Kitchen Garden School: February

Kitchen Garden School: February

Welcome to the second lesson of Kitchen Garden School at Cornell Farm. This month, we're building upon the foundation we laid in January and tackling a few to-do list items before the primary growing season arrives, from preparing the soil in our garden beds to starting a few seeds, taking care of any winter pruning, and even planting a handful of early crops.

Our lead kitchen gardener, Cynthia DuVal, will be guiding us through this month's video lesson and demonstration, as well as providing a list of activities and learning resources. So, without further ado, let’s put our kitchen garden plans into action! 

Pruning Your Fruit Trees in Winter

Fruit trees are an asset to any kitchen garden. If left to their own devices, they will still grow and produce fruit over the years, but with good pruning, you can control the size of the trees and improve the quality of your fruit. 

In the first of this month's videos, Cynthia demonstrates some of the basics of winter pruning using a young almond tree and apple tree from our inventory, as well as some selective cuts made to the more mature Fuyu persimmon and pineapple guava trees we have growing in our rock wall garden.

During the winter, most fruit trees lose their leaves and enter their dormancy, which makes it a good time to prune. By making pruning cuts when trees are dormant, we help them conserve energy by preventing them from “bleeding” their fluids and wasting energy on producing leaves, flowers, and fruits where we don't want them.

You can also do some pruning in the summer to address rapid growth and to "thin out" a few branches if thick growth poses a risk of your tree toppling over in a strong wind, or if limited air circulation is causing issues with fungus or disease. However, in the winter months, we can more easily see the structure of the tree and make informed decisions of how we want to shape it.

You want to consider pruning out dead branches, branches that are crossing each other, and branches that are growing too close to the trunk or at an angle so large that they are parallel to the ground. Other reasons to prune your fruit trees include controlling the height to “bring the fruit down” so that it is at a more accessible height for picking.

Be aware! While winter is a good time to prune fruit trees, there are a couple of caveats: No matter the time of year, you want to be cautious not to prune off more than one third of a tree at a time. If there is more to do, save it for next year. You also don’t want to prune when there is a deep freeze in progress, or if one is expected. If that happens, wait until the cold snap is over. Additionally, stone fruits like peaches, nectarines, cherries and plums prefer to be pruned a little later in the season than other fruit trees. 

Preparing Your Beds

In January, we made lists of the crops we would like to grow this year, and this month, we ought to take some time to ensure that our gardens are ready for them! Certain crops, like tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, squash, and melons, are what we would call "heavy feeders," and chances are, you have at least one of these veggies on your list. Because these plants have high nutrient needs, you may want to consider adding certain amendments to the top 6 inches of your soil.

Tomatoes, in particular, take up a lot of calcium via their roots as they grow and set fruit. This generally isn't a problem if you are growing these plants in a new area of your garden, but if you plan to plant your tomatoes in a the same spot where you grew them the previous year, you might run into a few issues like the dreaded blossom end rot. This is a condition where the tips of your fruit decays mid-growth, and it is caused by a lack of calcium and low pH in the soil.

That's why, in the video above, Cynthia demonstrates how to incorporate calcium-rich gypsum into your soil now so that it is available to your tomatoes later in the season. (Remember: Warm-season plants like tomatoes shouldn't go into the ground until late May or early June when soil temperatures reach 50°F and air temperatures are at least 60°F.)

Other Activities & Resources

As we go into February, we invite you to continue updating your kitchen garden journals. This can be a great way to plan and reflect on our progress in our gardens, make and manage our to-do lists, and more. As we are entering the time of year when gardeners will likely want to begin sowing seeds, a garden journal is a great place to keep track of your sowing and plant-out dates.

Check out a few of the tasks you can undertake in the kitchen garden this year, along with "recommended reading."

  • Read chapter 2 of The Maritime Pacific Northwest Gardening Guide from Tilth Alliance (pages 22-31in the second edition). This chapter is good overview of gardening tasks to do in the month of February. You will be surprised to read the list of veggies, greens and herbs that can be harvested in February. There is a section on designing your edible landscape, and a section on gardening with kids. We rely on this resource to figure out planting dates and times in our area. 
  • This month, we have a couple of recommended readings from Plant, Grow, Harvest, Repeat by Meg McAndrews Cowden. The author loves to garden and goes into depth on healthy soil, seed starting and succession planting. She lives and gardens in Agricultural Zone 4, one of the coldest areas in the United States, whereas we live and garden in Zone 8. Keep these temperature and seasonal differences in mind when you are reading her chapters.
    • Tending the Soil pp. 145 - 153
    • Seed Starting and Garden Planning pp.155- 177
  • Also, check out our in-depth blog post on starting seeds to make sure you have all the supplies, and be sure to shop for seeds now for the greatest selection.
    • Read our full blog post on tending to your fruit trees in winter for advice on winter pruning and pest prevention.
    • Consider performing a soil test to make sure your soil is as healthy as it can be, with a little help from this article from our local OSU Extension Service.
      • Make sure you have all the tools you need for the year ahead, and build any raised beds that you might have considered in January.
      • Talk with you children or grandchildren about your kitchen garden plan, show them were it is going to go on your property, and invite them to help! Kids LOVE to be with family and help out in the garden.

        February Planting

        If you're itching to get your hands dirty, here's a short list of plants that can go into the ground right now.

        • Generally by mid-February, starts of some cool season crops like broccoli, peas, spinach, and arugula can go in the ground.
        • Onions, leeks, and potatoes can be sown as early as January.
        • Grape vines can be planted in the winter.
        • Berries, such as blueberries, raspberries, thornless blackberries, jostaberries, and currants can also be put in the ground this time of year.
        • Fruit trees like apples can be planted most any time of year in our corner of the Pacific Northwest.

        Connect With Us

        If you have questions about edible gardening or would like help selecting plants, our knowledgeable team is always happy to assist you in the Kitchen Garden Greenhouse. Cynthia often gives informal tours of our display beds, so feel free to stop by for a quick walk-around! For help from afar, you can reach out to Cynthia and our Kitchen Garden team directly at

        We are also excited to share that, for those wanting more individualized assistance with their kitchen gardens, Cynthia is also available for personalized 90-minute Garden Coaching Sessions held in your very own garden.