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February planting in Poitou-Charentes

February planting in Poitou-Charentes

Trevor Bridge reminds us of the jobs that need to be done in February and March to ensure a plentiful harvest later in the year.

Early spring flowering bulbs such as snowdrops are coming into flower, an indication that the gardener must start to prepare the main seeding and planting jobs for the growing season ahead. If you have finished all the major winter tasks, you won't have a lot to do in February, but if, like most of us, you are scrambling to keep up, this is your last chance before spring.

Depending on the conditions, February can be a good time to cultivate and prepare your seed beds and finish off any major digging and weeding that still needs to be done. If your soil is in a suitable state, get ready for spring by sowing a few early vegetables both outdoors and under cover. and if you haven't already done so, work out your rotation for this year's crops. Stock up with clean pots and fresh seed compost. Get organised - once the growing season starts. it's nice to have all your necessary equipment to hand. Have a good tidy up and finish those odd construction jobs, because you are going to be busy later in the year.

Feb gardening potatoes

February is the coldest month in Poitou-Charentes, with an average temperature of 8.7°C, and is often the month of the hardest frosts. February's rainfall averages 59.6 mm. March is warmer, with an average of 11.7°C and slightly less rainfall, averaging 56.4 mm. However, temperatures and rainfall vary according to where you are; near the coast your climate is moderated by the Atlantic, so you get fewer extremes than the inland parts of the region. More than at any other time of year, your jobs for February and March will depend on your local weather conditions, so adjust for where you are. Remember- there's no set date for any gardening job. For instance, it's better to wait and not try to cultivate your soil or sow seeds in cold waterlogged ground, where they could rot rather than germinate. 

Chitting potatoes

'Chitting’, or ‘spritting', is simply placing the potatoes in a cool (10°C), frost-free place with indirect light four to six weeks before planting. Stand them in a single layer, rose end up (the end with most eyes) in egg cartons, seed trays or similar. This produces short, strong shoots to get them off to a faster start. They are ready to plant when the shoots are about 2.5cm long. Don't forget to label them so you don't get confused about the varieties at planting time.

Planting potatoes

The traditional way is to dig a narrow trench 12.5cm deep and line with compost, or even grass clippings, for a better crop. For earlies, the seed tubers are spaced 30cm apart in rows 60cm apart. For main crop varieties, space them 35cm apart in rows 75cm apart. When the stems are about 23cm high, start earthing up by carefully drawing soil up to the stems and covering to produce a flat-topped ridge about 15cm high. This can be done little and often, or in one go.

Another method is to grow the potatoes under black polythene sheeting. The tubers are planted through holes in the black polythene. The advantage of this method is that there is no need to earth up, and the crop of potatoes forms just below soil level, which means there's no digging required to harvest them.


 What to harvest
  • Beet leaves (perpetual spinach)
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cauliflowers
  • Celeriac
  • Celery
  • Chard
  • Chicory
  • Endive
  • Jerusalem artichokes
  • Kale
  • Leeks
  • Parsnips
  • Salsify
  • Scorzonera
  • Swedes
  • Turnips

If a long freeze seems likely, dig some leeks up and heel them in to prepared ground for easy access. However, any leeks left standing in March should be harvested - freeze them for use in soups and stews Parsnips should also come up in early March before they try to re-grow.

What to plant

• Onion sets: (small, part grown bulbs) should be planted outside in March, but the soil must be fairly dry and warm. If they are sown under cloches, they can be sown four weeks earlier. Plant sets 10cm apart in rows 30cm apart to a depth where only the very tips of the sets are just showing through the soil. Dig a hole with a trowel and place them in the hole with their necks uppermost. Don't push them into the soil, as this will compact the ground and they may grow out of the soil later. Deep, well dug, fertile soil in full sun yields the best results

• Shallots: plant up until the end of March, but only if the soil is fairly dry and warm. Cover the soil with dark plastic sheeting, fleece or cloches two weeks before planting. Don't push the bulbs into the ground. Dig a small hole with a trowel and put the bulb in, leaving the tip showing.

• Early potatoes: start planting the earlies you've had chitting in mid-March

• Jerusalem artichokes: cut the tubers into 2 or 3 sections, each one with an 'eye'. Plant them in an area that receives full sun and mulch them well. They need a good supply of potassium - this can be supplied with wood ash

• Asparagus: March is usually the right time to establish an asparagus bed when starting from crowns


What to sow
  • Aubergines: sow in late March. These grow much better if started under cloches, as they need a long, warm growing season to mature. An early start pays dividends, crop-wise
  • Brussels sprouts: (early varieties): sow in early March for picking in August / September
  • Broad beans and early peas: sow in February and March, if conditions are suitable, for a May and June harvest
  • Parsnips: better sown in March, when conditions are improving, rather than being placed in cold, wet soil in February
  • Onions: from seed can be started now. Choose a dry day to sow outdoors in March. The soil should be moist but not wet. The seedlings should appear about 20 days later
  • Peppers (including chillies): sow in late March. These grow much better if started under cloches. as they need a long. warm growing season to mature
  • Leeks: are sown in March and April
  • Lettuce: for a summer I autumn crop, sow outdoors from late March onwards
  • Radish: sow from March onwards. For an early crop, sow in February in pre-warmed soil and protect with cloches
  • Spinach: sow every few weeks from mid-March onwards
  • Turnips: sow early varieties from March to June, or under cloches in February
  • Summer cabbage: These can be sown under cloches or similar cover in multi-cell trays from late February / early March until early May, to be transplanted in May/ June


What to do in February and March
  • Buy seed potatoes if you haven't already got them, and chit them
  • Force rhubarb for an early crop of the sweetest stalks: cover an established crown with a purpose-made clay forcing pot, a bucket or an upturned large pot at least 45cm high, and insulate the outside with straw or compost for added heat. The stalks will grow in the dark and should be ready to pull in 3-4 weeks
  • Collect plastic bottles to make into cloches
  • If you have a greenhouse, check to ensure the glass is secure and replace any cracked panes. If you've not given it a thorough clean, now is the time before it's pressed into service
  • Buy plant labels
  • Collect supports such as pea sticks for climbers
  • Check fleece and other crop covers for holes
  • Scrub pots, seed trays and modules with hot, soapy water
  • Check last year's potato bed for any leftover small potatoes and remove them to avoid passing on  light etc.
  • Give this year's potato bed an application of compost or rotted manure.
  • Cover soil with dark plastic sheeting, fleece or cloches to warm it up for a couple of weeks before you start to sow and plant. The small rise in temperature of the soil can make a big difference.
  • Cover parsnips, turnips and swedes with fleece or straw to stop them freezing solid into the ground


First published in Living Poitou-Charentes magazine

Trevor is a landscape architect who ran a busy practice in the UK for twenty years. He and his wife Jocelyn moved to an ancient fermette in Poitou-Charentes in 2004 where they garden organically and keep bees and hens.