Memories of Summer - Sue's February blog

February may be a short month, even when it’s a leap year, but there’s plenty to do to prepare the allotment for both a wildlife-friendly and crop-rich year ahead, says Sue Bradley.

February always feels like a non-event on the allotment, with cold and dull weather conspiring to keep me indoors as much as possible.

So far this year we’ve seen a lot of rain and wind, and even one or two crispy cold snaps, but there have also been some spectacularly sunny periods that have inspired me spend a couple of hours on the plot here and there.

Memories of summer

And if further motivation were needed, I found it a day or so ago in a pot of homemade strawberry jam unearthed at the back of a kitchen cupboard. Fragrant, sweet and with a subtle hint of acidity, this sticky preserve reminded me that one or two of the strawberry beds on the allotment needed some serious work to rid them of the perennial weeds that would no doubt rob my hungry and thirsty plants of nutrients and moisture once the weather warmed up.

In the end I decided to relocate a couple that were particularly badly infested with couch grass and bindweed and cover the spot where they had been with layers of cardboard and horse manure in the hope of suffocating any roots that remained. This year I’ll treat this area as a hot bed and grow courgettes and pumpkins on it while the muck rots down, before moving onto ground-cleansing potatoes the year after.

Other perennial crops I’ve been appraising include the ‘Taunton Deane’ kale, which has been providing me with lots of leafy goodness throughout the winter. The current patch is starting to look a bit woody, but I’m conscious that it provides cover for hedgehogs and other creatures throughout the summer. With this in mind I’ve taken some cuttings to bring on new plants, which I’ll put in and allow to grow to a reasonable size before I set about removing the others.

Itchy Fingers

Gardening friends often talk about having ‘itchy fingers’ in February; a desperate urge to start sowing seeds as the days lengthen.

Previous experience has taught me not to try and get too ahead of myself as light levels are still reasonably low, but I’ve put in a few sweet peas, broad beans and tomatoes just for starters. Over the winter I’ve been collecting toilet tissue tubes for plants that like an especially long root run, such as peas and beans. Once they’re in the ground the cardboard will rot away, allowing the roots free access to the soil.

Sunny Side Up!

Up on the allotment I’ve been surveying the progress of autumn-planted onions and garlic, or rather garlic that was transplanted after I found several ‘lost’ bulbs that had already started pushing up

shoots. This year I’m experimenting by putting alliums into newly-made beds on the south-facing side of the plot and they seem very happy to be soaking up the sunshine.

What I hadn’t expected, however, was that some lettuce seeds within the homemade compost used on these beds would not only germinate but still be growing in February. At this rate I’ll be able to look forward to salad in March!

Other autumn-sown seeds include a bed of scorpion weed, Phacelia tanacetifolia, close to the little pond. It’s already formed a dense carpet of green, ferny leaves and should be a mass of purple flowers come May, or even earlier if current progress is anything to go by.

Ahead of the Game

Everything seems to be well ahead of itself this year: at home some of the snowdrops were up and flowering by the second week of January and early February has yielded a daffodil. Seeing the first snowdrops forcing their steely heads through the cold soil is such a joy and, viewing them up close, it’s hard not to fall in love with their delicate green markings. I would in no way consider myself a galanthophile, as those amassing large collections of named snowdrops are known, but I can understand the motivation that drives some people to seek interesting new cultivars. I dare say these tiny white flowers are providing plenty of nectar and pollen to any insects daring to venture out at this time of the year.

On the allotment the rhubarb patch also seems a little more ahead than usual, so much so that the chap on the neighbouring plot commented on it the other day and encouraged me to put a bucket over part of it to force some tender pink shoots.

That delicious little pot of strawberry jam was a good reminder that the cold, wet and windy weather doesn’t last forever and that I should use whatever time I can grab on the allotment to get ahead as much as I can. So far I’ve got off to a good start, but the rate of growth I’m seeing all around me is a salutary reminder that nature isn’t far behind!

Snowdrops

Sue Bradley