Gardening Diary FEBRUARY: week 4

IN THE VEGETABLE GARDEN

Now is a good time to make a mild hotbed. You may be lucky enough to have access to a supply of strawy horse-manure; otherwise, you will have to compost some straw with an activator. To this, add any other organic manure you happen to have, including farmyard manure, compost from decayed vegetable matter or leafmould. Make as much as you possibly can, for you need to spread it in a layer 10-15 cm (4-6”) thick over a bed of soil.

Probably the most profitable way to use such a bed is to grow some early potatoes. Use seed potatoes, of an early variety, which have been set out to sprout and have two strong shoots. Set each one in a nest of moist peat on the hot-bed, with 23 cm (9”) spacing between them. Cover lightly with more peat. As the shoots grow, add more peat or soil until the seed potatoes are covered to a depth of about 10 cm (4”).

This treatment alone will produce an early crop of potatoes, towards the end of May or in early June, but you can gain a few more weeks by giving additional protection by glass, either cloches or temporary frame. On frosty nights, cover the glass with sacking, to retain the heat and exclude all possibility of damage. Keep the bed watered moderately.

Potatoes are only one of several possible crops for your hot-bed. Others include carrots (the early, stump-rooted varieties) and early turnips. Peas may be given a start in this way, too. But beware of slugs, which revel in the moist, warm environment. Be liberal with the slug pellets.

Last week I recommended soaking seed peas in paraffin, to deter attacks by mice and other pests. Carrot seed can be treated similarly, though against smaller pests than mice. The seed will not be harmed. Some gardeners mix their carrot seed with powdered camphor, to achieve the same protection.

While any sort of weather may be expected at the end of late winter, there is at least a chance of a mild, sunny spell, which, if it does not occur now, will not be long delayed. It will stimulate all the crops which have survived the winter to make new growth and offers you an opportunity to help them by moderate applications of fertilizer. You can use either a concentrated powder fertilizer or a mulch of bulky organic matter, such as compost or farmyard manure. If you use a nitrogenous fertilizer from a sack it is better not to be too lavish. You want to encourage the plants to make steady growth, not to produce a lot of tender young foliage that will later be nipped off by frost. Sprinkle the granules on either side of the plants and hoe into the soil. An organic mulch has the dual advantage of assisting growth and smothering weeds.

Among the crops that will be showing signs of new vigour are leeks (which will increase quite a bit in size before sending up a flower stalk), parsnips (which should now be lifted, as you do not want leaves) and all the surviving brassicas. Keep an eye on the latter, especially on broccoli and cauliflower, because as the sap rises through the woody stem they become particularly attractive to rodent pests, such as rats, rabbits, hares and grey squirrels. They will attack the stalks just below the crown, nibbling part-way through them to get at the succulent pith and leaving the head to fall over in a drunken fashion. I have had whole plots damaged in this manner. The only answers are either a vermin-proof fence or a successful onslaught on the rodents.

Vegetables to be sown outdoors include peas, broad beans and shallots, and, in sheltered sunny gardens, early potatoes can be planted out, provided they are well sprouted. Warm the soil first with cloches or a tunnel and replace them after planting. Once the potatoes are through, ventilate them well when the weather is warm, but always see that they are protected if frost threatens.

Sow salad onions in boxes, or in the ground under cloches, and transplant, preferably under cloches or in frames, though not in a heated greenhouse, the Valdor lettuce plants which have survived the winter and are now starting to grow again.

IN THE FRUIT GARDEN

This month, sometimes referred to as the gateway to the year, and early spring sees the transition from winter to the new growing season. Well-maintained fruit gardens are much easier to manage, as well as being more productive.

Raspberries for fruiting this summer can be given their final thinning, reducing the number of strong canes to a maximum of six to each stool. The tips of their canes, which may have died back in any case during the winter, can then be cut back to about 15 cm (6”) above the support wires to keep them at a manageable height; it will also encourage them to produce more sideshoots on which the fruit is borne.

Moles can sometimes be a problem, throwing up their mounds all over the place and, sometimes deliberately it seems, running along the edges of plantation borders and breaking them down completely. However, even this difficult customer can be dealt with. If a molehill is dug out, a mole hole or gallery will be revealed. A lighted mole smoke canister can be pushed into the tunnel left by the mole, and the soil replaced, after which there should be no more unsightly heaps. Fruit trees in grass will grow and fruit more freely if the vegetation is kept cut short, and it is more than likely that the sward will have started to grow, and will need its first light cut. The competition for food and moisture will thus be less. Any autumn topdressing still remaining should be lightly forked in, before the fertilizer dressing, if any, is applied.

Blackcurrants that have suffered a severe attack of big bud—enlarged, abnormally fat buds—are best dug up and burnt. On any bushes with only one or two such buds, pick off and burn the offending buds and spray the bushes with lime sulphur next month. If birds are still attacking fruit buds which have not been netted or from which anti-bird sprays have been washed off, it may be worth spraying shoots with a bird repellent containing anthraquinone. Gardeners looking for a quick way to kill annual weeds, which have grown through a mild winter to form a mat on the soil surface, might consider using paraquat. It is certainly effective, though no substitute for good cultivation and regular weeding.

Grapes which are being grown under glass can be encouraged to grow by keeping door and ventilators more or less closed so as to trap the sun’s heat, and the soil where they are growing can be given a heavy watering. Peaches will benefit from the same treatment.

IN THE GREENHOUSE

Late in winter is the time when people feel most in need of fresh salad, hence the popularity of mustard and cress, which you have probably been sowing at ten-day intervals throughout the winter. If you have a heated greenhouse you will also have had a succession of crops of lettuce and radishes. Now you can add a little variety by sowing a few quick-growing herbs.

Chervil is one. Sow in boxes in a warm, sunny corner of the greenhouse, and treat borage in the same way. Outdoors it is a big, sprawly plant, but it can be successfully grown as a spring salad indoors, if the young leaves are cut before they are too large. Basil is not always successful in the garden but usually germinates well in pots or boxes with protection and adds a pleasant, clove-like flavour to the salad bowl. You may have had a pot of chives indoors all the winter; if so, it may be becoming rather exhausted, but roots left outdoors will be beginning to show signs of life again. Dig up a few, pot them and bring them indoors. Do the same with a few mint roots. Any cauliflower, cabbage and glasshouse lettuce seedlings sown earlier this month, will now need pricking out.

01. September 2013 by admin
Categories: Fruit Gardening, Uncategorized, Vegetable Gardening | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Gardening Diary FEBRUARY: week 4

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