In the garden this week: February 4, 2010

· The coming of February heralds the time to be thinking about the winter vegetable garden. As you clear summer harvests, you can start planting winter crops such as winter spinach, brassicas, peas and Florence fennel or celery. Get in quickly if you want to sow carrots, leeks or parsnips. They need a longer growing season. It is the very last call for Brussels sprouts and they must be from plants now, not seed.

· Keep up with plantings of green leafy vegetables which are a quicker maturing crop and can keep you supplied in bulk filler daily veg – lettuce, spinach, silver beet and Asian greens of the bok choi, pak choy, mizuna types.

· If you want to add animal manures to your garden, in their raw state they are best either put through the compost heap first or dug straight into the garden and left to mature and to start decomposing for some weeks before you attempt planting. However chicken manure is too strong to add directly to the garden – dilute it through the compost heap or let it age for a period of time (exposed to the air but not to rain). If you buy product like Grunt or sheep pellets rather than gathering your own au naturel, it will already have gone through some of the composting process and should come with its own instructions.

· Seaweed is excellent for the garden and can be dug in or laid on top, whichever you prefer. It does not need to be washed in fresh water first.

It takes a bit of effort to outwit the birds but the resulting fig harvest makes it worthwhile

It takes a bit of effort to outwit the birds but the resulting fig harvest makes it worthwhile

· We have been enjoying an excellent fresh fig crop this year – the common brown turkey figs which can grow perfectly well here. However, it does take some active management because the birds also love them and don’t worry about waiting for them to ripen. Because our tree is too large to cover, Mark has been bagging the ripening fruit with opaque plastic bags with the bottom cut of, secured with a freezer twist. As long as the birds can’t see the fruit, they won’t eat it and the bottomless bag means the fruit doesn’t rot. Alternatively you could espalier a fig against the side of a building or wall so that the whole plant can be bird netted.

· You can prune plum trees as soon as they have finished fruiting. Summer pruning can help reduce diseases getting in to cut surfaces. The aim is to have a good, open framework to the tree to allow for light and air movement. Take out wayward branches that cross others or branches that rub their neighbour.