After all the rain we’ve had recently, I took this morning’s rainbow to be a symbol of hope. Perhaps the deluge is coming to an end – or do I have to wait for the dove with the olive branch to appear? Preferring to place my faith I science, I consulted the oracle, and indeed the jet stream has moved south and there is a high probability of a relatively calm, dry week with some sunshine. I’d settle for the dry as I’m not sure how much more we can take. One of our fields is flooded and the drive has been so badly eroded that the potholes are now the size of tank traps.
The days are lengthening and there is a definite feeling that the plants are ready to emerge from their winter hibernation. So it’s time to clear away the winter debris from the polytunnel and start sowing the first of the early spring crops. The garlic and winter peas (a gift from a friend to try) are shooting and the early potatoes are ready for planting. I’ve also put in my first row of carrots, a couple of rows of spinach, some rocket and purple mizuna. In the polytunnel temperature is not the limiting factor, it is the amount of daylight that counts. Towards the end of the month I’ll start the Florence fennel, lettuce (probably little gem) and possibly some beetroot. I usually start my tomatoes and peppers at about the same time, any earlier and the low light levels produce ‘leggy’ plants.
What happens next, depends on the weather – if there is a promise of some decent spring weather I’ll start sowing seeds for outdoors. It is always difficult to restrain the enthusiasm, but gambling on the arrival of spring is a high risk strategy.
There is nothing nicer than pottering around in the polytunnel on a warm February afternoon – planting a few seeds, titivating the over-wintering plants and planning the growing schedule for the summer. However, there is work to be done outside, all the routine maintenance and preparatory work that never quite gets done in the winter has to be started now. The first major task is to get muck and seaweed onto the vegetable beds. This should be an early winter job, but it didn’t happen, so it has to be now or not at all. The organic matter is well-rotted and in theory it should be fairly easy to fork it into the barrow, wheel across the garden and fork on to the vegetable beds. Unfortunately after a wet winter, it is the consistency of squelchy pudding with the gloopy consistency of porridge and twice as heavy. It sticks to my boots and the wheels of the barrow and after a couple of hours I am six inches taller and the barrow wheel is clogged up with a mixture of muck, grass and gravel. I am not amused.
For the afternoon, plans to top dress the beds in the orchard with garden compost are postponed as the compost looks as sticky as the muck heap. Fortunately, it is also too wet to even consider starting work on the herb garden. Last year the mint and marigolds fought for territory all summer and I think the mint won. So this year I really must have a serious attempt at exerting some control. Next on the list is weeding the herbaceous borders. Usually I’m quite happy to spend a few hours weeding on a sunny afternoon, but at this time of year the ground is wet and cold and I am rapidly covered in damp, gritty earth. However, if the creeping bent, buttercups, nettles and docks are not removed now I will be fighting a loosing battle all summer.
The ‘things to do’ list seems to grow exponentially and to create any semblance of order I will need more than a few sunny afternoons. The jobs are perhaps not the most pleasant, but there is a sense of achievement as progress is made, the garden regains its composure and begins to look less like a natural disaster. After a winter confined indoors, it is such a delight to be in the garden in the sunshine. Although the routine works takes priority, I can’t help taking the ‘planning walk’ looking at areas which could be improved, redesigned and, of course, enlarged. It might be slow progress, but I’m determined to get rid of another chunk of the scrubby area of grass and weeds which masquerades as a lawn. So perhaps I should order a few more seeds, as enlarged flower beds need more plants!