FINISH OFF WINTER TASKS
The mild but wet winter will hopefully be ending soon and once the soil starts to dry out we can catch up on all those jobs kept on the back burner. My priority is to finish off the winter digging put on hold as the soil was always too wet and we never got any light frosts to firm up the surface.
There was plenty of good well rotted garden compost for those areas needing fertile soil, especially onions, leeks, potatoes, cabbage, cauliflower and beans. Sweet corn, courgettes and pumpkin also need a lot of compost but as they all get planted in late spring there is still time to compost and dig over their patch then sow a green manure of clover or tares. This has plenty of time to grow before it gets trampled down and dug in a fortnight before planting. I have always had fantastic results after a green manure crop, as the roots really break up the soil and allow aeration as well as adding humus and nutrients.
Many areas are just not ready to dig as my late sowings of autumn salad leaves have continued to grow and provide fresh leaves all winter, so they will remain in place till they run to seed.
Beetroot left in the ground has kept brilliantly so I was able to harvest as required, but now it is beginning to grow so it will be lifted for the kitchen, and once partially cooked can be frozen for future use.
Cabbage and cauliflowers for spring use are looking great, and some will be ready very soon, though I still have some autumn cabbage which overwintered just fine. Just as well as my winter cabbage January King was a complete disaster. They were not happy with the mild winter and most have now run to seed. The few that hearted up were a magnet for slugs as January King does not have a solid heart at ground level and slugs can easily set up home in the spaces between leaves and stem. I will not grow that variety again.
Rose bushes and climbers take advantage of any mild winter to start growing at the first opportunity, so pruning had to be done in January to be completed by the end of February. Anna managed to get a small bunch of rose flowers for the house that had survived the winter.
Apple tree pruning has also been completed and now it is the turn of my Victoria plum to have its crown reduced in height so I have less need to climb the tree at harvest time. Anna gets a wee bit anxious when I reach the top of the ladder then have to climb a bit more as there is always some fantastic fruit at the end of a long branch that just have to get picked.
Hopefully I am far enough into the season so that silver leaf disease is less likely to infect the pruning cuts.
My peach tree will also get some pruning to create fruit spurs closer to the framework as well as some formative pruning to maintain its fan shape against the south facing fence. I will then give it two fungicide sprays a fortnight apart to keep peach leaf curl at bay.
This years vegetable and flower seed order has been delivered, so I can now set up my propagation programme to remind me of the best times to sow each type. In a normal year I would be sowing tomatoes, onions and lobelia towards the end of February. However since my greenhouse got blown down in the December gales this is not going to be a normal year for me. My hope is that my new greenhouse will be delivered and erected before the end of March. Windowsills can take a fair bit of young plants, while we await this new greenhouse. If the mild weather continues my fifty odd geraniums can go outside as they are quite tough, but my fifty odd tuberous begonias are not so hardy, and there is a limit as to how many plants you can get on a windowsill.
Tomatoes and lobelia this year will have to be sown a few weeks later.
I have also ordered my Hytech onions as sets this year, as they would need warm conditions early on if grown from seed.
Plant of the week
Rhododendron dauricum has to be the earliest rhododendron to flower. This year it started flowering in January and continued right through February. It is one of the parents of the very popular rhododendron praecox which is in flower now. In a mild year these early flowering shrubs are a great bonus, but if a frost catches them it will kill all the delicate flowers. Both these rhododendrons are small evergreen (R. dauricum is partially evergreen) bushes growing to about four feet tall that appreciate an acid moist, but free draining soil. They are very hardy, but a sheltered spot will help to protect the early flowers if a frost threatens.
Painting of the month
Arthurs Plot is my fourth acrylic painting showing a City Road allotment plot. Two paintings are winter scenes and two summer views with this one getting the modern contemporary treatment, where I concentrate on a loose colour balance of attractive shapes and no attempt to show detail.
I hope to show this painting with many others at the Angus Open Studio event in late May.