Sow and grow in January: 10 jobs for the kitchen gardener

Think ahead for grapes, chillies and aubergines if you’re keen to get your hands back into soil

Can’t wait to get sowing and growing again? Here are 10 jobs for the kitchen garden/allotment in January.

Grow your own grapes: Late winter is the perfect time to plant a grape vine if you can give it a very sheltered, bright spot in a mild garden against a sunny wall or, better again, offer it the protection of a conservatory, polytunnel or large glasshouse. Varieties best suited to coping with cooler, damper outdoor conditions include Madeleine Angevine, Solaris, Vanessa, Phoenix, Regent, Monarch, Findling and Rondo. Bear in mind that the root systems of grape vines need a period of winter chilling to be properly productive so plants grown under cover can be either grown in a large tub (this can be moved outside in winter) or with their root systems just outside the structure. The vine should then be trained to grow through a suitable gap or under the frame of a glasshouse/polytunnel. Grape vines need a free-draining, fertile but not overly rich soil, as the latter can increase the likelihood of pests and disease.

Stop the pigeon: Hungry pigeons can do huge damage to brassica crops such as Brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli and kale at this time of year. Stop them in their tracks by covering vulnerable plants with a layer or two of netting suspended on sturdy stakes and fixed in place with cable ties. A recent report by Gardening Which Magazine found that kites can also be effective.

Sow aubergines: It’s not a crop for the beginner gardener but if you enjoy a challenge and can give the plants a warm, bright, sheltered growing space in a polytunnel or glasshouse, then aubergines are great fun to grow. This subtropical vegetable needs lots of heat, light, moisture, a fertile soil and plenty of time to mature so the seed is best sown towards the end of January/early February in a heated propagator indoors. It needs humidity and a minimum bottom heat of 21 degrees to successfully germinate and then, once germinated, needs a temperature of 15-18 degrees. Much like tomato plants, young aubergine plants can be grown in small pots on a sunny windowsill indoors until very late spring and then planted into their permanent position under cover. One of the most reliable varieties for Irish growing conditions is the early-cropping Bonica, a long-time favourite of the Dublin-based expert organic kitchen gardener and blogger Nicky Kyle (


Plant bare root fruit bushes and fruit and nut trees: It might feel like spring is a century away, but it’s amazing how quickly growth levels will start to speed up again now that the winter solstice is behind us. So, take advantage of any dry, mild spells to get bare-root plants in the ground while they’re still in winter hibernation. Budget-friendly and kinder to the planet, at this time of year bare root fruit bushes and fruit trees are still available from good garden centres, as well as specialist online suppliers such as,, and which stock a good range of popular varieties along with more unusual offerings.

Prune: If you’re new to gardening then pruning can seem like the most counterintuitive of garden tasks. After all, why cut a plant back if you want it to grow? The answer is that pruning – when done correctly and at the right time of year – encourages the growth of young, healthy, fruit-bearing branches and removes those that are diseased, dead or damaged, resulting in a well-shaped, vigorous, productive plant. Fruits that should be pruned in late winter include apple trees, pear trees, currant and gooseberry bushes, and autumn-fruiting raspberries (but not stone fruits such as plum, peach, cherry or apricot trees which should be pruned later in the year to avoid disease). Pruning techniques vary according to the species as well as the plant’s training regime. For a very straightforward step-by step guide, get your hands on a copy of Dr Hessayon’s The Fruit Expert.

