Making the most of the mild weather: Sue's January blog

It’s a new year in the garden and on the allotment, with plenty to keep Sue Bradley busy as she seeks solace from seasonal sniffles.

A monstrous winter cold and its less than lovely side effects meant I wasn’t feeling especially sociable towards the end of 2019.

Nevertheless the weather was mild, even sunny on a few occasions, which encouraged me to combine self-prescribed doses of vitamin C and zinc with good measures of fresh air and daylight imbibed while weeding and edging the flower borders at home, and, as things improved, sorting out some of the perennial weeds on the allotment that managed to get the better of me last summer.

It never ceases to amaze me how the simple act of turning soil can be such a brilliant tonic, and it’s not just me who thinks so, with scientists linking the soil-dwelling bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae with increased levels of serotonin, a chemical produced by nerve cells that helps us feel more relaxed and happy. It’s great to get ahead with preparing the soil, but mindful that there’s likely to be plenty of inclement weather to come, I’m covering freshly dug patches with a liberal helping of leaf mould to help protect it.

Buried Treasure

One digging session revealed a decent crop of potatoes that I had failed to harvest over the summer. Remarkably few of the tubers had been attacked by slugs, which meant there will be plenty to keep us going in the weeks ahead. Given the volume of potatoes and their tasty waxy texture I’m pretty sure the variety is Charlotte, which I’ve been growing for several years.

Further mood enhancers include the sight of snowdrops and daffodils tentatively pushing their steely leaves through the cold soil, bringing the promise of colourful blooms within just a few weeks, and the multi-coloured shoots of garlic planted during the autumn, together with occasional visits from birds, the most memorable of which was a flock of long-tailed tits.

These cheery little balls of fluff, known in some parts of the country as bum barrels or mumruffins, stand out with their pale-pink breasts, black heads and elongated tail feathers. They’re also pretty noisy, filling the air with their high-pitched twittering and trilling calls as they flit between branches.

potatoes

Talking Turkey

Other interesting sights around the allotment include the appearance of clusters of turkey tail fungus on some of the pieces of dead wood lying close to the pond. This eye-catching mushroom, known scientifically as Trametes versicolor, assists with the decomposition process by recycling nutrients from dead or decaying organic matter. It also provides food and shelter for different creatures.

While December and January can seem like pretty uninspiring months in the garden or on the allotment, there are plenty of jobs to do when the weather isn’t too wet or bitingly cold. These include spreading chicken manure pellets around the emerging spring bulbs, which will provide them with plenty of nourishment as they flower and store up goodness for the following year. A liberal topping of well-rotted leaf mould provides a little extra protection for the soil and prevent cats and dogs from helping themselves to the pellets – there’s no accounting for taste!

Other jobs include getting on top of pruning, such as currant and gooseberry bushes, and adding fruit and vegetable peelings, soft cardboard and egg shells to the compost heap.  It’s surprising how much organic matter can be accumulated over just a few days – especially over Christmas – and all of it can be rotted down to a valuable humus to spread over the soil in just a few months’ time.

 

Talking Turkey

A Stitch in Time

At home I’ve been busy repairing my gardening gloves, sewing up holes in the finger tips so that I can continue wearing them for a few more months; organising seed packets and plotting my growing campaign for the year ahead.

Already the days have started to lengthen, imperceptibly to begin with but gradually building to push back the darkness as the weeks roll by. Come the third weekend of January I’ll be able to make the annual trip to Dundry Nurseries’ Potato Weekend to pick up the season’s seed potatoes, after which it will just be a matter of weeks before seed sowing starts in earnest.

The New Year is just a week old but full of promise for my wildlife-friendly allotment and garden and I’m looking forward to spending lots of time in both during the weeks to come.