January

Last chance pruning  Most books suggest any time in January as a good time to prune apples and pears, but because in the south west our weather is mild, the period of dormancy is very brief. If you haven’t done your pruning you must get on with it early this month before leaf buds start to form. Apples and pears - remove any damaged or diseased wood. Cut out cutting branches and aim to create a goblin shape. Blackcurrants - after 3 years stems will not fruit well at all. So each year cut out old stems (dark and flaky) to ground level. This will promote new growth from the base which will fruit in the following year. Raspberries – last chance to plant soft fruit this month. Cold, damp soil will be fine but don’t water them in as their rots will rot in soggy ground. Plum and cherry trees – wait until the Spring to prune.

Bees No bees no fruit. Bees perform a critical role in pollination and lots of bees on your plot will mean lots of fruit. Giving up a small amount of growing space to bee-friendly plants will in fact increase your overall yield – so remember this when making this year’s planting plan. At this time of year garden centres will be clearing out tatty stock and selling it cheaply. With some TLC these plants will respond and will attract bees to your plot. Also talk to your neighbours if they are dividing any flowering plants they may be happy to give you a few roots. Ericas, lavender, asters and michaelmas daisies are easy, bee-friendly plants.

Seed Planting Even when it’s too cold to work outside, there are some indoor jobs for January. Polytunnel, greenhouse or spare bedroom, now that guests have gone home, there are seeds that need planting. A propagator is useful as it gives you control over temperature and moisture level. The simple type – a seed tray with a cover will do very well. Onions (from seed), leeks, sweet peas, broad beans, early cauliflower and early carrots. Also,  some lettuces and tomatoes all can be planted now, check packets to find early varieties.

Potatoes Potatoes need to be chitted this month, ready for planting in March. There are a wide variety of potatoes, from waxy salad types, like Charlotte and International Kidney to floury ones, like King Edward and Maris Piper that make lovely mash and roast potatoes. Cara has also been found to grow well in Exmouth soil. Chitting will get them off to a good start. Lay them in egg boxes with the dormant end (most eyes) uppermost. Keep them in a light, cool place until they have developed short, sturdy green shoots. Too much warmth or darkness will result in pale, easy damaged shoots.

 Indoors Check plants for white fly, aphids and scale bugs. As soon as weather warms a tiny bit, start to look for slugs and slug eggs (little white spheres – squash them). Also, on warm days you will need to ventilate to reduce the risk from moulds, and only water sparingly. Wash flower plots to get rid of old soil, which may harbour eggs, viruses or contaminated plant material using a weak solution of Jeyes fluid.

Outdoors  Check to see that plant protection and supports have not been damaged by winds and continue digging when ground is dry enough.

Planning Check over your planting plan to make sure that you have done the necessary preparation for different crops eg a new space for potatoes and brassicas (ie not in the same place as last year). They both like rich soil, but it is too late to use fresh manure now. You can add well-rotted compost, or old growbags as these will not make the soil too acidic. You will need a bean trench, and an unmanured spot for root veg.

Thinking of going NO DIG this year? This video by Charles Dowding is a useful introduction.