February brings brighter days and the chance to start gardening in the greenhouse again. Spending long hours indoors means we are often unaware that the seasons are changing, but plants detect small changes in day length way before we do, often eventually noticing when the clocks go forward in March catching us off guard and late for work!
Stripy crocus leaves emerge in February and snowdrops have already been brightening the north-facing bank down to the stream for a couple of weeks.
The first flowers normally appear in January and continue until March, depending on the species. Common snowdrops, Galanthus nivalis, have a delicate honey scent – not often appreciated unless you crawl on wet ground and emerge with muddy knees.
Planting a small number in a pot to grace an outdoor table, or simply picking a few for a bedside vase allows easy, dry appreciation.
Galanthus ‘S. Arnott’ has a strong honey scent and larger flowers, while Galanthus ‘Flore pleno’ bears double flowers, causing the ground to appear carpeted in snow. When we were in the throes of replacing the stone roof on one of the barns at great expense, I searched in vain within the millions of snowdrops hoping to find the rare Northumberland snowdrop with yellow markings.
One bulb – about the size of your small fingernail – of a rare yellow marked snowdrop Galanthus woronowii ‘Elizabeth Harrison’ sold for £758 on eBay a few years ago!
BLOOD ORANGE TART >>
Blood oranges are only in season from December until March. The bright colour is welcome on dull February days, as well as providing a much needed a boost of vitamin C. For this, you’ll need a 25cm shallow tart tin.
150g plain flour
1 tbsp caster sugar
75g cold, unsalted butter, cubed 2 tbsp fresh orange juice
1 egg yolk
Apricot jam to glaze
75g unsalted butter, softened 100g caster sugar
1 large egg
2 large egg yolks
100g ground almonds
1 tbsp Grand Marnier/orange juice 6 blood oranges
Make the pastry by rubbing the butter into the flour to create fine breadcrumbs – you can also do this in a food processor using the pulse action.
Stir in the sugar, then add the egg yolk and the orange juice and bring together quickly to form a flat disc.
Wrap in cling film, or pop in a zip-lock bag, and chill for 30 minutes.
Roll out thinly on a floured surface to just over the size of your tart tin.
Line with baking paper and fill with baking beans, then bake for 20-25 minutes at 180C.
While the tart case is baking, make the filling by creaming the butter with the sugar until pale and fluffy, add the egg and egg yolks one at a time, beating well after each addition.
Fold in the ground almonds and the Grand Marnier.
Remove the tart case from the oven and take out the parchment and beans.
Use a small amount of apricot jam to glaze the base of the tart case while still warm, then spread over the filling and bake for another 20 minutes until firm to touch in the centre.
Meanwhile, peel the oranges and remove any pith.
Slice them thinly and arrange over the cooked tart.
Glaze again with apricot jam and serve warm.
RICH PICKINGS FROM THE GARDEN >>
Small pots of Iris reticulata planted in autumn will flower now if brought into the warmth of the house.
Harvest super hardy cavolo nero, purple sprouting broccoli and leeks for hearty winter fare and use saved borlotti beans and previously stored onions for sumptuous soups.
French onion soup with crunchy gruyere toasts anyone?
JOBS IN THE GARDEN >>
Spread manure over any bare ground in the veg plot and leave for the earthworms to dig in for you.
Start sowing seed of early crops; tomatoes, chillies and flower seeds, such as Orlaya, Cleomes and Antirrhinums in the heated greenhouse.
Start chitting potatoes in February by placing in old egg boxes, eyes upwards, in a cool, bright, frost-free place.
This year, I’m going to plant the first earlies, Arran Pilot, in large 25-litre tubs to move in and out of the shed when frost is threatened.
My potato order is about to be placed with seedpotatoesdirect. co.uk and this year I’m including these:
• Arran Pilot – very early traditional potato, bred on the Isle of Arran and the most popular variety in the UK in the 1930s. A longstanding favourite with great flavour.
• Arran Victory – also bred on the Isle of Arran and introduced in 1918 to celebrate the end of WW1. It has a pale, purple skin, which changes to creamy yellow once cooked and makes great mash.
• Ratte – a heritage French variety with a waxy texture and a nutty taste.
• Salad Blue – I’ve harped on about this purple potato in many columns and purple chips are always asked for in this household. • Red Duke of York – lovely red skin and very tasty.
UPCOMING COURSES @LINNELS FARM
PRUNING MASTERCLASS >> TUES 4 & SAT 8 FEB
Whether you’ve just purchased your first pair of secateurs, or you’re an accomplished ‘hacker’, this half-day class is for you.
Learn the tricks of the trade: when to prune, how to keep shrubs restricted, how to renovate old plants and pruning to maximise fruit or flowers.
Beginners are very welcome.
MARVELLOUS MARMALADE MAKING >> WED 5 FEB
Relish a day of preserving and baking in a warm farmhouse kitchen with the new season’s Seville oranges.
Marmalade with whisky or without? You decide!
CHOCOLATE TRUFFLES WITH DREAMWORLD CAKES >> MON 10 FEB
In this practical class, chocolate-lovers will make fabulous handmade truffles.
The super-talented Bernadett from Newcastle’s Dreamworld Cakes will show you how to make, dip, decorate and package them to perfection.
You’ll have a go at making milk chocolate and hazelnut, dark chocolate and raspberry and caramel truffles.
GLORIOUS GLUTEN-FREE BAKING >> TUES 25 FEB
A great one for coeliacs, or those with a sensitivity to gluten, this hands-on course will help you master the gluten-free loaf, discover cakes and biscuits inspired by countries that don’t have a history of wheat growing and revel in a day of naturally gluten-free food.
Join Karen and Judy in the kitchen in the morning for a spot of bread-making, enjoy a gluten-free feast for lunch, then have a go at gluten-free baking.
MILLINERY COURSE WITH ‘THE NORTHUMBERLAND MILLINER’ >> FRI 28 FEB
Back by popular demand, milliner, Margaret Woodliff Wright, returns to Linnels Farm for another bespoke workshop.
She’ll be showing you how to create one of your very own Hellebore or Gardenia headpieces, perfect for any weddings or glamorous events you might have coming up.
No previous millinery experience is required.
For further details visit: linnelsfarm.com