Hard frosts and hard work are the main ingredients in the kitchen garden this month but there’s still plenty of jobs to sweep away the January blues
Grow your own chips
Mid-January is the prime time to start chitting your seed potatoes. This works best for early or salad varieties (and isn’t really necessary for main crop) as it gives them a head start before they’re eventually planted into the cold outdoor soil. Pop the seed potatoes into egg boxes, trays (or whatever you can lay your hands on) with the ‘eyes’ upright and place on a bright but cool windowsill. By March, when the
shoots are 1.5cm long, you can plant them. Good ‘chippers’ include King Edward and Maris Piper. Find out more about homegrown potatoes here
Dig up some Jerusalems
Protected underground, Jerusalem artichokes can remain productive all through the winter and their earthy, nutty flavour is fantastic in soups. Dig them up just before use, as they won’t keep for long once they’ve been lifted, and scrub the knobbly exteriors well.
Give brassicas some TLC
Keep your Brussels sprouts and purple sprouting broccoli productive over winter by picking up fallen yellow leaves (a harbinger of slugs), and earth up the stems or stake with canes to prevent wind rock. Keep picking purple spouting regularly to encourage young, tasty shoots to form. Christmas may be over but there should still be plenty of plump buttons on your Brussels to collect. And don’t worry if you forget and find they’ve ‘blown’ – leafy ones can still be used as mini cabbages, and the tops are very tasty too.
Sow radishes indoors
The fresh, peppery crunch of radish is a welcome change in early spring and you can get a head start by sowing into tubs or large pots of compost in the greenhouse or cold frame now.
Savour your parsnips
Frost has an almost magical effect on parsnips as the starches turn to sugars, transforming them from earthy, faintly soapy roots into sweet, nutty treats. They’re one of the few veg happy to ‘mature’ in flavour, in the ground, for most of the winter.
Be a jammy dodger!
Easier to grow than you might think, seek out fresh ginger at your local supermarket or grocer and choose fingers that have ‘eyes’ or shoot buds (they look like little horns). Break up the ginger so you have small pieces with a couple of growing buds each (you can even plant the whole thing if you are unsure), and bury upwards in compost. Keep warm and moist indoors during the growing season, and feed every two weeks with a general pot-plant fertiliser. Move into bigger pots as they grow. In autumn, reduce the watering and let the pots dry out. This will encourage the plant to grow a rootstock or ‘rhizome’, which is the part we use for cooking.
And this month’s top plot tucker…
Plot juice: put winter greens and roots to good use in a New Year detox juice. Try carrot with warming ginger and fresh orange juice; purple spouting broccoli with pineapple and spinach; or blend 3 stalks celery with 1 apple, 1 handful of kale, a few fennel fronds and a squeeze of lime.