How and when to harvest vegetables from the garden in February – PLUS what to plant this month
Summer creates an abundance of homegrown crops. Tomatoes, cucumbers, courgettes, beans and more are all ripe for the picking. But how and when you pick them can make all the difference between sweet and succulent, bland or bitter.
Words: Jane Wrigglesworth
Maincrop potatoes are harvested when the foliage has died back, 120 to 150 days after planting, depending on the variety. Dig them out gently with a fork. If storing long-term, leave them exposed for a few hours to cure (not overnight or slugs and snails will have a field day!) before placing in thick paper sacks. Seal the sacks and store in a cool spot. Be careful not to bruise potatoes when harvesting as rot may set in. Store only perfect potatoes, those without soft spots, mould or damage. Check them constantly while in storage and remove any that show signs of rot or they may cause others to rot too.
Carrots are generally harvestable 8-10 weeks after sowing. Remove the foliage immediately after harvesting to prevent it taking moisture from the carrot. You can leave carrots in the ground and pull them as you need them, but don’t leave them too long or they’ll become tough.
About three weeks after the silks on sweetcorn form, they’ll turn dry and brown. This is the time to pick them. You can double check that they’re ready – the kernels should exude a milky substance when pricked. Ideally, pick your corn just before you’re going to eat it, or within a few hours. Corn is at its prime for only 72 hours after harvesting, after which most of the sugar has turned to starch. When first picked, the ratio of sugar to starch is typically 80 per cent to 20 per cent; three days after picking the ratio will have swung the other way, 20 per cent to 80 per cent.
COURGETTES, CUCUMBERS, CAPSICUMS, TOMATOES
Pick peppers, the cucurbits and tomatoes often to encourage further production. Keep a close eye on courgettes. They can literally grow into marrows overnight when water and heat is abundant. Harvest when young. Pick cucumbers when firm and smooth; overripe cucumbers are soft and bitter and may start to turn yellow.
Beans take 50-70 days from sowing to harvesting. Harvest while still tender, otherwise they’ll go stringy. Check regularly. It doesn’t take long for beans
to go from tender to tough. Regular picking promotes a continuous supply.
Beetroot is best harvested when still young, about 5cm in diameter. Mature globes can become hard and fibrous. Remove foliage to prevent it taking moisture from the root.
Dig out when young and tender, as little as five weeks after sowing. Over-mature radishes will lose their crispness and taste bitter.
ONIONS & SHALLOTS
Both onions and shallots are harvested when the tops wither and turn brown, usually mid-to-late summer. Close to harvest time, lay off the nitrogen fertilisers to ensure better storability. After digging, leave them to cure in a warm, dry place for about a week, then store in a mesh bag in a cool, dry spot.
FEBRUARY GARDENING TIPS
It’s time to start on the winter garden, and enjoy the best of summer.
• Sow seeds of Japanese radish or daikon. The long, white, mild-tasting roots can be steamed, stir-fried, pickled, or grated and eaten raw. Grow in full sun in moist, fertile soil, and space accordingly. Roots can grow 40cm long by 6cm wide, don’t let them over-mature or they’ll become pithy.
• Sow turnips for harvesting in autumn. Baby turnips mature in as little as two months. If you’re not a fan of turnips as a root vegetable, grow them for their leafy tops. They’re part of the same family as kale and broccoli and their leaves are rich in vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. Cook them as you would spinach, or use them raw in salads and sandwiches.
• Sow or plant seedlings of beetroot, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbages, carrots, cauliflowers, kohlrabi, radishes, silver beet and spinach.
• Sow seeds or plant seedlings of herbs such as basil, borage, caraway, chervil, chives, coriander, dill, fennel, hyssop, lemon balm, lemon grass, lemon verbena, lovage, marjoram, oregano, parsley, sage, tarragon and thyme.
• High humidity contributes to mildew on cucumbers, courgettes, pumpkins and melons. Spray with fungicide to prevent it spreading or make a baking soda solution: pour 5 tablespoons vegetable oil, 2 tablespoons baking soda, 1 teaspoon Castile liquid soap and 2 litres water into a spray bottle and shake to mix. Spray plants, covering both sides of the leaves and stems. Reapply every five to seven days as a prevention method. Use a fresh mixture each time. Remove the old, diseased leaves before spraying and bin or burn them. Don’t cut away healthy foliage or you’ll reduce the nutrients going to developing fruit.
• Save lettuce seeds. Lettuce bolts to seed quickly in the summer heat. Let a few of your plants flower and collect the seed for replanting or storing until next spring.
• Sow land cress in containers or garden beds. Plant in moist soil and part shade – this peppery plant does best in cooler spots over summer. Keep plants well watered and the leaves will be ready to harvest in seven to eight weeks.