Early carrots last year, grown in a pot.

Early polytunnel crops in pots

At last, we are experiencing frost filled mornings and pink, cold evenings, giving us more of a winter feel. This drop in winter temperature is required by a number of species for a physiological phenomenon. Fruit trees, for example, apples, need to go through a prolonged period of cold in order to blossom or germinate. So, these cold nights are very much welcomed in the garden. In contrast, cosy under the protection of the polytunnel, there are some early crops that you can tend to in the sheltered environment.

Pot potatoes

Potatoes are a staple in the Irish kitchen, and growing your own can offer great joy once they are ready to harvest. There’s nothing like a fresh spud! While they are traditionally grown in drills outdoors, you can enjoy an early crop grown in a slightly alternative fashion, by using containers.

Polytunnel real estate is valuable, and growing potatoes in containers offers a good space saving solution if you are planning on assigning the borders to tender crops later in spring. An early crop of potato can yield a return in April or May. The containers can also be moved around to accommodate other plants as needed.

Pot carrots

If the polytunnel is large enough, carrots can be sown directly into the border. In my opinion, it is not worth having the space taken up with later varieties, but early varieties should provide a young sweet crop weeks before the outdoor carrots.

Varieties such as ‘Early Nantes’ do particularly well from a sowing in late January. For a successful harvest of young roots, I believe the best method is to grow a scattering of seeds in a pot in the tunnel. Not all the seeds will germinate, but if you sow a good layer, green should begin to appear in a few weeks’ time.

Salad pots

Tasty salad crops such as rocket and Mizuna can do extremely well from January sowing. Again, for these early crops, I would suggest sowing into a large pot, which can be moved around as space is needed. It can also help with managing slugs when they are young, tender shoots.

Seed will be slower to germinate at this time, but if you sow a generous scattering, you will have some success. This salad pot idea can work with cut and come again lettuce varieties also.

Gardening in January can be a fantastic way to shake off the January blues. I would really encourage it, even if you don’t have a protected area to start growing in. Sowing a few seeds indoors can help focus the mind and set goals for coming weeks, and gives us something to look forward to.


Tara Kate Linnane is passionate about sustainability and growing all things edible. Together with her husband Barry, she has embarked on a journey of designing edible spaces and getting others started on their gardening adventures.


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