try starting some summer cauliflowers in a frost free greenhouse or even a coldframe.
If you want to really extend your season, you can build a wooden sided coldframe insulated with polystyrene tiles or sheets, often available from electrical retailers as discarded packaging, will be surprisingly warm even in cold weather.
The white colour of the polystyrene reflects light onto the plant, which is helpful. Don't forget to cover at night with some form of insulation although even this small chore can be dispensed with by using some bubble plastic under the lights or even old double glazing.
One task you can start in January is building a traditional runner bean trench. Since runner beans like a rich damp soil, this old method is still effective especially where you have sandy soils. Dig a trench where the beans are to go, around 20 to 30cm deep and wide is ideal, line with newspaper and then add kitchen waste, old brassica stalks (assuming you have no clubroot on the plot) etc into the trench until it is nearly full covering with soil to keep off any rats as you go. You don't need to do it in one go, a section at a time is best if only to stop the papers blowing away.
When you come to spring the compost materials will have sunk and this provides a depression to help with watering the beans later in the year.
Start chitting your potatoes in January to ensure good strong sprouts to get them off to a good start when you plant out. If it is looking like a mild year, you can try planting two or three tubers of a first early in a greenhouse, either in a border or bags. Alternatively you can use a coldframe. I am fortunate to have a plastic raised bed base about 1m by 50cm and 20cm high to which a twinwall polycarbonate coldframe attaches that provides shelter and depth for a really early crop so long as the weather isn't too drastic.
Copyright © John Harrison
About the Author
John Harrison is the author of Vegetable Growing, Month by Month and The Essential Allotment Guide amongst others. His home is in Cheshire from where he runs the Allotment Vegetable Growing web site and grows his own fruit and vegetables on his two allotments around the corner.