Tuesday, 26 February 2013

More haste less seed?

Looking at my lettuce-box on my porch windowsill, I can't help feeling that my eagerness to sow in January got the better of my good sense.

Even with indoor conditions, it isn't worth trying to get ahead of nature while daylight hours are short as things just don't grow well.  I think I'm going to now crop this lot as micro greens and try again with a new batch now that we're only 2 days away from March, which I always deem to be spring, whatever the official vernal equinox may say. (March 20th this year according to Googled sources, for those of you who care about such things)

Sowing when you should is always more productive, so that's why I've been sticking to sprouting seeds in the airing cupboard for  my recent weekly salad sowings - they're a roaring success, super quick,  and very tasty too.

Edible things you can start sowing in heat now include chillis (which need a long growing season to flower, fruit and ripen) and the majestic globe artichokes which are so fantastic for their architectural stature and leaf form, their delicious immature flowerheads and for their glowing violet spiky flowers.  These babies love to grow - here are my sowings from a week ago:

Already ready for potting on into small individual containers. I sense windowsill congestion is imminent.  Just as well I have lots of space at my allotment to house these giants when they grow up.  But they do make amazing border plants as well - don't be scared of statuesque specimens (says me, the six-footer) as height in the border is always a fine thing and stops things from getting boring.

The jagged grey form of artichoke leaves adds interest and they're also great for flower arranging.  Don't be scared of tall things in your garden, whatever its size. Here, spring height is given by the dark-leaved shrub Physocarpus Diablo, and by the towering spires of foxgloves and russell lupins.  The artichokes will take over the upper storey dramatics from mid to late summer with their huge thistle-like flower heads.

I am feeling very pleased that I got organised enough to get ahead with September greenhouse sowings of some of my annual flower seeds. My greenhouse dwelling ammi, sweet williams and hollyhocks are now ready to shunt across to the cold frame, and those already overwintering in there can begin edging towards the great outdoors for proper planting in the borders.  Which should make room for all my spring seedlings.  (Why are greenhouses never big enough?)

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Snippy snippy snip snip

Don't chuck away your empty plastic food packaging at this time of year - get yourself a sharp pair of scissors and recycle them as plant labels. Best recycling tip I ever got!  Any white plastic will do, though I find the thickness of margarine pots particularly suitable.  Even milk containers can be pressed into service.

Make sure you use a good permanent marker though, or you'll have mystifying blank strips of plastic 3 months from now...

Saves me a fortune in plastic labels, so thought I would share.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

A small nip of snowdrops

Finally my snowdrops are starting to come out. Love them in these tiny glasses - I'll have to look out for more of these venerable curvy sherry sippers as they are perfect for posies.  Plan to do lots of these on my stall with other small flowers. Makes me feel all spring-y.

As these snowdrops are in the border I've widened, I'll also keep an eye on when they finish flowering, because that's the time I'll need to hoick them forwards to the front of the border as they are traditionally moved 'in the green' rather than when they are dormant.  Watch over your snowdrops and seize this moment to split them into new clumps to start off small new colonies in shady corners which cry out for some late winter/early spring highlights.

Will make the most of this mild weather to go out and do some weeding while it lasts. Also need to turn over and feed the areas of garden which I have just denuded of turf.  Are things really swinging towards the growing season now? Sincerely hope so...

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Pruning the allotment swamp

A quick drizzly trip to the allotment revealed just how far from cultivation things still are - very claggy underfoot, still too wet to dig.  When you get clod-platforms from walking across the paths, you know that you should NOT be venturing into the growing areas...

Dragged down there by my children (interesting role reversal) who wanted to continue their treehouse building exploits, I had my second visit in a week yesterday.

No digging to be done as we squelched around the edges of the plot, so I continued clearing the path down the side, cutting back the hedge and digging out brambles.

Also tackled the list below:

Jobs for February

Cut down autumn fruiting raspberries to the base as they fruit on this year's growth - cut them down to get lots of new fruiting canes.

Prune roses - cut back hybrid teas to 4 or five growing points per stem.  Cut back English shrub roses  by about a third.

Prune blackcurrants - take out older wood (darkest colour) with few sideshoots, keep two year old wood (tea coloured) with plenty of sideshoots as these will bear this year's fruit.