Sow chillies: Another heat-loving subtropical crop that needs to be sown under cover in late January/early February, chillies are hugely rewarding to grow. Very slow to get going, they need a constant bottom heat (25-30 degrees) to germinate and should then be grown on in a warm, bright, sheltered environment (17-21 degrees). The best varieties? There’s so many to choose from that it’s all too easy to get lost down a rabbit hole but Cork-based organic seed producers Brown Envelope Seeds stock a great range suitable for Irish growing conditions. These include the mid-hot Padron, the perennial Bolivian Hairy Chilli and the mildly hot Hungarian Hot Wax (

Grow spuds: Already dreaming of the unforgettable taste of your own homegrown spuds? If you have a polytunnel or glasshouse then it’s entirely possible to grow a very early crop under cover for harvesting in late spring. Use what’s known as a first early or second early variety (these are much faster to crop than maincrop varieties) and chit them indoors. Once the baby new shoots start to appear, plant the individual seed potatoes into two-litre pots filled with a very good quality peat-free compost (Klasmann make a great one) and put them on a sheet of polythene in a bright, coolish but frost-free spot indoors. Once the shoots start to push up through the compost, move the pots into the glasshouse/polytunnel, covering them with two layers of fleece at night. Only plant them into the ground/a large tub when they’re 15-20cm tall, spacing them 45cm apart. Then keep them watered but never so much that the soil/compost is sodden, and continue to protect with fleece on cold nights. Recommended online stockists of seed potatoes include and

Sow onions: Many kitchen gardeners never think of raising onions from seed, instead purchasing them as setts (baby onions) to grow on. But raising them from seed sown in late January- February (indoors with heat of 18 degrees to transplant out in mid-late spring) has several advantages, not least of which is minimising the risk of accidentally introducing the dreaded, very persistent soil-based disease known as onion white rot into your garden or allotment. Recommended varieties include the early, heavy cropping Globo, seed of which is available from

Be prepared: It’s cold, wet and windy at this time of year but by covering empty veg beds with a layer of well-rotted manure/homemade compost, followed by a well-secured layer of black plastic, you can do a lot to start gently heating the soil in preparation for the growing season ahead. Those warmer soil temperatures will in turn boost germination rates and help the roots of young transplants to establish this coming spring.

Think crop rotation: Now’s the perfect time to plan ahead as regards crop rotation, a really important way to reduce the risk of crop-specific pests and disease, suppress persistent weeds and sustain soil health by grouping/growing annual vegetables in different parts of the garden or allotment each year according to the plant families to which they belong. Some crop rotation plans are more complex than others but, for a four-year-rotation plan, they can be divided into legumes (peas and beans); onions (onions, leeks, shallots, garlic) and root vegetables (parsnips, carrots, beetroot, celery, celeriac, Florence fennel); brassicas (this includes swedes and turnips); and members of the potato family (this includes tomatoes).

This week in the garden

This is the month to give wisteria its first pruning of the year (the second pruning is done in late summer), in order to keep this ornamental climber in shape and to encourage a good display of its beautiful, pendulous flowers. Using a sharp, clean secateurs, cut back shoots along lateral stems to about 8-10cm to leave two to three buds.

To help hellebore plants to stay healthy and vigorous, and to prevent the potential spread and overwintering of damaging diseases such as hellebore leaf spot, cut the old, faded foliage back to ground level at this time of year before the flowers and new foliage emerge. After pruning, carefully remove, bag and bin any possibly infected material to prevent it acting as a source of disease. Signs of disease include dead patches and dark brown spots on the foliage and collapsing stems.

Dates for your diary

January 18th (7.30pm-9.30pm), “Portal; Otherwordly Wonders of Ireland’s Bogs, Wetlands and Eskers”, a Zoom talk by the Irish nature photographer and author Tina Claffey on behalf of the RHSI, see; Saturday, February 4th, Ballykealy House, Ballon, Co Carlow, the 11th Annual Snowdrop Gala, with guest speakers Troy Scott Smith of Sissinghurst Castle and the German garden designer Iris Ney, plus specialist plant sales (€100, tickets available from Robert Miller at 9822135; Saturday, February 25th, 2023 GLDA “Letting Nature In” seminar, tickets from (from €35-€125).

Fionnuala Fallon

Fionnuala Fallon

Fionnuala Fallon is an Irish Times contributor specialising in gardening