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January 2010 Diary

10 January
No visit to the plot so far this year. With thick snow on the ground even if we managed to arrive at the allotment in one piece there would be little that we could do there.

Our only outdoor garden related activity - if it can be called that –was making sure our feathered visitors are well provided for.  A fieldfare and redwing have joined our more regular visitors in using the ice free part of our garden pond as a drinking hole. Sadly the weather has taken its toll on our fish population. At least one large fish has died – time will tell if more are to fall victim to the big freeze.

Our seed orders have now been completed and despite the poor weather are starting to arrive. Our order from Plants of Distinction arrived this week. We order seeds that are less commonly available from them.

Beetroot - Sunset Mixed which produces red, yellow, white and bi-coloured roots
Cauliflower - Kaleidoscope Mixed which produces green, purple and orange heads
Tuscany and Provence Baby Salad Leaves
Melon - Noir des Carmes - which is supposedly one of the easiest melons to grow. I hope this is true as we haven't had a lot of success with melons.
Peppers - Jimmy Nardello's & Tequila Sunrise both are carrot shaped sweet peppers. Jimmy is reported to be the best sweet pepper I will ever taste and Tequila is a golden orange colour.
Squash - Potimarron & Crown Prince - we know Crown Prince is a good choice having grown it for a couple of years now but Potimarron is new to us
Tomato - Amish Gold which is said to produce huge solid yellow tomatoes.

We have also ordered a few flowers to give some extra colour and attract the beneficial insects as well as provide cut flowers.

Cosmos - Versailles Palace - which is great for cutting. We always have a patch of cosmos. It usually self seeds and produces some interesting colours but I guess this may not happen this year.
Papaver - Ladybird & Cherry Glow, - we already have some poppies that come up every year around the plot even though we haven't actually planted any before. We have quite a variety of colour as they must cross pollinate. (Shown in photo) If they come up in an inconvenient spot they are removed but otherwise they are left to do their thing. Maybe we will have even more cross pollination when we add these varieties.

We were also sent a couple of complementary packets of seed:
Sicilian Rocket Salad Mixed - which contain seven varieties of rocket - I didn't know there were seven varieties
Achillea - Flowerburst - we have several achillea on the plot again for cut flowers and to attract the insects and they are really good 'doers' as well as being really attractive so this variety will add to our colour palette and some may even end up in the garden.

Each year we carefully choose our seeds bearing in mind what we have room for and every year we end up with extra freebies either from seed companies or from magazines.  So far we have received a couple of varieties of Sweet Pepper - California Wonder & Romano Mixed and three varieties of Tomato - Costoluto Fiorentino (a beefsteak variety), Roma (a plum tomato) and Garden Pearl (a cherry variety).These freebies are welcome but the couple of packs of chilli seeds that have come via magazines will be given away. After last year's chilli experience we won't be growing any this year!

My amaryllis bulbs still haven’t produced flowers although one of them has a cluster of buds that are almost ready to burst. I can already see that this will be the pink and white variety which I think is Appleblossom.

Used from store

Used from freezer

17 January
No visit to the plot again as the big chill continued. Hopefully next week we can visit to replenish our stocks of winter vegetables.

Parcels, envelopes and boxes of seeds continued to arrive so now we have everything that we need to start the new season except favourable growing and soil conditions.

It’s tempting to start sowing but experience tells us that this would be a mistake. With only a cold greenhouse, for us March is really the start of seed sowing in earnest. Earlier experiments with seeds sown on window sills have rarely been completely successful. Later sown seeds benefit from the improved conditions and soon catch up with and overtake early sowings. An exception will be some early broad beans.

Not all seeds need to be bought fresh every year – many remain viable for several years. Sow by dates are usually printed on seed packets – often on the part that we tear off when opening! Many seeds are supplied in huge quantities that would keep the average grower supplied for years.  Throwing away seed goes against the grain (pun unintended) but it sometimes has to be done. Parsnip seed for instance needs to be bought fresh every year.

Each year we try to grow something a little different whilst keeping the best successes from the previous year.

We always grow a variety of tomatoes but for the first time will include some Tumbling Tom and Garden Pearl. Both produce cherry sized tomatoes and will be kept in tubs in the garden. For the past two years we have lost all outdoor tomatoes on the plot courtesy of blight!

In an old shoe box, we have organised seed packets according to the month in which they are due to be sown to ensure that none are forgotten so now all that remains is to sit tight, dream, plan and wait until it is time to start sowing!

