Gardening Diary FEBRUARY: week 2
IN THE VEGETABLEGARDEN
On mild days, check any root vegetables still in store and throw out the ones that show signs of decay; if left, they will rapidly contaminate the others. Any Jerusalem artichokes remaining in the ground can now be dug out, and a new planting made straight away. Jerusalem artichokes are very hardy, but require a longish growth period. Plant the tubers 10-15 cm (4-6”) deep, and allow plenty of room, say 90 cm (3’) between rows and 60 cm (2’) between the individual plants in the rows. Because they produce a tall and luxuriant growth of stems and leaves, they make an excellent screen for an unsightly corner of the garden.
It is not too early, especially in warm, sheltered places, to put in onion sets, but remember that they do not like a cold. If planted in cold soil, they are more likely to succumb to white rot, the fungus which infects the base of an onion. Even if they escape the ravages of white rot, the roots will be slow to sprout, and the bulbs will never be good. So put cloches on the soil a week or so in advance, to warm it up, and if the weather turns cold, wait a bit longer.
It is a good idea to dig up anystill in the ground, as from now on they will start to produce new leaves; the leaf production uses up carbohydrates in the roots, which then deteriorate. In hard weather, though, they can stay where they are for a few more weeks. If you want to lift and store them, put them in a shed and cover them with sand or soil, or store them in a box on the shady side of a building.
You can begin sowing the main parsnip crop now, though some parsnips, grown by gardeners with ambitions to win prizes, will have been started in mid-winter. Parsnips need a deep soil, fertile but not recently manured with bulky manure. If your soil is shallow, choose a variety with relatively short roots, such as White Gem or Offenham. Alternatively, make a deep hole in the garden soil with a crowbar, going down about 90 cm (3’)- Fill the hole with potting, and then sow the seeds. This method is also useful for growing prize-winning carrots, but if sown now, it is best to give cloche protection until the weather warms up. Dedicated, meticulous gardeners some-times start the seed on damp flannel or blotting paper, transplanting the as soon as germination is seen to have occurred.
There is a lot of such finger-and-thumb work in good gardening, and, with the sowing season now beginning, it is worth remembering that many gardeners are far too lavish with their seed. Surplus plants always have to be thinned out, a task which, if not carried out early, results in a spindly and mediocre crop. Sowing individual carrot andseeds is undoubtedly a fiddly job, but try it with a few, as a controlled experiment, and then compare the subsequent plants with those which have been sown en masse. Here, the use of pelleted seeds is a great advantage. Another method is to mix small seeds with sand, sawdust or even dry peat.
You ought to be putting your main-cropin trays to sprout, as you should have done with early varieties a few weeks ago. Place the trays in a cool, light place but not in direct sunlight; otherwise, the eyes are very slow to sprout or grow.
Maincropcan be sown whenever the weather is favourable, and if you have a warm, sheltered garden, it is worth sowing some short rows of , and protecting them with cloches until the seedlings have appeared, and any time thereafter if the weather turns cold. Do not, however, leave the protection on continually, or, in the short daylight hours at this time of year, the plants will tend to make leaf, rather than root growth.
IN THE FRUIT GARDEN
Soon apples and pears will be starting into growth, so finish off any tar-oil winter wash spraying by the end of this week. At this time of year, the knowledgeable fruit enthusiast can use pruning and training methods to improve his crops. Where a small number of fruit trees are grown, such as trained cordons or espaliers, you can now copy the commercial fruit growers to advantage.
There are two techniques which, when carefully done, can give gardeners almost undreamed of control of their trees and, together with good feeding, increase yields far beyond those normally obtained. Cutting out a small chip of wood and bark close to a growth bud is one of these techniques. When this is done just below a growth bud it is called nicking, and will induce the bud to fruit; a chip taken out above it stimulates the bud into vegetative growth and is then called notching.
Another such technique is a modification of the practice of lowering grape rods to induce even bud break. Pears and apples with vigorous, pliable upright growth can be induced to form fruit buds rather than an excessive number of vegetative shoots, if they are bent over in a hoop and then tied down at the tips. After a few months, when the wood has stiffened, the ties can be removed and the growths will remain in position, but the buds which would have formed shoots will flower and fruit instead. These practices do work and have been used successfully for many years.
IN THE GREENHOUSE
If your greenhouse is heated to the requisite 16°C (60°F) you will be ready for growing indoor tomatoes. Towards the end of last month you may have transplanted to their permanent positions tomato plants sown in your own greenhouse or, more likely, in a nurseryman’s in early winter. If you have not already done so, transplant them now. Otherwise, you can sow seed now for transplanting later. This should give you ripe tomatoes by late spring, provided that the house is adequately heated. You may also sow seeds of outdoor varieties, though there is no great hurry; except in southern most districts, it will not be safe to plant out until towards the end of late spring.
If you bring the greenhouse temperature up to 18-21°C (65-70°F) you can, of course, grow indoor. You will find that seed catalogues usually differentiate between the normal varieties and the all-female ones. The latter are highly productive but usually need the temperature kept at a higher level— not less than 21°C. Sow from now onwards, in peat pots or boxes of seed compost.
At this time of year you occasionally have a day that is a foretaste of spring, when the sun shines strongly and the temperature rises to about 15°C (59°F). It does no harm on such days to give the greenhouse a good airing, by opening the ventilators to their fullest extent, and the door as well. Provided there is no wind, or drought, the seedlings and young plants will appreciate the injection of| fresh air replacing the stale air in the greenhouse. However careful you are with ventilation in the winter, you cannot avoid some build up of fungus spores, a reduction of oxygen and a generally rather unhealthy atmosphere, and a change of air does a power of good.