Buy seed potatoes and stand the tubers in egg cartons, or a box, in frost free place to start sprouting those little knobbly shoots (long whizzers mean there's not enough light in the place where you've put them - keep them somewhere cool, frost-free and light).

Still to do this month

Prune apple and pear trees
Prune gooseberries
Prune redcurrants

If (as if!) dry enough, prepare planting areas.

Looks like I'll have to keep my secateurs sharp for the rest of the month and keep on chopping in the absence of other heavy duty tasks.

Have to keep myself busy to resist the urge to sow too many new seeds as it is still a bit too early really - trying to force myself to hang on for another few weeks.

Friday, 8 February 2013

Finding buried treasure

There are many benefits to a tidy greenhouse - fewer slug and pest harbouring pile ups of old pots and detritus, the banishment of plants and cracked plant pots long past their sell by date, the mental stocktake of potting materials it facilitates, and the delight of having short-lived space on your greenhouse staging.

Tidying and insulating the greenhouse was my task yesterday - it was going to be sowing seeds initially, but I thought it wiser to do the more prosaic task first, rather than filling the staging with more seed trays that would just have to be moved when I came to insulate.  And so the job finally got done.

I find myself repeatedly peeping through the door to marvel at my bubblewrapped micro-climate, and at my tidy (by my standards) stash of pots and compost stacked under the bench.

But best of all, I refound these:

which makes me feel like a trip back to my old stomping ground in North London is imminent, just so I can stock up on them again - with a few holes in the bottom they make exceedingly charismatic herb containers.  Imagine that topped with some lush green basil leaves.  Brilliant!

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Thank the Lord for IPhoto!

In view of the need to cut flowers in April, and feeling mild panic at the muddy expanse in front of me at the allotment today, I peered hopefully into the archive of IPhoto to see what has previously been in flower at that time of the year and found these little rays of hope (and suspiciously bright conditions - hope it isn't unremittingly wet this spring...)

Red parrot tulips

Honesty (purple), Japanese maple ' dissectum', forget me nots and artichoke foliage.

So let's hope the sun shines and my tulips perform well this year.  I love that purple and lime green combination in the photo above.  Have got lots of honesty seedlings spread around the place, so the sight of them makes me feel better.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Hipplecrips towards the future

"What's a hipplecrip?" you may ask.  In Derbyshire it's a tiny step made by putting one foot in front of the other, touching the heel of your leading foot against the toe of your back foot.  And these are what have been taken today.

The exciting news was getting my first farmer's market stall confirmed and discovering #britishflowers on Twitter.   

The feelings of delight on getting my stall have been followed by mild panic, wondering what will be ready in April and whether it will be enough - May onwards will be abundant, but the weather is such a tricky beast in the meantime it could have a real bearing on what is ready for the first stall.

So with new resolve, today I followed my newly drawn hosepipe line and chopped out more border space for future planting. Very satisfying.  Large pile of cut turf now stacked, grass side down, underneath the pear tree, waiting to be recycled as top soil in 6 months time.  I always seem to have one of these heaps accumulating somewhere in the garden...

 Here's the path, where are the primroses?

Gone is the annoying patch of grass behind the tree. Revealed are the patches of rubble and old cherry tree root underlying bits of this border.  Tomorrow, the tackling  of these will be added to my jobs list. Along with getting serious compost, leaf mould and muck into the new border areas.  And getting to the allotment to do some proper work next week. (Why are good intentions always so frequent where that place is concerned?)

In the garden at home, I can see  glimmerings of white sheathed snowdrop buds appearing in the borders and the first tentacles of hellebore flower shoots are slowly probing their way out of the mud. But spring still seems such a way off with this muddy drabness all around.  Hard to believe this will all change in the next six to eight weeks (an undending source of annual satisfaction).  This is what I have to keep telling myself when I gulp at the thought of actually producing flowers to sell - things seem impossibly dead at the moment, but will not always be so.

I'm starting small, with one stall a month, just to see how things go and although my mind gets ahead of me with multiple markets and major flower undertakings, the reality is, thankfully, more modest.  So I'll just have to bear this in mind, take deep breaths, pull on my boots, pray for good weather and set to work...