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This month in the garden - 2021

February in the garden

It always fascinates me to watch the frosted, dead looking lettuces and habas perk up again in the mid morning sun. Hopefully most of the frosty mornings are behind us now as we go into February. Many of us may have been taking it easy in the garden lately with the wind, snow, rain, slow growth, cold mornings and short days but don't get caught off guard. February is when it all starts to happen and the garden will start to be very busy again. The weeds will be back so try to stay ahead of them. There is lots to plant and lots of ground to prepare for summer. There should still be plenty of chard, kale and salad leaves to harvest and some of us may have already eaten our first tender shoots of sprouting broccoli. Harvesting regularly will encourage more sprouts and prolong the crop. Once it starts flowering it won't put out any more sprouts so make sure you harvest daily, or every other day.

If you held off sowing seeds for your summer veg due to the cold, get started soon. Tomatoes, aubergines, courgettes and peppers can all be sown now in a greenhouse or cold frame. These tender seedlings do not tolerate frost so they must be protected until we are sure the danger has passed. In warm areas green beans can be direct sown but they will not tolerate any frost. You could cover them with fleece or net if you are keen to have an early crop. Lettuces can be direct sown but will grow faster in a green house or cold frame. Beetroot can be direct sown as can carrots, parsnips, turnips, radish, rocket, chard, spinach and peas. Green manures sown in autumn can be dug in. Fruit trees can be planted. Think about which crops you would like to grow for seed this year. Educate yourself about what will and won't cross pollinate. For example, if you would like to save some chard seeds, don't let your beetroot flower at the same time because you will end up with seeds that produce a plant that is neither beetroot nor chard but something in between. Many vegetables and herbs don't cross pollinate and are very easy to save seeds from. For those that do cross pollinate, a little bit of planning and garden design will mean you can save many varieties in one garden. Come along to a seed bank meeting if you would like to learn more about seed saving or have a look at the website where you will find lots of great tips and information. (SEEEeD.es)

Reader's question: Do you know where I can buy a curry leaf plant? (William)

- Curry leaf tree, Murraya koenigii, is a small tree of the rue family native to Asia. It is the main ingredient in the Indian spice mix and can grow up to 6 meters tall. It is not at all frost hardy and will die if exposed to temperatures below 0 degrees C. It can be grown in a pot and brought indoors during the colder months if you get frost in your area. The curry tree also dislikes being over fed or over watered.

Helichrysum italicum, a flowering plant in the daisy family, asteraceae, is also sold as curry plant. Native to the Mediterranean it grows on dry rocky ground and has a strong fragrance reminiscent of curry but bitter and more akin to wormwood. It is used as a culinary herb but doesn't compete with the real thing.

I do know of a curry tree (Murraya koenigii) in the Alpujarras. It was brought back from a trip to the Maldives in a plastic bottle in a suitcase. You may be lucky to find one in a garden centre on the coast. The next best thing, Helichrysum italicum, are widely available.

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