With the days drawing out and the light levels gradually intensifying – by contrast making the dull days seem even gloomier – there’s plenty to be done in the garden now in preparation for the season ahead.
Mid February in the garden and, while there might not be much actual growing to be done, there’s an awful lot of preparation that can be gotten on with. Not to mention purposeful striding about to be undertaken, all the while gesticulating grandly towards nothing in particular, and declaiming vastly overambitious visions of glory for neglected corners of the garden.
I have washed pots, culled old, worn pots and bought in replacements, tidied the greenhouse (after a fashion – doesn’t bear close scrutiny), and finally managed to get some heat into the structure by way of a vastly over-priced paraffin heater which, for all I can fathom, has been manufactured from a couple of old biscuit tins, but seems to do the job admirably.
I’d read one terrible review after another for this type of apparatus, mostly from people who had returned to the greenhouse following the first night’s use only to find the entire place covered in thick black soot. A growing suspicion formed that the people who write these reviews can only be muppets of the highest order, who’ve failed to read the instructions and either left the wicks too long or allowed the heater to run out of fuel.
So far, everything’s working perfectly – and I’m pleased to have got the greenhouse to a reasonably snug and frost free state before seed sowing starts in earnest, if a little too late for several more delicate pelargoniums. (As an aside, the holders of the National Collection of Pelargoniums – the lovely people at Fibrex Nurseries – have ‘jokingly’ refused to sell me any more plants until I sort out my regime of annually culling my tender pellies over winter. At least, I think it was a joke.)
I’ve also decided to introduce some raised beds into the veg patch. My reasons are practical, rather than horticultural – chiefly that it allows me to elevate crops above small dog level, which will put an end to the thankless task of trying to chase Bill off the lettuces, his contribution to our kitchen garden adding an unwelcome piquancy to the salad dressing. Having taken the opportunity to add some timber-edged bark paths around the beds, this should drastically cut down on the amount of time we spend either weeding this part of the garden, or bemoaning the fact that it needs weeding. I’ll have to top up the bark on a reasonably regular basis – it decomposes fairly quickly, and inevitably gets mud trodden into it – but that’s a price I’m willing to pay for convenience.
I’d been mulling the whole raised bed idea over for a week or so, when I came across further inspiration from Naomi Schillinger’s blog Out of My Shed. The sight of Naomi’s posh COR-TEN steel edging gave me raised-bed envy, and I have to admit I was sorely tempted. But I also rather like banging about with bits of wood in the shed and, since I’m also not very good at waiting about once I’ve finally decided upon a course of action, I took myself off to the local timber yard, strapped 12 three metre gravel boards precariously to the roof of the land rover, and drove cautiously home. The boards are pre-treated with a preservative called Tanalith E, which the Soil Association are happy to approve for materials used in the construction of organic veg beds (as long as the material is pre-treated, renewed applications of the preservative would have implications for organic status).
I’m intending to line the inside of the timber walls with black polythene, which should give an extra level of protection, both to the timber, and to our crops.
The process of filling the beds – pencilled in for the weekend – will have the double advantage of distracting me from sowing seeds far too early, whilst simultaneously providing a useful home for the various piles of soil heaped around the garden. Sometimes the place feels more like a bronze age burial site than anything else, though to date no dig here has yielded treasure more valuable than a few old bricks and the occasional Bakelite switch. While I’m about it, I can also add in the contents of the compost heap and the two Bokashi bins we banished months ago to the courtyard beyond the back door, for offences to olfactory decency. Lucky, lucky veg.
All of which activity feels revoltingly timely. Which is just as well – spring is on its way, and by then any feeling of being on top of things in the garden will be a distant memory.