I think the Chinese probably have New Year about right – for all the icy winds and snow showers, mid-February feels like a new start in the garden, certainly more than the 1st January. It must be the combination of more light (an extra 2 hours by the end of the month), the shoots and iridescent flowers of a few brave bulbs, and the optimism of sowing a few seeds again. It’s all ahead of us – whatever frosts, storms, blizzards the weather will throw at us in the next month it can’t change the fact that the days are lengthening, the birds are singing and the plants, however tentatively, are growing.
I always use February half term to get a delivery of 1 tonne of green waste compost from our local council to spread on top of all our beds. This annual ritual is part of our No-Dig system – the beds all get about 2 inches of compost on top which can then be planted straight into. It works wonders for keeping down annual weeds, retaining moisture, feeding the soil life, and it looks pretty good at this time of year when all the beds are dressed ready for action. Our plot is one of the furthest away from the front gate of the allotment site, so about 50 trips back and forth with the wheelbarrow takes 3-4 hours. I complain about it at the time, but actually I love jobs like that – for most of us in the modern world, myself included, working life is mentally but not physically demanding so it’s great to spend a day using my muscles a lot more than my brain! It’s also a great excuse to have chips and beer afterwards.
I won’t bore you with too much detail, but to date (24th Feb) I have sown chillis in my heated propagator and onions, lettuce, radish, pea shoots, broad beans, coriander, sweet peas, violas indoors or in the polytunnel. I’ve also planted shallots (under fleece to stop pesky pigeons from pulling them up). In general I’m in favour of a cautious approach at this time of year – early sowings of more tender crops seem to become fodder for slugs very quickly so it’s usually best to wait. Meanwhile, autumn sown broad beans are looking good and the winter salad in the polytunnel is still producing lots of tasty leaves.
Planting An Heirloom
I’ve been very excited to receive some rhubarb plants from my Grandparents’ garden in Leicestershire which are divisions from a plant originally grown by my Great Grandfather Gilbert in his garden in Ayrshire. Talk about heritage! They have been planted and are already sending up delicious looking red shoots well ahead of the established clump that we have on our plot. I’ll leave it to settle in for a year without picking any, but I’m so looking forward to eating the same rhubarb that my Great Grandparents would have enjoyed. My Granny also gave me some Iris unguicularis divisions, which I have potted up into free draining spent compost for the time being – it flowers in winter, so along with Iris reticulata we should have plenty of those iridescent blooms next year to remind us that spring is never far away.
Speaking of Iris reticulata, here’s a gratuitous photo of one of the pots outside our front window:
These are flowering for the second year running, having been carelessly tossed into plastic pots in a shady corner of the backyard last summer and forgotten about.
Lots more bulbs to come in numerous terracotta pots – watch this space!