Grandad’s Garden: February

Man digging garden

Foreword:

The good lady wife called me in from the garden and told me that it is about time I shared my gardening wisdom with you all. I haven’t told her yet but she presented me with quite a conundrum: You see, between you and I it is not my wisdom at all. It came from a pile of dusty old pamphlets issued monthly by the British Government towards the end of World War 2 and like most husbands I have been kidding her all along that I knew what I was doing!

So I have reproduced the pamphlets for the modern internet age but would ask you all to bear in mind that they were first published back in 1945. They are full of invaluable information, but there are products mentioned that are no longer available, although I am sure your local garden centre will have the modern equivalent. The addresses given will be long gone and some of the chemicals maybe illegal to use nowadays.

I have left the guides unedited however to preserve their historic value, I hope you find them as useful as I have over the years.

Grandad.

“February Fill Dyke” may live up to that old country title––or it may not. We shall not be so rash as to prophesy what the weather will be, for though it may be snowing or raining in the North, the South may be basking in the sun––even if a wintry one. However, if the weather be fine in February, we shall be anxious to get on to the vegetable plot; if it is not, then we can do a bit of thinking and planning indoors. We can profitably take stock of where we stand and make sure that we are ready to start operations as soon as the weather is right and the ground fit. Never work the soil when it is too wet and sticky and clings in lumps to your boots. You do more harm than good by walking on it and working it when it is like that. And that applies also to sowing seeds, for seeds sown in cold, wet soil will rot instead of germinating, or they will make but poor growth.

If you can settle down to do a bit of thinking and planning––and plotting things out on paper––it will be worth your while to read carefully what is said later about the importance of crop rotation. It may save you a headache in the months ahead if you plan the lay-out of your vegetable plot. And when you do, bear in mind what you have got growing now in the way of vegetables. If you have an abundance and a good selection––and your family eats what you grow––then you won’t go far wrong if you stick to last year’s plant (rotating your crops, of course). But if your wife, or whoever runs the kitchen department, complains that there is little or nothing in the garden and that shop prices are high, it would pay you to plan so that you grow your own winter vegetables––especially greens. But before you get down to planning, have you yet got or ordered what you will need when you can start outdoor operation? These are the items:

SEEDS * SEED POTATOES * FERTILISERS

Have you got those SEEDS?

Perhaps if the weather is suitable, you will be sowing broad beans (unless black fly has broken your heart!) and spinach in February––and planting shallots and Jerusalem artichokes (if you like them). Have you got these items or ordered them? If not, get busy. And if you have planned all you are going to grow this season, order all your requirements right away from your seedsman or nurseryman.

The value of a good strain of seed is tremendous, so deal with a good supplier. And, if you have not already done so, write for his catalogue without delay. You may not be able to get your favourite varieties, but the catalogue will show you what is available, and your supplier will advise you about suitable alternatives to your favourites. And use the order form he supplies: it is more easily dealt with than an order written on odd pieces of paper. Be patient with the seedsman and don’t worry him by constant reminders. He’s got his troubles, too.

Don’t forget to “sprout” your Seed Potatoes

If you haven’t ordered your seed potatoes, do so at once. As soon as they reach you, set them up to sprout (rose end uppermost) in shallow boxes in a cool (though frost-proof), dry shed, where they can get plenty of light and produce the short, sturdy shoots that make for earliness and high yield. Don’t let them get even slightly chilled, for that’s enough to kill the “eyes”.

Have you got your NATIONAL GROWMORE FERTILISER?

You will need it for dressing your land before sowing and planting. It contains the three essential plant foods in balanced proportions, and 42 lb. is enough for 300 square yards. The January “Guide” explained how it should be used.
OTHER REMINDERS

Finally, see that your tools are in good condition for use. When you start outdoors you will need a line for straightness and pegs to mark the rows. And you would find a 6-ft. rod, marked off in 6in. and 3 in. sections, very useful.

And continue to have a look at your stored crops to see that there is no damage or decay. Rub off any potato sprouts on your eating crop in store. Lift any outdoor parsnips to check growth, storing them under protection at the north side of a fence or wall, if you can.

CROP ROTATION is most important

Some gardening beginners have no doubt been puzzled by the term “crop rotation.” It sounds a bit mysterious, but it is really quite simple. And it is the only sound basis for vegetable growing. To be a successful gardener you must be methodical. What does “crop rotation” mean? Simply arranging your cropping is such a ways to avoid growing the same kinds of crops on any section of your plot one year after another. To grow the same crop on the same ground year after year is bad gardening for several reasons. There is also the risk that diseases and pests will be increased in the soil to attack again the following year. Rotation of vegetable crops affects the condition of your land in four important ways:
~It ensures that every part of your plot carriers, at regular intervals, crops that require thorough soil cultivation.
~It helps to maintain the content of plant food and humus in all parts of the plot. Some crops will repay for heavier dressing of fertilisers than others, and some will get what farmyard manure or compost is available.
~ It helps to control weeds, for different crops need different cultivations at different seasons; though weeds may withstand the appropriate cultivations for one crop, they may be kept down by the cultivations for another crop.
~ It helps to control pests and diseases.

The Ministry of Agriculture recommends a three-year “crop rotation” for a 300 sq. yd. plot, and its official cropping plan, which is free for the asking, has enjoyed a wide circulation.

It was not intended that gardeners should follow it slavishly, for what suits one part of the country does not suit another. And people have different tastes in vegetables. The Ministry’s plan aims at two important things––crop rotation and a sufficiency of vegetables throughout the year, especially in winter when so many gardens still show the scarcity of crops that results from poor planning.

