Gardening Diary FEBRUARY: week1

IN THE VEGETABLE GARDEN

English folklore abounds in old sayings which warn of bad weather in late winter. “As the day lengthens, So the cold strengthens,” is one warning; another similar one is “January spring, makes February ring,” meaning to ring with iron-hard frost. While it is as well to be cautious, you should also bear in mind that in cool, temperate climates, summer is all too short for many of the crops you want to grow, and therefore, those which get an early start usually give the best results. And temperature is only one factor. Equally important is light, which is now steadily increasing as the days grow longer. It is the natural season for growth to begin, if only you can lessen the hazard of frost; this can be easily done by means of a greenhouse, frames or cloches.

So, having made sure that any outdoor crops, such as autumn-sown broad beans, peas, lettuce, onions and spring cabbage are as well protected as possible against frost, and that permanent beds of asparagus, rhubarb and artichokes are likewise protected, begin to think about the crops that may be sown with protection, for transplanting out into the open garden later. If you sent your seed order in good time, your seeds should have arrived by now; the seed compost should be; boxes and pots should be scrubbed and ready, and even the labels should be fully written out.

Besides sowing seeds in the greenhouse, there are quite a lot of vegetables which can be sown directly into the soil outdoors, provided they have the protection of frames, cloches, or similar plastic tunnels. Remember that they all need careful attention, adjusting the covering on sunny days so there is plenty of ventilation, and protecting the cover with sacks or black polythene when frost threatens. Also, slugs tend to be more of a nuisance under frames and cloches, so lay in a stock of slug pellets. If you put the cloches or tunnels into position a fortnight before sowing, it warms the soil up and makes germination that much quicker. Black polythene has a similar effect.

The brassicas which may now be sown for transplanting later are Brussels sprouts and summer cabbage. In each instance, choose the variety carefully. When considering cabbage, you should concentrate on only the earliest varieties, which tend to be rather small plants with solid hearts but fewer outer leaves. Most, such as Golden Acre, Primo, Progress and Babyhead are round-headed, but some, including Earliest and

Hispi, are pointed-headed, and Hispi has more outer leaves than most.

Choice of variety is not quite as important with Brussels sprouts. With cabbage you are after early maturity, but Brussels sprouts are not wanted before early autumn, at the soonest. However, early-sown Brussels sprouts grow to be massive plants, well able to withstand summer droughts that can damage some of the later-sown varieties, so I always bring on a few early ones, reserving the main sowing for outdoors towards the end of early spring.

With all brassicas, and indeed almost all plants, it is important to avoid a check in growth, and remember that these early plants will suffer a check if they are transplanted outdoors before the last frost. Therefore, although you want to give them an early start, you also want their growth to be steady rather than rapid, and so the protection given by frames and cloches should be adequate. Too much heat at this time will bring them on so fast that they will be soft and leggy when they are ready for planting out.

Leeks are another crop which likes a long growing season and can be sown now with advantage. This is particularly important if you hope to produce leeks for showing next autumn. With onions, it is better to delay a little longer and sow outdoors. The same applies to maincrop broad beans, which should be sown outdoors a little later in the month, but I usually bring on a few under cloches, for filling in gaps in the outdoor ranks.

Several root crops, normally sown a little later, are also suitable for sowing under cloches now. They include carrots, parsnips and turnips.

Valdor lettuce sown in the autumn and protected by cloches will now, unless the weather is very hard, begin to make new growth; they are very hardy. On mild days, thin them out and transplant the thinnings under other cloches or into cold frames. .

IN THE FRUIT GARDEN

With the arrival of late winter, the pace begins to quicken as unfinished jobs seem to pile up. Any remaining pruning of apples and pears should be finished quickly now; a sudden mild spell can bring on growth to the stage of bud-burst in the most sheltered gardens, after which it will be too late to prune. Any spraying necessary should have been completed, except where bird repellent sprays are used, and they may need to be reapplied if there has been a heavy rain.

As you will need to be putting fertilizers onto top fruit towards the end of the month, it would be a good idea to buy in new supplies, to place your orders now, or to look over any already in hand. Inadequately stored fertilizer can become damp, and then chemical changes take place which render it useless.

The grafting season is also approaching; have a look at any scions you may have heeled in during the course of pruning, (or order a supply from a suitable stockist).

Late summer planted strawberries for cropping early next summer can now be covered with cloches in the earliest districts. Before putting the cloches into position, the soil should be loosened up a bit, weather permitting. Any weeds that may have appeared during the winter should be removed, and also the remains of dead strawberry leaves. A light application of compound fertilizer, watered in, will help the plants when they begin to grow.

Late winter plantings of raspberries and blackcurrants should be completed as soon as possible, because these are among the earliest of fruits to start into growth in spring. Remember that both blackcurrants and raspberries are pruned hard back immediately after planting, blackcurrants to within two or three buds or so above ground level, and raspberries so that about 23 cm (9”) of cane remains. Failure to prune these two fruits will result in poor new growth, and a permanently weakened plant.

IN THE GREENHOUSE

The earliest sowings of melons can now be made for the heated greenhouse crop, provided a germination temperature of 19”C (68”F) is provided. Melons have a reputation for damping or rotting off, but provided sterilized soil or compost is used, cleanliness is maintained, and Cheshunt compound is used for the first two or three waterings, few problems should arise.

Cauliflower is a good crop for sowing in pots and boxes now, in the heated greenhouse. With cauliflower, you want only the earliest varieties, which will be ready for cutting around mid-summer. Most of them are rather delicate, semi-dwarf plants with snow-white curds and few outer leaves. Examples are Alpha-Polaris, Snowball, All the Year Round, Abuntia, and Mechelse.

When sowing in these conditions, do not forget that a gentle heat rather than a high temperature is what is needed. One reason for sowing in boxes rather than directly in the soil under the greenhouse staging is that, once the air warms up, the boxes can be moved outdoors on sunny days, and then put back into the greenhouse at night; this hardens off the young plants in preparation for permanent planting out later in the season.

01. September 2013 by admin
Categories: Fruit Gardening, Uncategorized, Vegetable Gardening | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Gardening Diary FEBRUARY: week1

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