We may be in the midst of the low winter sun, but that hasn’t stopped me from plotting and planning this year’s blooms and harvests.
For many gardeners, January is a quiet month; not much happens. But I sow my chilli, sweet pepper and aubergine seeds during these first few weeks of the year. These crops need a long growing season, and sowing them early in the year has always worked for me. It was also a tradition my Dad started, and as he’s no longer here, it’s something I do with keen hands and an aching heart.
Getting the seeds to germinate in the heart of winter is always a challenge. And once germinated, they face chilly temperatures and minimal sunlight. Seedlings can easily become leggy and grow into weak plants, failing to achieve all those rich harvests you’ve been waiting all year for.
To ensure my seeds don’t suffer, once sown, they go onto a heat mat until successfully germinated. Thankfully, we have an area in the house that gets a lot of sunlight. When these seedlings have established their ‘true leaves’, I pot them on and again and sit them in the same part of the house, turning the pots occasionally and ensuring their soil remains moist. I’ve found chilli and peppers can be divas at times. For days nothing happens, then suddenly they’ve taken on a growth spurt. You water, tend, even talk to them tenderly to encourage further growth, and nothing happens. But that’s just their nature, don’t take it personally, just keep doing what you’re doing.
Unless it’s been a cold April, this is the time the plants move out into the greenhouse, and come mid-May they’re transferred into their final pots and moved to their growing position in the greenhouse.
Another task I’m constantly doing at the moment, both for myself and several gardening clients, is winter pruning. I’ve never known a job that draws so much attention, it’s like you’re dabbling in the dark arts. I’ve found it’s a topic many people have strong opinions about. Get it wrong and the ghost of Geoff Hamilton will haunt you forever. If you don’t believe me, watch all the different ways of doing it on YouTube. Or, stand in an apple orchard with a pair of secateurs and watch these opinionated folk emerge from the shadows. It’s like a zombie apocalypse as they approach, pointing and moaning at you, baying for your gardening blood.
If you’ve followed our gardening journey over the years, then you know we’re big fans of the Dalefoot ‘peat-free’ compost. Having used their wool compost for all my raised veg beds last year, I was not disappointed. So, this year I’m going one step further. Not only will I be using their veggie compost to help create a couple of new raised beds in the kitchen garden, but I’m giving their ‘Lakeland Gold’ compost a go on all of my flower beds.
It’s no secret that Suffolk has very heavy clay soil, and when I created new flower borders last summer, I quickly realised getting structure into this tightly packed soil was essential if I’m hoping to grow all the blooms I desire over the coming years. I’ve read this is a ‘claybuster’ compost, so I’m hoping for big results.
Finally, talking of flower beds, we’ve designated three areas in the garden which I’m hoping to turn into ‘mini’ meadows this year. We have an area in the kitchen garden we call ‘Bugmetroplis’, which is specifically a home for pollinators and critters. By adding a pollinator seed mix, I’m hoping this will encourage further wildlife. Not only are we giving them a home, but they’re doing their bit for our veggies and flowers.
Next, we have an area containing three mature fruit trees where we eventually hope to home a few chickens. So this will get a shady seed mix. And finally, we have an area in the garden that for the last year has been a dumping ground for our house renovation. Last week, I finally managed to clear the area, and am thinking this is a perfect spot to try out an annual meadow seed mix. All three mixes are from Thompson and Morgan, so once I prep the areas in March, we’ll be following their progress with great interest.