Thursday, 2 February 2012
February at the Allotment
All I seem to hear in recent weather reports is talk of 'The Big Freeze' and Siberian Snowmageddon marching a path straight for the British Isles. But when the sun is bright and the temperature generally about 4°C it seems preposterous that extreme frigid weather could be on its way. February does tend to be the coldest month of the year though so I suppose I shouldn't be too surprised if we get hit with a proper taste of winter before spring is officially on us.
Saying that, time is running out for planting up soft-fruit bushes if you have that in your gardening plan. It certainly wasn't in mine until last week when I came across some extraordinarily cheap bare-root plants at my local supermarket. Now I admit that buying good stock is probably best but at £2.50 a plant I couldn't resist snapping up a Red Gooseberry as well as Raspberry and Loganberry canes. Though the plants I brought home were produced by Wilko in Poland, all seem to be good standard types so fingers crossed they do well.
Raspberry Polka - This variety is known for extra large fruit which look DELICIOUS in photos online. Berries grow on first year wood so the only pruning that needs to be done is a savage cut of all canes down to the ground each winter.
Red Gooseberry Hinnonmaki Red - A self-fertile variety with extreme resistance to mildew, which is apparently its arch nemesis. It's also a very beneficial plant to have around if you want to encourage and feed honeybees which great seeing as my hive will only be about fifty feet away. Gooseberries are relatively new to my palate so I'm looking forward to experimenting with this year's juicy fruit. Gooseberry wine anyone?
Loganberry - Loganberries are a modern cross between a blackberry and a raspberry and have only been around for about 130 years. The cane I bought seems to be the original thorny variety that I can remember growing at my grandmother's house. Unfortunately it will be another year before I can harvest any berries since they only grow on year old wood.
Since I already have two redcurrant bushes in one of my bottom beds I decided to plant my new bushes there as well. I began the operation by unwrapping the canes from their plastic wrapping and putting them in a bucket of water. This will re-hydrate the roots before planting and so ensure that they have a better chance at surviving. While the plants were soaking I dug up a Cape Gooseberry bush I had in the same area and replanted it with some compost into a slightly better spot a couple of feet away. That gave me room to dig three more holes into which I dug in more compost and well rotted farmyard manure.
After 45 minutes in the water, I planted the Raspberry and Loganberry along the bottom of the bed, where I plan to place posts and training wires for both of them to grow on. The Gooseberry went above them about 4.5 feet away. It won't need training so I'll leave it there to merrily bush away and offer the Cape Gooseberry a bit of extra protection from our predominant westerly winds (check out my leaning towers of sprouts and broccoli in the below photo to see what the winter wind can do!). A generous drink of water and dollop of farmyard manure around each plant and they were all settled down in their new beds. I also covered them with horticultural fleece after the below picture was taken just in case we do get some freezing weather. Both the Loganberry and Gooseberry have already begun sprouting leaves and I don't want either of the plants to be damaged by the cold and frost.
After the rest of my plot chores were finished I had a stroll over the wildflower meadow to have a look at how things are progressing. This mild winter has been great for our little seedlings and many of them are leafy and strong and just waiting for a good drop of warm sunshine to shoot up and flower. I really can't wait to see how the patch looks - especially with my bees buzzing around collecting nectar.
And lastly I wanted to give an update on the seeds I sowed inside a few weeks ago. The leeks and onions are up and nearly an inch tall already - I'm fascinated with how quickly they grew and am really looking forward to planting all three varieties out in the garden in late March. Still no sign of ginger shoots coming up though so I'm thinking that I might move the pot out of the conservatory and into a warmer part of the house. Ginger seems to re-shoot every spring though so it could be that it senses that winter isn't quite over yet.
Have you been out pottering around recently? And do you have any personal advice on growing soft fruit? I'd love to hear from you :)