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Gardening in January & February

By Pam Pickard

Winter Garden

Welcome to this column, it is designed to help to encourage and inspire you in your gardening endeavours.

Was one of your New Year resolutions to work harder on the garden and to create an oasis of tranquillity?
If so, then this is the time to sit in the warm and create an action plan, buy some gardening magazines or books and be inspired. Get ideas for planting from seed and plant catalogues or through websites.

I hope that if you bought a real Christmas tree you’ve recycled it – most garden centres will take them or cut it up and place in your green bin for collection.

We will look at some jobs to do and take some time to look after the birds in your garden. The plant profile will focus on potatoes and celebrate Spring with a Snowdrop walk. Make sure you check out Events and Hot news!

Jobs to do
In the garden; choose a milder day to cut back ornamental grasses, hoe and pull up weeds and check tree ties and stakes and replace if needed. Spend some time tidying the shed; clean your tools, sharpen blades and clean pots and seed trays ready to start again. After the snowdrops have flowered, split them up and replant. Plant winter Aconites - best to buy new plants whilst in growth now to benefit from the flowers next year.

If your fish pond freezes over, don’t smash it, melt a hole in the ice with the bottom of a saucepan of hot water to enable fish to breathe, then place a floating item to prevent freezing over again.

In the greenhouse; start off Sweet Peas, pot up Dahlia tubers and plant up Lily bulbs. Sow indoor Tomatoes, Carrots and hardy annuals.

In the vegetable garden; in February start pre-warming the soil by covering with a cloche or sheet of plastic. Plant new fruit tress and feed existing ones. Force Rhubarb by covering with a large light-proof container such as a terracotta forcer or an old dustbin. Add manure for extra warmth to speed up the process.

Spring Pots

Spring pots; add Primrose and Viola to flowering bulbs for simple spring colour. Add some greenery with Ivy and Heather. Look out for stunning daisy-like white Senetti and mauve Anemone Blanda.


Birds in the garden

Encourage birds into your garden and give them a helping hand during the winter months by feeding them. Use peanuts, seeds and fat but avoid salted food and desiccated coconut. Do not use plastic mesh bags as the birds can get tangled in them. Look for purpose built bird feeders from garden centres. Keep feeders clean and wash them every week to prevent disease.

Place several different types of feeders around the garden; avoid under trees as this can result in bird droppings fouling the feed. Keep the feeders out of easy access from cats and other animals. 

Keep feeders in the same place to establish a regular source of food. This will encourage birds into your garden which in summer months will help to rid the garden of pests like greenfly.


Plant Profile

Everything you ever wanted to know about Potatoes! Now I know that you probably think there not much to know about the humble spud, but if you’re planning to grow some this year for the first time then this guide should help.

Potatoes will grow in containers as well as open ground; however, be prepared for less crop and maybe smaller tubers. There are three main groups of potatoes all planted in April;

First Earlies produce a crop in June. These are the ‘Jersey Royal’ type of potatoes, small and sweet.  Recommended varieties include; ‘Accent’, ‘Lady Christi’, and’ Annabelle’.

Second Earlies produce a crop in July or August. These are the more waxy, salad varieties. Recommended varieties include; ‘Charlotte’ and ‘Anya’.

Maincrop tubers produce a crop in early Autumn but are most vulnerable to blight (see below). A recommended variety is the popular ‘King Edward’ for great roasties!

To get started choose seed potatoes now from catalogues. Once they’ve arrived they need ‘chitting’. This means to let them sprout by placing in a cool, light place before planting. When you plant use plenty of organic matter in preparation of the soil. Space rows of Maincrop potatoes 75cm apart and Earlies 50cm apart.

Plant each tuber 40cm apart and 15cm deep. Once the foliage appears; earth up and repeat at regular intervals adding a fertilizer like chicken manure pellets at the same time. The benefits of earthing up are that shoots are protected and it helps produce a bigger yield.

Dig up individual plants of Earlies when required and the Maincrop in October. Cut the foliage off at least two weeks before harvesting Maincrop potatoes to harden off the tubers’ skins.

Maincrop potatoes can be subject to potato blight, this is a fungal disease that spreads by airborne spores. The first symptoms are dark brown or black patches on the edges of the leaves. There is no way of treating blight and at the first signs dig up the plants and destroy all traces of infected crop. Do not place on the compost heap. Spray the area with a fungicide.

‘Which’ Gardening magazine did a potato trial and found the following varieties were blight resistant; ‘Sarpo Axona’ and ‘Sarpo Mira’ . Also recommended were; ‘White Sarpo’, ‘Kifli’ and ‘Valor’.

See events below for details of Lancaster's Potato Day, when you can get all kinds of free potato advice and choose from a range of organic varieies to start your own crop with.


Snowdrop Walks

Scotland are holding their first ever snowdrop festival in February 2009! Find out more from; www.visitscotland.com or call 0845 1192811

The home of specialist snowdrops in Scotland is the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh. Inverleith Row, Aboretum Place, Edinburgh. www.rbge.org.uk Tel: 01315 527171 open daily 10am – 4pm
 
Other places to visit for snowdrop walks are:
Rode Hall, Scholar Green, Cheshire ST7 3QP Tel: 01270 882 961 www.rodehall.co.uk Open daily from February 12pm – 4pm

Hodsock Priory, Blyth, Worksop, Nottinghamshire, S81 0TY Tel: 01909 891 204 www.hodsockpriory.com Open February 1st til March 4th 10am – 4pm


Events

Potato Day
Potato Day
Saturday 30 January 2010, 12-4pm at the Friends Meeting House in Lancaster , adjacent to the train station! Here will be around 30 different varieties of seed potatoes available to buy individually, including many heritage and organic varieties. It’s the best way to create a wonderful pick and mix selection of some of the tastiest tubers around! If you’ve never grown your own spuds before this is a great place to start; and don’t worry – it really couldn’t be easier. Mary Hamilton, a self-confessed spud-o-phile, said: “Potatoes will be happy in a deep pot in your yard if you haven’t got a garden. And there’s really nothing like the joy of scrabbling for potatoes with your hands – it’s like finding buried treasure!” The Lancashire Apple Project will also be there, handing out local variety apple trees that were grafted one year ago by volunteers. Most have been pre-ordered, although there may be a small number left looking for a good home. If you are interested, come along to find out more about this fabulous project. As usual, the Potato Cafe will be serving up fabulous potato-themed food all afternoon and there will be potato-based activities to entertain the kids. So join us on Saturday for a lively afternoon inspired by our nation’s favourite root vegetable!
Newton Rigg College is holding a series of events, workshops and demonstrations to encourage involvement in making your community a better place. The first ‘Blooming Marvellous’ takes place on: February 2nd and February 7th 10am – 3pm Members: £4.00 and non-members £5.00
Penrith campus, University of Cumbria, CA11 0AH Tel: 0845 850 0744 www.uclan.ac.uk/cumbria

All items mentioned are available in most garden centres or look on the Internet. Photographs are taken by Pam Pickard

© Pam Pickard 17/1/09

 

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