Essential January Jobs for the Vegetable Garden

January can have some nice days that allow us to get outside, breath in fresh air, take in some sunshine and get a jumpstart on the beginning of planting season.

  • Plan ahead.  Work out what to grow where next growing season.  Aim to try something new and bear in mind the principles of crop rotation.
  • Now is a great time to top up mulches if you haven’t already done so.  Add well-rotted manure or garden compost on the soil surface, rake it out the leave for the frost and worms to break down and incorporate.  Aim to cover the ground to a depth of at least an inch.
  • Prune trees.  Winter prune apples and pears, remove any crossing branches then concentrate on the three Ds: dead, damaged and diseased wood. 
  • Plant fruit.  Begin to plant fruit trees, bushes and canes, but only if your soil isn’t saturated or frozen.  Mulch around the area after planting. 
  • Force Rhubarb.  Place a forcing pot, bucket or large pot with the drainage holes covered of rhubarb crops to force an earlier crop of tender pale stems. 
  • Set up new raised beds.  January is an excellent time to get those raised beds set up so you can be ready at planting time. 
  • Order Seeds.  Who doesn’t love pursuing seeds.  Now is the time to think about the coming season.  Check stored seed packets and order fresh seeds in good time to have the best selection as seed varieties lessen as the season goes. 
  • Order needed supplies.  Check over your garden supplies such as tags, labels, twine, supports, fertilizers and pest control and get organized before the busy growing season begins.  It’s easy to become overwhelmed when you are in the height of the season and there is “one more thing” to do.  Being prepared for the coming season makes gardening much more enjoyable and successful!

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Growing Nutritious Microgreens

Microgreens are a fantastic way of enjoying delicious fresh salad leaves throughout the year. There are many types to try and if you have a bright spot or windowsill, they couldn’t be easier to grow.  

  1. Sow the seeds thickly into trays or pots filled with 1 inch of moist soil mix.  We use Fox Farm Salamander Potting Mix. Lightly cover seeds with potting mix. Tip: Use organic microgreen seed packages. They contain more seeds and are money saving. Never use treated seeds! 
  2. Place clean paper towels (bleach-free) over the entire surface and mist with water. We also use a dome to help keep moisture in and help control even temperature. Keep in a warm place. A sunny windowsill will be beneficial when seeds have sprouted. Keep the towels moist by misting when they begin to dry out, being careful to not allow the soil to become too wet or soggy.  Use a spray bottle for best results. Check daily and remove the paper towels when seedlings start to appear. Tip: You can use a heat mat to speed germination. Warmer soil means faster germination and the sooner microgreens will be ready to harvest. 
  3. Seedlings grow quickly and most types will develop their first proper pairs of leaves just days after germinating. Keep them moist at all times. There is no need to feed them.
  4. Microgreens are ready to harvest once they have grown two or three pairs of leaves, or are large enough to handle easily. Don’t allow them to grow any larger. Young leaves taste the best!
  5. To harvest microgreens simply cut them off at the base just above the soil and discard the roots and soil to the compost.
  6. Eat right away or store microgreens in a container of your choice (plastic bag, glass storage) for up to a week in the refrigerator. Tip: If you rinse before storing, be sure to remove all moisture or microgreens will not keep.

There are many choices of microgreens to grow. Brassica crops are the easiest for beginners. Mellow Blend and Jazzy Blend super fast and simple to start out with.  Basil takes the longest to grow, but well worth the time. Beets add a great flavor and color. Sunflowers have a delicious nutty flavor and add a crunch to salads and sandwiches.

A mix of microgreen varieties

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Growing and Using Calendula

Calendula will add beauty, color and usefulness to anyones garden! Calendula officinalis is an everblooming hardy annual (sometimes acts as a perennial). In warmer climates calendula blooms throughout the year, opening and closing with the sun. It is an excellent companion plant for the vegetable garden while attracting beneficial bees and hoverflies for pollination. It has a sticky substance on it stems, making a great catch and control for aphids. It aids in keeping other plants disease and insect free.

Calendula likes rich soil for the best production of flowers. Amend soil with compost. Grow in a sunny location. Begin to harvest just before the blossoms open completely for the best medicinal resins. I harvest every other day. Once you stop harvesting the plant will slow or even stop producing buds to make seeds, so continue that harvest as long as you can or until you want seed. The entire flower is edible, but petals are the best for salads. Dry calendula flowers all summer long for winter use and making of medicines and salves. Add dried flowers to tea mixes! Growing your own calendula has so many benefits, it’s easy and great for kids to help get involved.

