A belated happy 2010 to all visitors to this site.
I’ve been off air for a couple of months, taking care of family life, and, in this last week, before the Siberian winds set in, preparing the soil on the allotment for the warmer weather to come.
A strange thing always happens to me at the end of the season: like a wilting perennial, my urge to garden seems to disappear. Then for some inexplicable reason, and on no particular day, the sap mysteriously rises. The urge to garden again begins – suddenly I am a frenzy of activity.
I know I’m not the only gardener to experience this ‘salmon to the spawning ground’ phenomena. This week my dear neighbour from the allotment came round in something of a slump. We cracked open no fewer than 30 seed packets together to share, but still he was feeling despondent about gardening. Even the prospect of the annual sunflower growing competition (‘Russian Giant’ 8-10ft Vs. ‘Mongolian Giant’ 8-10ft) failed to move him. His time will come. No doubt next time I see him he will be unstoppable.
Having a heated greenhouse gives me such an enormous advantage at the start of the season. Of course I can’t hurry mother nature, so it’s pointless starting off a lot of things that won’t be able to go out till the frosts are over in May. (I reckon about 6 weeks is all plants want in a greenhouse if they are vagabonds passing through rather than exotic permanent paying guests).
I am fortunate enough to have electricity in my greenhouse which means two things: first that I can use a thermostatically controlled heater without the bother of having to turn it on or off every day. Secondly, I can work in the greenhouse in the evening: we are in the first week of February and there has already been a frenzy of sowing.
For the vegetable garden
Shallots or onion sets can be started off in soil or sand now. I’ve planted ‘Jermor’, a French type with good keeping qualities. It’s too cold and wet outside, so in a few weeks I can put them out, once hardened off, they’ll have developed a good set of roots.
Broad Beans can be sown in the autumn, but since I missed the boat, I’ve started mine off in the greenhouse and will put them out in a month or so when they are 6 inches tall, once acclimatised to the cold. I take an old plastic crate, line it with newspaper then fill it with multi-purpose compost. The beans are inserted inside and produce a fabulous network or roots.
Chilli peppers should also be started now. Someone sent me a packet of Naga Jolokia (Thompson &Morgan), which say on the packet they are the world’s hottest chilli. When it comes to torture, I take the view that just because you can, it doesn’t mean you should. Instead I am growing Fresno (South Devon Chilli Farm), which is mild and plenty hot for most people. I am also looking forward to growing ‘Black Pearl’, a new offering from Unwins. Its fruits are very hot and edible, but it’s greatest value is as an ornamental, with dark, almost black leaves.
Garlic can also be started in pots in the greenhouse if you missed an autumn sowing. I’ve opted for ‘Marco’, which has good keeping qualities and a strong flavour. I’ve not had as much success at garlic as my allotment mate up in Rugby who grows huge heads. I have a feeling the beds I grow them in are a little too acidic, so an application of lime a couple of weeks before they go in may well make all the difference.
When you’re planting up the vegetable garden, never forget flowers. Marigolds and other beneficial flowers can be started later in the season, but if you didn’t get round to sowing sweet peas last year, now is the time.
Sweet Peas provide scent and colour in the garden, but also help to attract pollinators to the vegetable patch. If you like dark colours, you might like to try a new variety brought out by Kew Gardens called ‘King Size Navy Blue’. As well as huge, dark, rich flowers, it’s also highly fragrant. Sow the seed in a propagator with some bottom heat using a tall pot to accommodate their long root run. Pinch out the tips when they are an inch or two tall, then harden off and plant out.
Potatoes can be ‘chitted’ or sprouted in the greenhouse before planting. Amongst the ones I’m growing: ‘Isle of Jura’, an early maincrop variety that has come out well in various taste tests. ‘Pink fir apple’ because it’s knobbly and has a tasty skin (late maincrop), and Blue Danube (early maincrop), a purple skinned variety, because in gardening, as in life, everyone needs to try something different once in a while.