Both my amaryllis have now produced flowers. I was supposed to have bought a white variety and a pink variety but I seem to have a pink and white (Appleblossom) and a deep pink variety. Another conundrum is that I thought that each flower stem usually had four flower heads, however one of my bulbs has three flowers to a stem and the other has five!

Used from store

24 January
Amazingly we managed a couple of visits to the plot this week. The first was to gather some vegetables as our stocks were much depleted. Thankfully although  
netting and environmesh had been weighted down by heavy snow, most of our winter vegetables had survived the big freeze.

On the second trip, winter wash was applied to plum, greengage, cherry and some apple trees. This would have been done earlier if the weather had been more accommodating. Another application will be made before the buds start to burst in an attempt to keep the aphids at bay. In the past these destructive creatures have devastated our plums and gages. Originally tar oil would have been used as a winter wash but nowadays the wash is made from vegetable oil. This treatment has proved really effective although as the trees have grown it has become difficult to ensure that the entire tree has been sprayed.

We also managed to burn a few of the perennial weeds that have been trying to dry out on our weed pile. The ash from these will be added to the compost heap and the fire provided a little warmth to fend off the chill.

Newly shooting rhubarb provided one welcome sign that the new season is beginning and the grass paths that were sown last year a looking very lush.

The Glen Moy, Glen Magna & Glen Ample raspberry canes that were delayed due to the bad weather arrived this week along with some blackcurrant bushes – Ben Connan & Ben Lomond and a quince tree – Meeches Prolific. This is the first time we have ordered from Keepers Nursery and we are really impressed by the plants. They are much bigger than we had expected – especially the quince which only just fits in the cold greenhouse. All the plants have been potted into large pots until soil conditions on the plot are suitable for planting.

Also potted up were some perennials that we bought from a local nursery – at only £1.99 each they seemed a bargain. They were packaged in small amounts of compost and sealed in plastic bags which isn’t the ideal method but at that price we decided to give it a go. Most of them had signs that they are beginning to shoot so these will hopefully add some colour to the garden.

Bulbs that have been so long hidden under a blanket of snow are also continuing their upward growth so I look forward to our  first snowdrops and crocuses of the season

Harvested this week:

Used from store

Used from freezer

31 January
The last week of January continued to be a lean time as far as gardening was concerned. The ground was either too wet and soggy or too frosty and solid. Both conditions signal that the garden and plot are best left alone for now. Trudging on soggy or frosted soil does nothing to improve neither the soil structure nor any lawns or grassy areas.

Not even one visit to the plot to harvest any vegetables having gathered plenty last week. The nearest to gardening was a wander around our garden where I found that nature is obviously far tougher than we are.

Shoots are gallantly emerging from the bulbs and many early flowering plants are in bud. Snowdrops and hellebores will soon be flowering which is always a treat as they are planted close to the house window so the view can be enjoyed without venturing outside. A particularly determined pansy is managing to produce a few flowers. Looking closely, the hostas are just beginning to shoot and so we will soon need to be on slug and snail alert. I hope the couple of thrushes that are now seen regularly in the garden will repay us for looking after them during the winter by adding these pests to their menu.

Another welcome bit of bird activity was the appearance a couple of years ago of a daphne bush. The bird responsible for sowing the seed didn’t quite get the positioning right and so I had intended to transplant it but it is easy to overlook when not in flower. At the moment its plump buds drew my attention reminding me of the oversight.
Some of the perennials that I planted up last week are showing very tiny shoots. I noticed some similar plants in a local garden centre were at the same stage so it’s a case of so far so good.
The last weekend in January was the annual RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch so we knew that the birds would be making                
themselves scarce for the duration of the count and sure enough the bird feeders and bird tables were unusually quiet. We don’t behave in anyway differently so I can only assume that many more people put food out on this day than others, the only other explanation is the bird population is far more intelligent than we give them credit for and know what we are doing and decide to thwart us.
One couple of birds - a pair of blue tits - that didn’t desert us were busy over the weekend showing much interest in our sparrow terrace and hopping in and out of the entrance holes checking out the accommodation. Ever since we put up the terraces they have been occupied by blue tits or great tits and never a sparrow. The boxes put up especially for the smaller birds remain empty. Just goes to show you can’t control nature so at times like this it’s best to give in and just go with it!
Harvested this week
Used from store:

Onions – Red Baron & Fen Globe

Potatoes – Juliette
Used from freezer:


Runner Beans