Gardening Diary JANUARY: week 2
IN THE VEGETABLE GARDEN
As well as continuing to make out your seed orders, now is the time to prepare cropping plans for the coming season. Those who enjoy drawing up plans can. Do so in considerable detail, on squared paper, with measurements scaled down to one-twelfth actual size or even further if your garden is large. You may, on the other hand, be quite content with rough sketches, but you should have a clear idea of where you are going to grow each crop. Keep in mind that, although these plans are the ideal, weather and crop failures may necessitate modifications. Flexibility is one of the keys to good gardening; the ability to respond to unexpected changes in growing conditions, and to change your selection of crops and methods of cultivation accordingly, is the sign of a real gardener.
In crop planning, there are a few cardinal rules which, if followed, will lead to consistently healthier and heavier crops. Firstly, comes the principle of crop rotation. Do not, in general, grow the same crop in the same plot for two successive years. This is particularly important with brassicas and. Ideally, allow a break of at least two years before returning to the same crop, or another crop from the same family. It is safe, though, to ignore this rule with certain crops, such as and tomatoes. As a guide, a good system of rotation is to use a plot of land for root crops for a year, followed by a year of brassicas, and in the third year, miscellaneous crops, such as , beans or . The fourth year return the plot to root crops, and so on.
In theory, all farmyard and other bulky manure should have been dug into theduring autumn, but this is sometimes a counsel of perfection, and many gardeners find it necessary to continue with the operation all the winter. From now onwards, confine this bulky manure to land which is to be devoted to crops which are either miscellaneous, as listed in the third year above, or to brassicas to be transplanted fairly late in spring or summer. Never use freshly manured land for growing root crops, or you will get forked and badly shaped roots.
Bear in mind the light and shade requirements of each crop. If possible, have the rows running north/south, thus ensuring that each plant will receive its full share of sunlight. Low-growing plants are exceptions, and can be used in borders or along paths running east/west. Do not plant tall crops, such as runner beans and Jerusalem artichokes, on the south side of a garden plot, unless you intend to grow a shade-loving plant behind them. These tall-growing plants form a most effective screen, however, and can be used to conceal theheap, garden shed, or any other eyesore.
Another point to be considered is companion crops. Though much research still needs to be done on the subject, it is generally accepted that certain crops assist some neighbouring plants in their growth, but have an inhibiting effect on others. The explanation seems to be that the roots of these plants manufacture chemicals which are either beneficial or harmful to certain others. One such chemical is asparagin, produced by asparagus, which is beneficial to nearby tomatoes.
Onions and their tribe (including, and ) are not regarded as good neighbours by beans, peas or carrots. Cabbage does not do well by a strawberry bed. Potatoes and tomatoes are no help to each other. But sweet corn does well next to potatoes, peas, beans and all the cucurbit family. I plant dwarf beans, , pumpkins or all around the sweet corn plot, allowing the trailing vines of the cucurbits to explore between the tall stalks.
An exceptionally useful job to fill in a few hours on a wet afternoon or dark evening is to prepare labels for the seeds you will soon be sowing. It may sound trivial, but experience has taught me that when sowing time comes I am often so busy that writing out labels for particular crops is one chore that often falls by the wayside. The temptation is to neglect this task, relying on being able to recognize a pea or lettuce once theare up. Then one year, after harvesting a magnificent crop, you are determined to grow the same variety again, but have forgotten which one it was. Avoid this pitfall by getting in a supply of plastic labels now and marking them up straight away.
Outdoors, if snow falls and half-buries the cloches, let it lie; it makes a cosy blanket for the plants inside.
IN THE FRUIT GARDEN
Although grape vines can be planted, weather and other factors permitting, any time between mid-autumn and late winter, now is a reasonable time to do this, provided the ground is not frozen or waterlogged. Plant the vines about 1.2 m (4’) apart in a sunny position. It is not unusual for grape vines grown in a small greenhouse to have their roots planted in a bed outside the house, and the fruiting rods trained inside. This practice gives the roots an unrestricted run, while giving the crop itself protection under glass.
Grapetaken now, either of a single ‘eye’, about 5 cm (2”) in length, or of well-ripened young shoots, about 15-20 cm (6-8”) long will be ready for planting in their permanent positions in a year’s time. Long cuttings, used for outdoor culture, are inserted upright in sandy soil outdoors, under cloches or frames in cold areas. The ‘eye’ cuttings are placed horizontally in pots of cutting compost and rooted in gentle heat; this is a slightly more difficult method of propagation, but tends to have a higher success rate.
In the mildest districts and gardens it will not be long before peaches and associated fruits will start to break their winter dormancy and come into leaf, Keep a close watch on them from now on and as soon as the buds begin to swell, and the green tips start to emerge from the brown bud scales, spray with lime sulphur or a fungicide containing copper if your trees were infected with peach leaf curl last year. The spray should be fine, and should cover the whole tree thoroughly, because you are aiming to provide a protective covering as well as destroy the existing fungal spores at the same time. It is a good idea to repeat the spray about a fortnight later.
IN THE GREENHOUSE
Most gardeners are content with a greenhouse heated to a temperature of 7C (45°F), just sufficient to protect their plants from frost. Probably very few of the greenhouses kept at 16°C (60°F) have crops of tomatoes and cucumbers now, chiefly because of the short hours of daylight. Crops sown from mid-winter onwards, when the day length is increasing, will usually make better progress than those sown a month or two earlier. In about a week, sowing time in the greenhouse will begin in earnest. So if there is any last-minuite greenhouse painting or disinfecting to be done, or repairs to be made, delay no longer. Even if you did a major disinfection job on the greenhouse back in autumn, a second going over with a recommended dilute disinfectant will do no harm.
The middle of winter is a good time to begin to think about taking strawberries in pots into the greenhouse for forcing, if you have not yet done so. Make sure they are not dry at the roots and also tidy off any dead leaves. Bring them inside and put them on a shelf near the roof where they can get plenty of sunlight. Do not give them any heat at first—the pro- tection given by the greenhouse will be enough for the first ten days or so.