AT last it's time to get things moving ready for the vegetable garden this year.

We start with two of our most favourite and widely-used vegetables, potatoes and onions.

While the impatient gardeners among us are well advised to refrain from pulling on the wellies and getting stuck into planting their spuds for a few weeks yet, the time has come to get the earlier varieties started in readiness for the big day.

It's easy to overlook the fact that the vegetable, which has become such an essential ingredient of the nation's diet, is still nevertheless far from at home with our British climate.

So while the frosts, which can flatten your crop as soon as look at it, threaten for some time yet, it's time to start your tubers off in the comfort of your home, garage, greenhouse or shed.

You will find a huge selection of tubers in the garden centre waiting to find their way into your garden, hopefully followed by your plate.

Take a little time to examine the varieties on offer, as you will find some exciting options that are not normally available in the supermarket.

Some of these varieties will be new, others old, and others simply not favoured by the large commercial growers. It really is worth experimenting!

Before heading for the great outdoors, seed potatoes must be "chitted" to produce sprouts before planting to create a strong plant.

To chit your seeds stand them upright in a seed tray on a layer of dry peat. Place in a cool, but frost-free, and light position. Six weeks later, hey presto, they're ready to go.

Early potato varieties should be planted in late March, second earlies in mid-April and the main crops later that same month.

Onions are one of the first vegetables that can be planted into the garden each spring, and we're only two or three weeks away. Onion sets are available from your garden centre now and should be snapped up in readiness for an early start.

Planting should start mid-March as soon as the soil dries out to become workable. In as little as 20 weeks you will be harvesting your crop.

Before you commit your sets to the ground make sure the plot has been well dug, taking care to break down heavy clods as onions like free-draining soil.

There is no need to incorporate manure, just an ample dressing of fertiliser such as Growmore.

For ease of cultivation plant the sets in rows, ideally 9in apart, and space the sets at a distance of 4in apart.

Planting is very easy = just push the set gently into the ground and only just cover the tip with soil.

Shallots are another valuable vegetable that can be planted early in the year.

They can be used both cooked and raw, and the leaves can be used in the same way as spring onions.

They are quicker maturing, some two weeks earlier, than onions, and can be planted almost immediately so they are a valuable early crop.

Shallot sets should be planted in rows the same way as onions, where they will mature into a cluster of small bulbs, usually a dozen or so.