It’s time to plant courgette and leeks, sow bok choy and carrots and harvest your tomatoes. Here’s all you need to do in the garden this February
Lemongrass is an extremely versatile herb. The inner leaves and white stalks are delicious in Asian dishes and can also be used to make medicinal teas for soothing headaches and aiding oral health. You can also rub the leaves on your skin to repel mosquitoes. Just having a lemongrass plant in a pot near your outdoor area will help to keep bugs at bay.
Tomatoes left on the vine to ripen will have the best flavour, but watch out for birds wanting their share. Pick only what you need each day as tomatoes lose flavour when stored in the fridge. For good-sized fruit and to reduce the stress on plants (which means better resistance to pests and diseases), take out the top shoot once there are 4-5 flowering trusses.
While harvesting nectarines, plums and other fruit, collect rotten and damaged fruit from the ground and tree to reduce the spread of pests and diseases. This also helps to take some of the weight off tree branches. If branches are still heavily laden, pick some of the healthy fruit, too. Don’t compost the diseased or infested plant material. Instead, put it in a bucket of water to fully rot down.
Tip: When the flowers and leaves on potatoes start to yellow and die down, they are ready to harvest. To check, gently remove soil at the edge of a mound; replace if your spuds need a bit longer. Digging them up with a spade can damage crops so use a fork to loosen soil, then pull spuds out by hand.
Vitamin-rich bok choy can be sown in a sunny spot into the ground, or into seed trays in cooler areas. In warmer regions, find a partly shaded place so plants don’t flower and stop producing leaves. Thin out seedlings as they develop for final spacing of around 20cm apart. Soil needs plenty of compost and manure dug in well before sowing.
You can sow carrots where soil is not too hot, though young carrots don’t like very cold soil either, so don’t leave it too long if early frosts could hit your area. Keep soil moist and thin seedlings regularly so plants ultimately have 3-5cm between them.
New Zealand spinach (kōkihi) copes better with heat than common spinach. Sow seed into moist, rich soil in full sun or part shade. Thin out weaker seedlings so plants are about 50cm apart when mature. Water regularly and lay mulch in hot gardens.
Sow kale into seed trays or directly into the garden in warmer areas. In cooler gardens, plant seedlings. Thin out seedlings to avoid plants becoming leggy with weak stems. Aim for 30-40cm between plants.
Leek seedlings can be planted now (or seeds sown) so they can get growing well before the weather turns cold. Soil should be well-drained with plenty of compost added in advance. Apply all-purpose fertiliser as plants mature. For whiter stems, mound soil up around base of plants. If you cut leeks about 1cm above soil, the base will resprout.
Plant late-cropping potatoes into soil fertilised at least 2 weeks beforehand. Mix in compost, sheep pellets and other organic matter thoroughly as too much of this good stuff around tubers can cause potato scab and other diseases. Phosphorus is also essential for root-vegetable development.
There’s still time to pop in a courgette plant or two in warmer gardens. Space about 75-100cm apart or use a strong support to grow them vertically. They need fertile soil and regular feeding and watering.
Plant young celery seedlings in a sunny spot that doesn’t get too hot in the middle of the day. Regular moisture is essential. Space 15-20cm apart. In cooler regions wait until spring before planting.
Words by: Carol Bucknell. Photography by: Claire Mossong, Helen Bankers /bauersyndication.com.au