Single Calendula

Calendula is an important medicinal plant. Commonly found in salves, oils, and tinctures, the bright orange and yellow blossoms contain powerful antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties that promote cell regeneration and hasten wound healing. The flower petals are also edible and lovely added to salads, soups and even omelets. Calendula is helpful with moving the lymph system.

Make a healing calendula salve. It’s great for skin infections, diaper rash, and wounds. Plus, it’s super easy and fun to make.

Place 1/2 cup dried calendula flowers and 1 1/4 cup olive oil in a saucepan and bring to a simmer over very low heat. Do not allow to boil. Let herbs infuse until oil becomes a rich golden color, usually 45 minutes. Strain out blossoms. Be sure to press out all the oil and then add 1/4 cup beeswax to warm oil, stirring until melted. Before pouring, check the consistency by placing 1 tablespoon salve in the fridge too cool. If too hard, add a little more oil, if too soft, add a little more beeswax. Pour into small jars or tins and label. It will last for several months. Store in a cool dry place.

Find Calendula Seed Here

Double Calendula

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Growing Organic Onions

If you love the sweet taste of large onions and want to grow them in your garden beds, you can do so with these follow along steps.

I have grown large onions for more than 30 years and still get great enjoyment from seeing these impressive plants grow into whoppers in my garden beds.

Large onions require a long growing season to achieve a good size, so they are one of the first crops to be sown in the greenhouse or indoor mini greenhouse (grow lights are beneficial). This begins the end of December or the first of January. Sow seeds into seed trays filled with a good moist seed starting mix. I like Ocean Forest and get the best results with it. Once the trays are filled, lightly firm them in with a tamper or hand to gently compact the soil. This leaves a small rim around the top of the tray, making a space to sow the seeds. Before sowing the seeds the trays should be watered with a fine mister or fine water head such as 1000 red head and let drain for approximately half an hour. Sow the seed evenly over the seed try of soil and lightly cover with a layer of vermiculite. Place the seed trays on a heat mat and use a dome to hold in moister. Germination will start between seven to 14 days. If you have missed the opportunity to start your own seeds, many times you can find onions already started in your local nurseries, but the choices of onion varieties are limited.

Once the seedlings start to germinate, remove the dome to allow air flow and reduce damping off. Grow the seedlings in the greenhouse or mini greenhouse throughout the winter and early spring maintaining a minimum temperature of 50-55 degrees Fahrenheit, then they will begin pricking out.  

Ground preparation can begin early in the spring by adding plenty of well composted manure or compost as onions require a rich, fertile soil. It is possible to grow large onions on the same ground for a number of years with good results providing a high level of organic matter is maintained. And remember this can only be done if the plot remains clear from fungal diseases like white rot.  

From March to April, depending on the weather, move the young onion plants into a cold frame to gradually harden them off before planting. After a week or two of hardening them off the plants are ready for planting into the vegetable plot and are usually about the thickness of a pencil by now.  

Carefully prick apart the onion seedlings, being careful not to damage the roots. If room allows, plant 8-12” apart. This gives the plants as much room as possible to grow into good-sized bulbs. If you wish, plant a row of lettuce or sow a row of radish in between the onions as a catch crop, making use of the extra space while the onions are getting established.  

Approximately three weeks after planting feed the onions with a sprinkle of high-nitrogen fertilizer, such as Fish Meal or Feather Meal. Simply sprinkle a little around each plant and carefully work in with a hand cultivator or hoe. In late June give them another feed, but only if the onions give and indication they require this extra food. Onions can tell you if they have enough nitrogen as the leaves will take up a crinkled appearance, almost looking as if someone had made a series of thumb indents up the leaf. When this is seen no further feeding is required.  Knowing how they are growing is as important as to much feed will result in split or soft onions that do not keep very well.  

Through the growing season the onion plot should be kept clean from weeds, being careful not to damage any of the onions. Watering is only necessary during dry weather and in the beginning of transplanting.  

Onions naturally start to bulb up after the longest day (June 21). You can almost watch them grow at this time of year.  

Large onions should be ready for harvesting from late July till late August, sometimes later. Lift bulbs as soon as the foliage start to bend down. Large onions should not be left in the ground until all the foliage dies down as this can affect the keeping qualities of bulbs. 

Once the onions are lifted, trim off the foliage, leaving a neck of 4-6 inches long, then rub off any soil and lay in open trays in an airy shed until outer skin is dry.  

Use the largest bulbs first. Kept in temperatures around 50-60 degrees they can keep well into February.  

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