Here we are, right at the start of a super new gardening year! So let’s get some early seed-sowing done, as well as some tree-pruning and a bit of veg planning, to satisfy our urge to be ‘up and doing’ after the excesses of Christmas:
CHILLIES IN THE CHILLY SEASON
You have to give chillies a good long run at it, if you want fabulous fruit at the end of the summer. They are frustratingly slow initially to germinate and then to start motoring, so get some going now with the aim of having some plumptious leafy well-rooted plants by midsummer, when they will start to flower.
Sprinkle the seeds onto a tray of moist free-draining compost, cover them lightly with more compost or vermiculite and then (this is critical) put the tray somewhere cosy – a heated bench in the greenhouse is ideal of course, but a sunny windowsill above a radiator will work okay. Keep the compost moist but not wet. Then wait. It could be 6-8 weeks before you see much action, I’m afraid.
Once they have each sprouted a pair of proper chilli leaves (not the round seed-leaves which come first), pot them into large plugs/small pots to grow on in warm, moist really bright conditions.
Two little gripes about seed companies:
1. Why, oh why do they put vital info at the TOP of the packet, just where you’re going to rip it open to get at the seeds? Or perhaps I am the last person in the world to realise that it’s much better to open them, contrary to instinct, using the flap AT THE BOTTOM of the pack.
2. We need seed companies to make it much clearer on the packet if there are hardly any seeds in it. The designation ‘F1’ on my packet of Thompson & Morgan Fresno Mix Chilli Peppers (‘exciting 3-colour Chilli mix’) should have alerted me more, but there were only FIVE seeds in it! Not going to get much of an exciting mix with that, are you! Hunting round the edges of the packet, I found a little line which read that there should have been six seeds. I am happy to pay for real quality, but I want to know exactly what I’m getting for it.
Right, that’s the moaning done with, for the day.
A good tip from a seasoned campaigner – by the time you realise that you might have cocked something up with the January sowing, you will have missed the boat for this year, so it’s best to keep a few seeds back and do a ‘back-up’ sowing in February, in case the first lot doesn’t come up!
DANCING ROUND THE MAPLE
What a joy maples (or acers, if you prefer) are! Their beauty and variety of colour, size and form are so extraordinary that we must forgive them their pickiness – no strong winds, no alkaline soils, no hard-pruning etc. etc.
And here’s another element to their fussy attitude – if you attempt anything other than very light pruning at any other time than full dormancy, they will respond by ‘bleeding’ sap badly. So if you need to take out crossing stems, poorly-placed shoots or died-back bits, do it right now before they heed the call of spring.
If it’s horrible out there, and it often is in January, how about sitting down with a very retro sheet of paper, and planning your 2019 veg plot?
There’s a whole library of books out there on the subject of Crop Rotation (and I’m sure Laura could bore you for a few hours about it) but in a nutshell, its aim is to have a 4-year rotation of the kind of crops you grow in a particular section/bed of your vegetable area. The idea is to give each crop what it needs to grow well, while preventing a build-up of pests and diseases, which can happen if you always grow a particular crop in the same place.
So. One bed: stick a load of rotted manure and compost in over the winter/early spring and grow POTATOES in it, because they love manure.
The next year, grow LEGUMES (basically beans and peas) in that soil, because they like a bit of manure too.
In Year 3, grow BRASSICAS (cabbages, broccoli, cauliflowers, sprouts etc.) there, because they like the nitrogen that the legumes fixed in the soil the year before.
The fourth year, grow ROOTS (carrots, beetroot, parsnips, onions etc) in there, which are not keen on either the manure or the nitrogen – indeed, onions won’t store properly if there was a lot of nitrogen in the soil. Then start again with the manure and the spuds. Easy, eh?! Fit in your other veg crops around these, and if you have got four beds, in theory you can grow everything to perfection.
Might you find it hard to remember the order?..I offer this as my own personal aide-memoire:
Potatoes Like (it) Bloody Rich
but I dare say you can come up with a funnier mnemonic?!
* An unheated greenhouse can be warmed up a bit by leaving buckets of water in there, which will warm up during a bright day, and act as a very gentle storage heater overnight, raising the inside temperature by a few degrees.
* Check your indoor plants regularly for pests like mealy-bug, aphids, scale insect and white-fly. Don’t wait as I did once until it becomes such an infestation, that you have to throw the plant out!
* And lastly, cuppa in hand, savour all those luscious new season seed and plant catalogues. What a fabulous way to spend a couple of January hours…..