Gardening Diary JANUARY: week 4
IN THE VEGETABLE GARDEN
In the first three weeks of mid-winter you have ordered your seeds for the coming year, worked out your cropping plan and prepared the seedfor sowing early crops in containers. Hopefully, you have also progressed with the winter digging and should by this time at least have most of the bulky manure dug in and trenches prepared for those crops which need them. In short, preparations for the coming spring should now be virtually complete, and the first sowings can be made.
In favourable weather, though, it is as well to give a little attention to the crops which are still being harvested. Mulches around such crops as, Brussels sprouts, Jerusalem artichokes and intended for producing spring greens will probably be weather-damaged and need renewing. If you are lucky enough to have access to a supply of strawy horse manure, now is a good time to start putting mulch around . The celery crop will be nearly finished, and it is as well to use up what remains of the Jerusalem artichoke crop within the next few weeks, for very soon you should be planting tubers for the new crop, and by now the old crop, left in the ground, may be showing signs of slug damage and disease. In a severe winter, swedes left in the ground may be beginning to rot, but may safely be left for two or three months yet, digging out a few whenever needed, and may not only be left in the same way but will start to grow again when the weather is favourable.
By this time many of the winter cabbages and savoys will have been used. As soon as possible, clear the plot, putting surplus leaves on the compost heap and heaping up the woody stalks and roots separately for burning; then dig the ground without delay. If the succeeding crop is not to be a root crop, you still have time to dig in some well rotted farmyard or other organic manure, and thecan probably do with it, for brassicas are gross feeders.
And now, right at the end of the month, it is feasible, when the weather permits, to sow a few seeds under cloches in their permanent beds. Parsnips are one crop which can benefit from such treatment, especially if very large parsnips are wanted. Grow them in a bed which has been worked to a considerable depth and enriched with potash and phosphates in particular. Cloche protection for a few weeks after germination is helpful but not absolutely necessary, unless the weather is unusually cold.
IN THE FRUIT GARDEN
With the end of the month in sight, although most fruits will not show much signs of activity for some time to come, there are many things still to be attended to now.
The ground is, in most places, cold and wet, but if the land is not frozen hard, digging and planting can continue. At this time of the year, it pays to be increasingly careful about digging in wet weather. As winter gives way to spring, the chance of frost pulverising the soil and breaking it up, decreases with time.
Unfinished work on hedges and ditches should be completed. Hedge bottoms, so often the domain of all manner of beetles, bugs, weevils and the rest, should be cleaned out of dead brushwood, brambles, weed stalks and ivy. This will remove potential homes for mice and voles, as well as exposingto birds. Unless bulbs or other choice subjects are planted at the hedge base, a diluted dose of tar oil spray applied above the roots will take care of any disease spores and pests harboured there. However, if the hedge is an evergreen, be careful not to spray wash onto the foliage, nor should newly planted hedges be sprayed. Ditches must also be freed of dead wood, last season’s weed, rubbish such as tins and polythene bags, and mud, otherwise flooding of the land may occur, with long-lasting results.
IN THE GREENHOUSE
When considering indoor crops the first one you probably think about is tomatoes, if you have a heated greenhouse. With a tomato harvest in mid-spring as your target, you will have already sown seeds in early winter, though on occasions when I have picked tomatoes this early I have left the rearing of theto professional nurserymen, and have bought young plants for transplanting in the greenhouse at the end of mid-winter. Rearing young plants through mid-winter is tricky because of the low level of daylight. Even if you buy in young plants, you should make provision for artificial lighting, to give 16 hours of daylight every day and if the temperature in the greenhouse as a whole is liable to fall below 16°C (60°F), it is as well to have the beds heated by electric soil-warmers.
However, if you sow tomato seeds now the crop will be only about a month later than one sown in early winter; you should be able to start picking in late spring. The temperature will need to be maintained, and artificial lighting helps, but the days now are naturally lengthening. If you do use artificial light, allow for the seven or eight hours of darkness that the plants need.
Cucumbers need a higher temperature than tomatoes—not less than 18-21°C (65-70°F), even at night, and particularly during very cold weather. While it is technically possible to sow cucumber seeds in the middle of early winter and transplant into permanent beds two months later, most home growers prefer to leave the sowing until late winter or early spring, at the earliest.
Greenhouse lettuces should be at various stages of growth, according to when you sowed them, and new sowings can be made, of such varieties as Amanda, Fortune, Windermere and Miranda. Fortune and Windermere are for sowing under glass now and transplanting outdoors later.
Other crops which you can now sow in specially prepared seed compost for transplanting out once the weather warms up include, (of the quick-growing, early varieties), (for heading in early summer) and leek, which needs quite a long growing season.
During this period, those potted fruit trees which have been left outdoors with their pots plunged and covered, can now be brought into the greenhouse for forcing. These fruit trees fall into two categories: those which are taken inside to protect their blossoms and then taken out again when the fruit has set, and those which flower and fruit inside. Apples, pears, plums and cherries are in the first group, and grapes, figs, peaches and nectarines are in the second.
Strawberries in pots, which were brought into the greenhouse about two weeks ago, can now be given a little warmth, by gradually raising the temperature to about 10°C (50°F) during the day, and a little lower at night. Make sure they have sufficient water and light.