FRUIT TREE CARE
Carry on with pruning apple and pear trees, red and white currants and gooseberries. Keep the centre of the tree or bush open to let in the maximum amount of light and to allow air to circulate freely. Cut out dead and diseased wood and any crossing and rubbing branches. Do not prune stone fruit (plums, cherries, etc.) during the winter, because of the risk of introducing disease. Plant new fruit trees and bushes once the soil is neither sodden nor frozen.
Protect fruit trees and gooseberries with netting; birds love developing fruit buds and your entire crop can disappear with astonishing speed unless protected!
Check all ties and stakes to ensure they are not broken or too tight.
Check stored fruit and throw out any showing signs of disease.
Come the end of the month, add organic fertiliser to your fruit trees and shrubs; remove any mulch, feed around the roots, water and renew the mulch. Use organic rather than inorganic or chemical fertilisers to provide a slow release of nutrients; a sudden burst of growth too early in the season puts the plant at risk from disease and pests.
Start to force rhubarb; clear away all dead foliage and cover the crown with a forcer if you have one or a large pot if you don’t. To encourage faster growth, pack horse manure around the forcer; the heat will produce even more dramatic results as it rots down!
Harvest leeks, Brussels sprouts (from the bottom upwards), carrots, parsnips and winter cabbages.
Sow early crops (radishes, beetroot, spinach, lettuce) in seed trays or modules in a greenhouse or tunnel, or on a windowsill inside in light and airy conditions.
Start chitting seed potatoes – an amazing and encouraging thought, but early varieties will be planted in March! Put them in a light and cool place with the end showing the most ‘buds’ uppermost – old egg boxes are ideal. Once the shoots start to sprout, pinch out all but two or three and just imagine the flavour of freshly dug new potatoes!