I fear that whatever I write about the garden and the weather I will end up either a Jeremiah, Job’s comforter or even worse a Polly Anna. So we will summarise the current state of the vegetable and cottage gardens as wet, sodden, saturated and waterlogged, which is quite remarkable as I garden on almost pure sand, and move on.
This winter the weather has been so bad that we’ve had to move the bulbs into the main part of the polytunnel. The low light levels and lack of ventilation are not ideal for the bulbs, but we should get a few more flowers as we move into March.
Nothing much happens in the garden during January and February, primarily because the light levels are so low. We now get 2 hours 20 minutes per day more daylight than a month ago, but under leaden skies, it is still very dreary. It will be another week before we reach the magic 10 hours of daylight and then it is time to start seed sowing. I now know that if I sow too early, the seedling become very etiolated and never really recover. However, if I wait until the end of February by the time the seedlings get going there is normally sufficient light to initiate healthy growth. There are exceptions of course, some seeds need a cold period to germinate, and these are sown during the winter and kept outside in the fruit cage – exposed to the weather but sheltered from the wind. Most will germinate in April, but others will hang around for a year or so.
The early potatoes were planted in the polytunnel last week and I have also sown a row of carrots and spinach. As part of the “fighting the hungry gap” strategy I have sown fennel, beetroot, Chinese cabbage and winter lettuce in modules. These are given a boost of a little heat to get things moving and will be grown on before planting in the main ploytunnel bed. A little later I will direct sow mizuna and salad leaves as the soil becomes a little warmer and there is more light. Next comes the celeriac, which can be slow to germinate (bottom heat helps) and needs a long growing period to get a good crop. It will be grown on in pots and planted out in April, or if it is as cold as last year in May.
At the beginning of March we will be getting 12 hours or more of daylight and then it is time to get busy with the peppers and tomatoes. Thereafter it becomes the regular logistic nightmare of trying to sort of priorities for the propagators and room on the benches for the seedlings before they’re ready for planting or hardening off. My careful schedules are always cast into chaos by the weather, it will either be too hot or too cold, too dry or too windy, but at least I will be busy gardening!
The vegetable and herbs seeds always have priority, feed the body first and the rest will look after itself. This year I am trying a new approach in the cottage garden, using direct sown annuals between the herbaceous perennials to fill the gaps which appear when the bulb foliage dies down. This is a risky strategy as they will either not germinate, get swamped by weeds, turn up their toes when their roots encounter my sandy soil, become a slug salad, get blown over or rot in the wet. As I can’t nip down to the garden centre to buy replacements, I plan to grow some additional plants in modules and have some extra packets of Eschscholzia and Calendula for emergencies. As I write I am beginning to see the weakness of my cunning plan, but it is too late as a lorry load of seed has been ordered!
Sowing the first seeds of the year is one of my great pleasures and the child-like delight of seeing the first leaves appear never fails. I might be au fait with the science, but it does not diminish the simple pleasure of watching seeds germinate. So tomorrow I will put on my survival suit, wellies, Mae West and sou’wester, and splash and squelch down to the polytunnel to see if anything has germinated.