The right approach for the gardener is, first to find out what vegetables grow satisfactorily in his neighbourhood, and then decide which of them he will grow, bearing in mind his family’s likes and dislikes. He should then divide his plot into three equal parts. For simplicity we will call them A, B and C. On plot A he will grow the first year potatoes and other roots––parsnips (if his family like them), carrots, beet and so on. On plot B he will grow green vegetables –– all the cabbage family; and on plot C he will grow peas, beans, onions and leeks.

If farmyard manure is difficult to get (it is in most districts) and the gardener has to eke out the compost we hope he has made, he should manure each year only on the section that is to grow peas, beans, onions and leeks. So in three years the whole plot will be manured.

Now what happens to the plan the second year? He should just move his three groups round. On plot A, go the peas and beans, onions, etc.; on plot B, the potatoes and root crops and on plot C, the green vegetables.

In the third year he should move them round again––on plot A, the green vegetables; on plat B, the peas, beans, onions and leeks; and on plot C, the potatoes and root crops. Then, in the fourth year, he will begin the rotation all over again.

By this simple system you not only ensure that the ground is kept in reasonably fertile condition all over, but it helps you to gauge how much ground you should devote to the various kinds of crops. The rotation can be worked equally well in the garden as on an allotment, but in each case space must be left somewhere at one end (say, 6 foot wide) for the seed bed, marrow bed, compost heap and so on.

It is much easier to arrange a proper rotation when starting from scratch; but even a garden that was worked last year could be brought into line by remembering where your crops were last season and trying to plant the appropriate vegetables this year to follow them up.

Crop rotation will help with liming, too, if your soil needs lime. It is a good idea to lime each year that part of the plot that carried potatoes and root vegetables the year before.

Now for the jobs you can do outdoors in February, if the weather is “open” and the soil workable. Don’t forget to rake in a good general fertiliser, such as “National Growmore”, a few days before sowing or planting.

Sow BROAD BEANS

The earliest and often most successful crops of broad beans are obtained by sowing in autumn (but not in the North, unless protected by frames or cloches): but a second sowing can be made during February. The broad bean does best on land manured for a previous crop, such as potatoes.
It is best to sow two lines of seed to each row, with 6 in. between the seeds and 2 ft. 6 in. between the rows. But if only one line of seeds is sown, 2 ft. between rows will be sufficient.
Sow 2 in. deep in holes made with a dibber, dropping one good seed in each hole. Or make a flat-bottomed drill 2 in. deep. Space the seed out 6 in. apart.

Sow SPINACH

The Ministry’s cropping plan suggests that summer spinach (for those who like it) should be sown in mid-April. But if you wish, you can make successional sowings from February to May in drills 1 in. deep and 12 in. apart. Thin out the plants as soon as they are large enough to handle, first to 3 in. apart, removing alternate plants about a fortnight later. You can cook these thinnings. On light soils spinach runs to seed fairly quickly in hot weather, so hoe regularly and water freely at such times, if you can.
Spinach likes well manured ground.

Plant SHALLOTS

Shallots are easier to grow than onions and some gardeners prefer them for that reason; in fact, shallots are a sort of hardy perennial onion grown annually from small bulbs or “sets”. You can also grow shallots from seed, but these bulbs are really small onions and are useless for replanting and should be used up each year.

The Ministry’s cropping plan for a 300 square yard plot suggests two rows of shallots to be planted in February. Sets of medium size (20 to 25 to the lb.) should be used and each set should produce five or six large bulbs. 2 lb. of bulbs should be about enough for one row of 30 ft.

Plant in rows 1 ft. apart and 6 in. or 9 in. between the bulbs, leaving the top of each bulb just showing above soil level. Crops are usually mature by early July and should be taken up, carefully dried and stored.

Save, for replanting, sufficient medium-sized bulbs from strong, healthy plants (mark them with a stick during the growing season). Avoid using bulbs from plants that have made but poor growth and may show yellow and green mottled leaves which suggest virus disease.

Plant Jerusalem Artichokes

While the Ministry’s plan does not suggest artichokes, your family may like them. And if you keep poultry or rabbits they will like them, too. Another good point is that you can grow artichokes in any odd corner, and they can be useful to screen a shed or the manure or compost heap. Though they can put up with rougher conditions than most vegetables, they will repay for good cultivation.

You can plant artichoke tubers in February or March in drills 6 in. deep. Set the tubers 12 in. to 15 in. apart, leaving 2 ft. 6 in. between rows. When the plants appear, hoe between them and draw the soil towards them. You cut the tall stalks down in early winter, leaving the tubers in the ground and lifting as you need them. Keep a number of tubers for replanting to provide a supply for the following year. Though artichokes are perennial and can be left in the ground several years, it is well to lift and replant a section every year so that the land doesn’t get weedy or overcrowded.
Do you grow RHUBARB?

If you do, February or March, when growth is starting, is the time to divide old roots, using a sharp spade or knife, and cutting so that each piece contains at least one or two good buds. Rhubarb likes deeply-dug and well-manured ground (use compost if you cannot get manure), for the plants usually have to stay put for several years.
Plant in a sunny spot about 2 ft. apart, and do not pull any of the stalks from plants divided this year.

Get ready for “RUNNERS”

Though you will not be sowing your “runners” until, say, mid-May, now is the time to get the ground prepared for them, if it is not already. They need good cultivation and do best when grown where the soil is trenched and dressed with a good dressing of well-rotted manure or compost. So if you have not manured the particular plot where your beans are to go, take out a trench a spit deep (see below), work in a liberal dressing of manure or compost into the lower spit and then replace the top spit.
Remember, when ordering your seeds, that half-a-pint of runner beans will sow a row 50 ft. long.
“A spit deep” is the depth of a garden fork prong.

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    anthonyvenable110 said,

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