Top tips for gardening in January: Protect lettuce from the sun, keep soil moist, make your own fertiliser, plant celery
Moisture and sunlight have a good and bad effect, depending on what you’re growing.
Words: Jane Wrigglesworth
• Protect lettuce from the midday sun. High heat and lack of water can cause your salad greens to develop a bitter taste. Lettuce leaves need plenty of water to remain sweet and crisp. Brown edges are a sure sign they’re thirsty. Water often to keep them succulent. You can plant lettuce in among corn or tomato plants to provide them with a little shade.
• Conserve soil moisture. Aphids and shield bugs are attracted to stressed or weakened plants, especially those affected by lack of water.
• Black aphids tend to move in on chives and spring onions when plants are gasping for water. Commit to a daily watering regime during summer and start mulching to conserve moisture in the soil. Mulching slows down water loss through evaporation and keeps weeds at bay, which compete for moisture.
• Seedlings of celery, brassicas, leeks, parsnips, swede and turnips can all be planted now.
• Sow lettuce, rocket, radishes, spring onions and carrots every fortnight for a continuous supply of salad ingredients.
• Use comfrey leaves to make your own fertiliser. Comfrey is naturally high in potassium, and tomatoes, potatoes, cucumbers and peppers love it. To make a nutritious tea for your plants, fill a bucket with comfrey leaves, top up with water and cover. Leave to decompose for 3-5 weeks, stirring occasionally (hold your nose). Strain the sludge (put it on your compost heap) and apply a solution of half comfrey/half water around your plants.
• Keep herbs cut back to encourage new and tender growth. Nip off the tips of mature basil plants to prevent flowers from forming.
• Feed leafy vegetables regularly with a liquid fertiliser that’s high in nitrogen, which is ideal for leaf production.
• In warmer areas, dwarf and climbing beans can still be sown for autumn harvest.
• Regularly lift kumara foliage to prevent it rooting where leaf nodes touch the soil. This way, the plant’s energy goes into producing tubers, not more foliage.