Gardening Diary FEBRUARY: week 3
IN THE VEGETABLE GARDEN
Even more than with most crops, the date of sowingdepends on the condition of the . The onion plot should have been left rough during the winter, to allow the frost to break down the large clumps of soil, but now it should be levelled off and worked down to a fine tilth. Onion beds need a fine grained but firm soil. Test the soil by walking over it; if no soil sticks to your boots it is ready for sowing onion seeds. From now onwards, whenever you can catch the soil in this condition, get your onions sown.
Plant yournow as well; they like to go in early. Allow 30 cm (1’) between rows and space the bulbs at 15 cm (6”) intervals. Set them in firmly, with the tips showing just above the ground. Onion sets are a bit more delicate, and if the soil is still cold, put cloches on the soil now to warm it up first.
You can now sow early, as well as , in favourable weather, but as soon as you sow them, you are likely to encounter problems with pests. Mice and birds will be the chief offenders. To discourage the attacks of mice, which like to nibble the newly-sown seed, soak both peas and beans in paraffin. To do this, just put the seed in a tin of paraffin and swirl them round once or twice.
Some birds will peck at the young shoots of peas and beans as they emerge from the soil, but they do just as much damage dust-bathing in the fine soil of the seed-bed. As germination of seeds sown at this time of year is likely to be slow, you will have plenty of time to set up barriers against the birds. You can use entanglements of black cotton, stretched between pegs about 2.5 cm (1”) above the surface of the soil, or, alternatively, use twiggy pea-sticks laid horizontally on the beds. You could invest in special pea guards; though initially rather expensive, they are very efficient and will last for years. Lastly, cloches make perfectly adequate seed-guards, and can always be used as such. Dust-bathing by birds is not, of course, confined to pea plots; it occurs on any fine-soiled seed-bed, so similar precautions will have to be taken.
Nearly all autumn-sown peas are round-seeded varieties, such as Pilot, Feltham First, and Meteor; you can make additional sowings of these types now. Although they are hardy and crop heavily, they are not as sweet and juicy as the wrinkle-seeded varieties. You can now choose from several wrinkle-seeded first early varieties available, such as Hurst Beagle, Little Marvel, Kelvedon Wonder and Pioneer; sow them as soon as soil and weather conditions permit.
In the brassica patch, early purple sproutingshould now be showing its maincrop purple curds. When harvesting, cut the crown, or ‘head’, first, just as with a . The plant will then produce an abundance of sideshoots. Follow exactly the same procedure with , although the heads will probably have been removed some time ago. Curled kale will now be a mass of shoots around the tall, woody column of the stem. Keep them well-picked, and remove and add to the heap any leaves which are turning yellow. Do the same with Brussels sprouts.
IN THE FRUIT GARDEN
During this and the next few weeks, autumn-fruiting raspberries can be pruned. Cut the old, fruited canes right back down to ground level, together with any weak new shoots the plants may have produced at the end of summer. This clears the way for the new spring growth, on which the next autumn’s crop will be produced.
Late winter is a good time to feed all kinds of fruit with fertilizers—the concentrated compounds of plant foods, not the bulky organic manures which are put on in late spring or autumn. By using fertilizers now, they will be dissolved into the soil moisture, and thus instantly available to the plant roots as soon as they start the new season’s growth in earnest.
Although you can use the same compound fertilizer for all fruits, you will get much better results if you consider the special needs of each fruit, and feed accordingly. For instance, gooseberries need more potassium than most other fruit, and blackcurrants seem to have no limit to their need for nitrogen. The stone fruits must have some lime in the soil, but not too much, otherwise they will suffer from lime-induced chlorosis. Phosphorus need not be applied to fruit every year; once every three years is probably sufficient, especially if bulky organics are regularly applied. If the autumn and winter were wet, an extra dose of potassium on the apples may just tip the balance between the potential fruit buds flowering or becoming vegetative. Outdoors, trees trained against walls will need some protection from nightly frosts and cold winds during blossom time. Trees such as apricots, peaches, nectarines and some of the early-flowering varieties of gages will need this protection. Use lightweight frames covered with plastic netting or butter muslin. Remove the butter muslin every morning.
IN THE GREENHOUSE
As the rays of sunlight get stronger, and the days longer, plants in the greenhouse become increasingly restless for more attention. Syringing and damping down are now becoming routine daily tasks. Strawberries in pots must be watched carefully, and sufficient water given, otherwise red spider mite, and white powdery mildew will appear, and the crops will suffer accordingly. Spraying overhead with clear water is especially-useful in maintaining healthy plants, and helps to ensure good fruit set.
Greenhouse strawberries, apricots, peaches and nectarines usually set better crops of fruit if pollination of the flowers is assisted by means of a small wad of cotton wool, lightly dusted over the open flowers. Citrus fruits, such as oranges and lemons, can be repotted or potted on this week. Prune back their shoots to improve the shape of the bush and stimulate it to produce sideshoots.
One of the main problems within the greenhouse at this time of year is damping-off, which is due largely to faulty ventilation. Open the greenhouse windows whenever the weather permits. Remember, too, to wipe off condensation on the inside of the glass, so the amount of sunlight entering the greenhouse is not cut down. Over-watering and too thickly also tend to encourage damping-off. If the problem persists, water the seed-bed with some proprietary chemical, containing captan or zineb.
As the new season advances, it should be possible to provide increasingly greater ventilation, and to do without heat completely on sunny days. From now until late spring, skill will be needed to manage the greenhouse, and you will have to manipulate the ventilation and temperature with great care. Remember, too, that there can be sudden and considerable drops in temperature at night. Tomatoes are particularly susceptible to damage from low night tempera-tures, whether they are seedlings or young plants, and exposure to cold at this time can result in a missed first truss later, or a crop which is little earlier than an unheated one.