So what did you get for Christmas?
If you were a gardener perhaps HTA Garden Vouchers, and you are now wondering what to buy with them. Well, that’s my job to give you ideas.
Where I would start is with the seed catalogue and try and grow a few things this year that you have never grown before.
There is everything from vegetables to flowers and if you think that you haven’t the patience to grow from seed, look at the plug plants as these have had the hard work done for you.
However don’t think that just because they turn up like a small plant you can pop them outside, it still takes time to grow them on ready for the garden. But if you have a greenhouse, warm shed, or even just plenty of windowsill space, you are away.
Talking of growing on.
I remember Jack Kinns up at his son’s nursery at Lambourne End popping the Chrysanthemum stools, you know what I mean “clumps of plants” up from underneath the staging, and popping them into old fish and tomato boxes with a sandy compost, and watering them with his Haws watering can – not soaking just moistening. “Come back in a couple of weeks and you can help me take cuttings” he’d say. I learned a lot from Jack. And yes, we gardeners are always learning.
I also joined him taking Irish cuttings of Dahlias, more of that in the future.
Talking of Dahlias, check those that you saved have not dried out at all, and get rid of any that have rotted. Then, if the dried-up ones are sound, you need to soak them in warm water for a good hour then check them and they should have plumped up. Take them out and then thoroughly dry them off.
Dusting with sulphur dust will help if you can find it, then place them in dryish compost or similar and leave them for a bit longer.
I will give you a shout when to start them off.
If you are lucky enough to have a greenhouse, you can still keep sowing winter lettuce, salad leaves, radish, and spring onions. You will have to be patient, but there is nothing better than homegrown is there?
Staying with vegetables, have you finished your winter digging?
To think that 20-years ago we would have finished the digging by Christmas, not worried about the environment so much, and come January the cold cold weather and frosts would have broken down the soil.
Now though, the weather is so unpredictable so who knows?
Let’s get organised and I’ve already mentioned those seed catalogues, now we need to organise the vegetable plot.
I divided mine into four – One for cabbages, sprouts (even though I don’t eat them) broccoli and kale; Another for onions, leeks, and garlic; A third for peas and beans – don’t forget to leave room for a late sowing of runner beans in June/July to run into autumn; And last but not least, the root vegetables and the sweet corn.
You may have noticed that I’ve left out salads. Well, I always work salad crops into any gaps that appear as they are fairly swift from seed to harvest.
I’m often asked why we move crops from one area to another within the plot, and it’s all about controlling plant disease as we have fewer treatments available for those today – clubroot on those Brassicas and white rot on onions to name only two.
I always advise readers, and listeners to my WorldRadioGardening show, to rotate crops – however large or small the plot.
How many of you have hanging baskets and containers and troughs out on the patio and against the house?
So though you think we’ve had a bit of rain, it won’t have hardly touched them I can tell you.
Make sure you deadhead and water those baskets as the wind, sun, and cold really does dry them out.
And if you haven’t lifted those pots off the ground, see you do as if not when you water it will stick in the bottom get waterlogged and then frosted.
I hate to mention it but I am talking winter bedding not summer leftovers, and it’s never too late to plant a basket and even push in a few bulbs that you forgot to plant as well.
Now, we have organised your veg plot, but what about your borders?
Maybe you are planning a new one and if you are the best way to improve the ground is to add compost or soil improver – the latter you can buy for about £65 for a bulk bag and it’s well worth it.
The secret of using either is to put it on thick and dig it in ready for the fresh new plants.
Then what I do is get tree and shrub compost and after having laid out the trees, shrubs, or herbaceous plants, tip some round each pot and as they are planted the compost is mixed in with the soil and that is sufficient.
What about your existing borders?
We are encouraged today to ‘not dig’ – why you ask? Well, because it releases Carbon Dioxide and other harmful gases into the atmosphere. Not environmentally friendly at all. So whatever compost you are using, whether soil improver or home-made, spread it out on the bed about three inches deep and let the worms do their work.
I drive through the Crouch Valley Wine country in Essex on a regular basis, and it feels that they have only just finished picking the grapes and it will be time to start pruning them.
Grapes such as Pinot Meunière and one I had never heard of called Solaris are used on these south-facing slopes to produce some great wine, and Crouch Ridge winery has achieved many accolades for wines such as their Pinot Noir Rose’ and their Sparkling Blanc de Blanc.
Why am I talking wines? Because this is the month I prune vines.
Yes, the books tell you December but I copied the French (who know more than a thing or two about wine) who often do their pruning after Christmas. I do the same and it’s always worked for me.
Since most of us grow grapes along wires or trellis and very often on trellises against walls and fences, I’ll share with you how I do it.
The laterals that run sideways or cordons are just like we do fruit trees, then each side shoot from this we cut just above the second or third bud leaving a spur which will produce fresh growth and next year’s crop. If you need to add another cordon, don’t cut one of these side shoots and tie it in instead.
The vineyards I mentioned earlier generally use a Guyot method where last year’s fruiting stems are removed, and a couple of new stems are chosen and trained along the guide wires.
I planted a vineyard some years ago and I really must go back and find out how it’s doing.
And if you are a producer of wine, you know where to send it for tasting!
So that’s it from me for now.
I hope 2021 has been a good one for you and your garden, and I wish you all the best for the New (gardening) Year!
Ken Crowther is always here to help with your gardening questions and regularly posts videos to his GardeningWithKen YouTube channel. If you need something specific, Ken offers consultancy and other garden services – please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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