A favourite job in January is to sit by the fire planning the planting for the coming year and enjoying visions of unbridled success on the smallholding.

The reality is always dramatically different but what does help with looking forward is, in fact, looking backward. Thinking about last year, what were the successes? The could do betters? Was it the weather? Was it the wrong variety? Was it you?!

It is much easier to understand how things went right and wrong if you kept records through the year. If you didn’t last year then maybe a new year resolution is to do so this year. It’s entirely up to you how you keep records, you might choose to use a tablet, PC or written journal and you may prefer a spreadsheet or handwritten notes. The value is in having an easy and straightforward way too record varieties, how they fared, thoughts and actions that can inform you for years to come.

Having considered the past year, reward yourself by poring over seed magazines and order – if not to your heart’s – at least to your budget’s content.


Your earliest sowings will appreciate a cloche, tarpaulin or piece of carpet over the area that they are to be planted in to enable the soil to warm up.

Brassicas: Remove yellowing leaves from winter brassicas to avoid them harbouring pests and diseases. Net the brassicas to keep pigeons away.

Forcing rhubarb: Cover the crown with a dustbin, large pot or customised forcer and make sure no light is leaking through. To accelerate forcing, or if it turns very cold, wrap the pot with bubble wrap or straw.

Remove leftover vegetable debris but do not compost any diseased material, burn or bin these instead.

Prune apple and pear trees to remove older wood so that new fruiting wood can grow. Aim for a vase shape with a frame of four or five main branches. Remove dead, diseased or crossing branches and any unproductive upright stems growing from the centre. Make slanted cuts above the branch collar, the raised ring where the branch meets the trunk or another branch. As ever, put safety first. Check the stability of the ladder and do not be tempted to work above your head.

Snow has been heavy and more is forecast so keep brushing it off greenhouses, polytunnels, coldframes, hedges, conifers and favourite plants to minimise damage.

Fleece, bubble-wrap or netting should be used to protect vulnerable plants from severe frost.

Winter is a hard time for birds so it’s good to keep bird feeders full and their bathing and drinking water defrosted. It’s the perfect time to put up nestboxes and if you already have some it’s time to remove old bedding so they remain hygienic as they are used anew.

Give your bean canes and wooden stakes a new lease of life by treating them to a coat of preservative. Don’t worry, you don’t need to paint every single one by hand! If you half fill a metal bucket or tin can with wood preservative and stand the canes and stakes in it overnight they will soak the preservative up. Turn them the other way around the following night and they’ll be rejuvenated.

Now is the time to start work on making new beds, if it’s not too frosty or wet. Mark out the shape and size you want and, using a spade, take the very top layer off to leave just the soil. Dig it over and add compost, manure or any other soil improver. Over the coming weeks keep lightly turning the soil to kill off weeds, expose any undesirable roots and reduce the number of soil pests.

Make a runner bean trench: Digging the trench this month gives a couple of months to create the best bed for your March sowings or plantings. Dig the trench that you need and throughout the next three months add the garden waste and kitchen leftovers that you would normally put in your compost heap. Once March comes, cover it with soil and the bed will be warm and moist for your young beans.

Double dig: This is the answer to minimising weeds that grow from your homemade compost. The compost is bound to have weed seeds in it but if you bury them a spade’s depth below the surface, they won’t germinate.

1. Remove the soil and place on plastic sheet with spade.

2. Fork over the soil at the bottom of your new trough.

3. Add manure, compost or both.

4. Replace the soil.

Decomposition will continue which will warm the soil and help your crops to grow.

Since wet soil weighs more it’s preferable to choose a dry day for double digging!

PRODUCE TO SOW OUTDOORS: Aquadulce Claudia broad beans and Feltham first peas

PRODUCE TO SOW UNDER GLASS: Broad beans, aubergine, lettuce, leeks, cauliflower, Swiss chard, tomatoes, parsley, dill, rosemary, thyme

PRODUCE TO PLANT OUTDOORS: Early potato varieties, onion sets, shallot sets, some garlic varieties

Plant gooseberries, blackcurrants and redcurrants but avoid planting in waterlogged, parched or frozen soil. If you need to prune gooseberries and redcurrants, cut sideshoots back to three buds from the base.


Spread mulch over beds and borders before bulbs start shooting.

Sow sweet peas under cover for more early flowers and a long season. When the time comes to plant up, their deep roots prefer deep pots.

Check bulbs, corms and tubers in storage regularly for deterioration or rot.

Check overwintering plants in the greenhouse regularly for aphids, mealy bugs and other pests.