Girton Green Fingers - March 2013
If you are reading this in a lovely early Spring, remember I am writing in early February in order to meet the deadline for the March publication. Conditions on the allotment site have continued extremely wet and inhospitable. Snow made the site beautiful to look over, but the rapid thaw, added to earlier heavy rains, gave cause for concern over the soil's condition for Spring sowing and germination. A soil expert on "Gardeners' Question Time" explained that heavy soakings waterlog the soil, filling the air spaces and caking the surface. Lack of air means the soil remains cold and less fertile.
Yesterday, the first Saturday in February, was a fine sunny day, and for the first time this winter it was good to see a number of plot holders out there starting to tackle their winter-affected plots. After weeks of lay-off, activity is beginning to stir, affording the excitement of a new season's possibilities. There may be further seasonal setbacks, but we are moving to a fresh start in our vegetable and flower production.
This morning, disregarding the textbooks' warnings about working on heavy wet soil, I rough-dug another sizeable area. It was perhaps technically the wrong thing to do, but instinctively one felt it was good to break up the sour waterlogged soil, aerating it, giving it a better chance to warm up as the sun's heat increases. Rough clods looked so much better than the pancaked surface. It was also a setback to all the little weeds already pushing their way through. And apart from that, one benefits so much from getting out there, active again and using recently-neglected muscles.
Following up on last month's excellent article by Peter Seaber on choosing and planting seeds, here's a couple of different approaches to two vegetables. I wrote in January about the diversity of methods we growers use. Well, the normal way to grow beetroot and parsnips is to sow seed directly into the soil. Plenty of people are successful. I wasn't, particularly with parsnips. So for two years now I have sown parsnip seeds into compost-filled toilet roll cardboard tubes. When seedlings are well-established, the whole lot, cardboard and all, are planted into the plot, avoiding root disturbance. Beetroot seeds I sow into trays with individual modules, and when the plants are viable, I carefully prise them out, retaining the compost around them, and plant them out. Last year, I housed both crops under fleece tunnels for a few weeks. The results? First prize for beetroots at the Girton Show (sorry, that's a bit of bragging) and currently we're enjoying our roasted parsnips!
Finally, a tip for those who have gardens but no vegetable space. Near the allotment main gate, there has been a fine clump of ruby Swiss Chard (Leaf Beet). This is a vegetable whose leaves are akin to spinach, and the stalks can be braised to give another vegetable dish. The stalks of the ruby variety are a most striking colour, as the name says, a gorgeous deep ruby. The plant would look splendid among flowering plants, and could provide one of "your daily five". You'll find the seed packets at garden centres and in seed catalogues (Mr Fothergill, Thompson & Morgan etc.).
Things should have moved on a lot when I next write for May.
Graham Jones, Girton Allotment Society
GEORGE THORPE'S TIP OF THE MONTH
Let's prune Clematis 3-2-1. The easiest group to prune is number 3, which flowers after mid-summer and generally has lots of small flowers. Cut it down to 1 - 3 feet from the ground in spring. The fiddlier group number 2 bears large flowers in late spring from last year's stems and again later in summer on new growth. Thus each year some stems are retained, shortened and tied to form an even frame for next year, and the rest are removed. Group number 1 flowers early, and is usually only tidied up each spring, unless it grows too big, in which case chop back it to a foot from the ground after flowering!