There’s always plenty to do in even the smallest vegetable garden. There are some essential jobs to do in January as well as those that mean you will have a head start come the beginning of spring. Whether its getting ahead by planting early vegetables in the greenhouse or preparing the ground for this year’s crop, choose a dry bright day, wrap up and get out there.
As long as the weather is not too wet or too cold, January is a good time to dig over heaving soil on the vegetable garden. Clear away any old crops from last year and place on the compost heap. Improve the texture of the soil and give young vegetable plants a head start by incorporating compost or manure. However, leave it rough for now and don’t dig in the manure just yet.
If you intend to grow beans this year, decide where you want to plant them and prepare the ground by digging a trench. Over the next few weeks fill the trench with kitchen waste (excluding meat products) which will compost down and enrich the soil in preparation for hungry young bean plants. Now is also a good time to start forcing rhubarb. Use forcing jars to ensure an early crop. You can also plant new rhubarb crowns at this time. If the weather looks likely to be frosty, cover the intended patch of ground with fleece for a couple of days to prevent frost getting to the soil. You can also cover other patches of ground with fleece or cloches to warm it up if you are planning to sow early crops. The following crops can be planted under cloches during January and early February – spinach, hardy peas, broad beans, onions and carrots.
As in the flower garden, January is the time of year to plant bare rooted shrubs and trees, so plant out any new fruits trees or bushes in your vegetable garden. While you are at it, prune out the oldest stems from blackcurrant bushes to encourage new shoots. Cover existing fruit bushes with netting to discourage hungry birds from eating any emerging buds. Prune apple and pear trees to remove crossing, damaged or diseased branches while the trees are dormant.
If you have mint growing in your vegetable garden you can force early shoots and evoke the scent of summer by digging up clumps and planting in garden planters.
Jo Poultney is a RHS qualified gardener.