IN BETWEEN SEASONS
Wet soil surface continues to hamper working the soil, but when the sun shines and the winds blow the surface dries up just enough to get the spade out before the next shower appears.
The garden carries on enjoying the sunshine as temperatures begin to climb.
The allotment continues to provide plenty fresh winter vegetables with cabbage, sprouts, Swedes, leeks, kale, Swiss chard and salad leaves of rocket and other mixed leafy salads are still plentiful.
Fruit and vegetables from the freezer now supplements the fresh produce and makes room for other vegetables. Room is found in the freezer for kale leaves and beetroot picked a couple of weeks ago. Beetroot also makes a brilliant chutney, as does Victoria plums from the freezer. The kale which is high in iron and great to maintain good eyesight will be used in soups and stir fries.
Although we still have a few pumpkins from last year, one is now on the table destined for a pumpkin risotto with some left over chicken pieces and the chicken stock.
Anna got our last eating apple from store, a lovely red Fiesta marking the end of our home grown dessert apple crop, but we still have three huge boxes of Bramley cooking apples. This fantastic cooker stores a very long time even though we use the fruit on every occasion for crumbles, stewed apple, compote and chutney. I managed to get ten demijohns of wine brewed from the small, damaged, misshapen and bruised fruit deemed best not to put into store.
In the Garden
Rhododendron praecox has been magnificent as there has been no frost to blacken the early flowers. The bright mauve flowers are a great contrast to the yellow, purple and white crocus planted at its feet. Even the snowdrops continue to flower into early March.
My winter border with Cornus Westonbirt, Mid Winter Fire and the willow Salix britzensis has never looked better especially now the drifts of crocus are fully out as colourful ground cover.
The wet year of 2012 gave the border enough moisture to last right through last year’s hot dry summer so growth was very strong with the willows reaching eight foot tall. Although these bushes get cut right back to ground level, they still grow back again strongly every year.
As the sun begins to show us some spring warmth it is a good time to plan ahead for this years fruit crops. A low polythene tunnel was erected over a two foot wide row of early strawberry Mae. This protection should enhance cropping, bring it forward by at least two weeks and as the polythene keeps the fruit dry botrytis should not be much of a problem rotting the fruit.
Recent wet weather has created a problem trying to find a couple of dry days to spray Bordeaux mixture on my peach tree to prevent peach leaf curl. The first spray went on during a warm sunny morning, only to see the rain coming in by afternoon, so I just have to keep an eye on the weather forecast to catch the next decent dry day. I will soon run out of time as the buds are swelling up and flowering will start very soon.
February gales were no problem as my damaged greenhouse has been cleared off site. The breeze block base will get some repairs before the new stronger greenhouse with 4mm strengthened tough glass arrives, hopefully my mid March.
In the meantime it is time to sow my tomatoes, which will have to settle for a warm windowsill for a few weeks. This year I will still grow my favourites, Alicante and Gardeners Delight and try the new golden cherry variety Ildi.
Broad bean Giant Exhibition Longpod can also be sown now. These find a warm spot at home, then go onto a windowsill as soon as germination occurs. Broad beans are quite hardy so they will go outside once the plants are a decent size. Similarly, sweet peas can also be sown indoors to get them started, but shifted outdoors as long as our mild weather continues.
It is the tomatoes that are at risk if the weather turns colder, so if they need more windowsill space my established geraniums will go outdoors as they are fairly tough.
Plant of the week
Ivy ground cover is perfect for creating an attractive maintenance free border. The low growing foliage is quite dense and soon smothers any weeds trying to compete. There are golden variegated forms such as Hedera helix Buttercup and Goldheart, silver variegation such as Glacier, and some varieties such as Hedera canariensis have large exotic leaves. The smaller leaved varieties make excellent ground cover in shrub borders, but take care as they will climb up the bushes in time. They will also climb walls and fences, but an annual trim back in winter will keep them in their place. They provide frost protection at ground level for my outdoor hardy fuchsias just in case we get a severe frost.