This winter has been like the winters of old with snow and chilling winds. The last few days of January have been horrible in Hertfordshire, damp, raw and shrouded by grey sky from dawn until dusk. A friend of mine said it was like living under a Tupperware bowl, I’ve never done it but sure they must be right! I am still wondering what has survived in the greenhouse, the electrical supply into the garden has been disconnected for weeks, while the new garage has been built, (it’s nearly finished!) so there has been no heat or the chance of early sowing under glass. The plants were covered with fleece, giving some protection from frost but I am depending on their hardiness to survive! It is going to be a late season, the soil will not warm up for weeks, it will be a case of checking temperatures with my trusty soil thermometer before sowing anything and ignoring dates on the packet. It is worth making the most of any sunshine, to warm the soil on your vegetable plot, to speed up germination of early crops like carrots, salad onions and beetroot. Covering the soil with clear plastic sheeting or cloches for several weeks before planting, not only warms the soil but encourages weed growth, which can be hoed off before sowing, reducing weed problems later in the season.
Plants like peppers, chillies and aubergines which take up to five months to mature, should be sown this month. Those who complain that their peppers don’t ripen have sowed their seed too late. The third week in February is ideal, mid March is fine but by the first week in April and you are pushing your luck, especially if we have a poor summer! Water the surface of a 10cm pot of multipurpose compost with a fine rose, using tepid water and leave it to drain for at least half an hour. Sow the seeds over the surface, six to a pot, then sprinkle a shallow layer of fine grade vermiculite over the surface. Put the pot in a propagator at 18-20C or on a sunny windowsill and three weeks later they should have germinated. Transplant when they are large enough to handle, into a 9cm pot, by lifting the seedlings gently by a leaf and grow on in the greenhouse at 10-15C. Make sure that there is adequate space between the pots so plant growth is compact; pack them close together and the stems stretch towards the light and become elongated. Once the pots are full of roots but not ‘pot bound’ they can be moved into their final growing position in a heated greenhouse in 25cm pots of growing bag compost or growing bags. If the greenhouse is unheated, sow later and don’t plant them out until May.
I planted some daffodil bulbs in the last week of January, they were a bargain bag it may take them a couple of years to settle down, but I think I have a deal! (see image) Bring on ‘King Alfred’ to brighten up the gloom! Happy Gardening.