March, being March, has thrown everything plus the kitchen sink into the spring weather mix so far this year. The month began on a cooler than normal note with north westerlies chilling the early green shoots; cool gave way to cold and cold became five days of sleet, snow and icy nights. We’ve had blustery sunshine, driving rain, slate grey skies and localized flooding. March many weathers has delivered in style, but spring is here and nature’s urge to get up and growing is now insuppressible. As conditions allowed, we stomped the monster’s measure and have managed to get the Javelin parsnip seed to bed, and also move the Stuttgarter sets from their starter pots into terra firma, along with the Ailsa Craig seedlings and a new variety we are trying for the first time this year, Pink Panther, a small reddish-pink French variety.
The Moneymaker have been potted on as have the aubergine and pepper seedlings. We will go again with the petunia seed mix; we took our eye off them and they dampened-off, not surprising given the chill weeks at the start of the month.
The national holiday has come and gone and we, as a nation celebrated in style with many towns and villages organizing St Patrick’s Day parades for the first time since before the pandemic. The usual global greening of many of the world’s well know structural landmarks has been curtailed as a show of acknowledgement of having to be environmentally responsible, but there was the usual national greening with all-and-sundry decked-out in a fabulous array of jumpers and cardies, badges and rosettes, hats and scarves, shamrocks and harps and then to ice the cake it seemed the whole country watched as our rugby team delivered on years and years of promise.
We have, at last, tripped the other side of the equinox. There is now more day than night; not so much dark, and slowly increasing light.
Feverfew and tarragon, camomile and chives, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme all the early fayre of the herb bed, waving green in a celebration of what spring brings.
All things being equal March has so far done what we expect March to do every year. We’ve managed to have the year’s first produce from the measure with some absolutely fabulous early rhubarb from the Timperley Early stools. We have so many packets of seed to empty and sow in the next 4 weeks, but we will balance hope and expectation with effort and creation and perhaps achieve a certain equanimity for the monster’s measure as we stride into spring this year.
Although for some the simple flipping of a calendar page from 31st January to 1st February can herald the arrival of spring, in truth the early weeks of this short month often prove too cold and too damp and too grey to warrant sowing any significant quantity of garden or allotment seeds; exception being those that can be started with a supplementary heat and light source: chilli peppers perhaps, aubergines and a few early tomato varieties if the intent is to extend the season by beginning the successional routine right here at the beginning. And should the month prove inclement throughout, by February’s end spring, even with a hidden wintry sting, is certainly discernible in the borders and hedgerows; with polyanthus and primulas, massing daffodils, muscari and crocuses and as in our space, the first bud burst with the blossom on the miniature Mount Fuji cherry finally showing through the jumbled puzzle of characteristic zig-zag bare winter branches.
By February’s end if spring is not fully sprung, it is at least, springing, and come St. David’s day no matter what the weather, you just know it is spring.
The last day of February; skies are grey with temperatures about normal for time of year. It has been drier than normal since mid-January, and this has also been the experience in quite a number of other European regions, with lower-than-expected snowfall on many a piste and lake levels currently at 30-40% below average late winter levels.
Although drier than normal and with air temperatures a good two degrees above normal for most of the month, the last days of February had air temperatures fall back to normal with a sudden sharper fall for this 1st week of March; a return to chilly days and frosty nights and for this reason more than any other we have not lost the run of ourselves with seeding.
The tomato, aubergine and salvia seed we did sow has germinated and we’ll prick-out and pot on over the coming days. We’ve sown some chilli peppers, and though a little later than usual we’ve sown about 20 pots of sweet-peas. We have gladioli corms and dahlia tubers we’ll start in pots in the coming days, and this coming weekend we source our seed potatoes and begin the chitting process. The onion sets and shallots shall also be laid out, along with the parsnip seed and the trays of summer bedding.
Without warning we once again find ourselves in many-weathered March. We can expect rain and sleet, gales and snow, bright sun and frosty windows and sometimes all in the same day. The light lengthens in March and we begin to get evenings. By the equinox on 21st of the month the days begin to outlast the nights, and this is what really makes the difference, the extra light that comes with spring.
Although into spring, early March still has cold, cold soil; too cold to plant out anything remotely tender, but woody shrubs and perennials can be placed out now on the early empty garden canvas, and early March is most definitely the last chance saloon for pruning currant and berry bushes, and if not done as yet, rose bushes and late flowering climbers.
By month’s end there probably won’t be enough hours in any given day to complete all we plan to do. All the late autumnal and winter prep should begin to pay dividends. The tool racks and hooks empty. The stacks of empty pots and trays migrate to every available light filled surface. Redundant hoes, spades and sprongs are re-vitalized and imbued with a new found usefulness, whilst visitation hours to the monster’s measure extend on a weekly and sometimes daily basis, and sure come daylight saving on 26th of the month we’ll be out plotting away till dusk before end of the month.
It is only in looking back through the sowing diary that the full impact of the pandemic on the monster’s activities is understood. Everything it seems stopped dead in mid-March 2020, and though we continued as best we could once we regained entry in August that year, there was little could be done. Of course we experienced rolling lock-downs the following 18 months or so, and since, like a lot of people and activities we were simply marking time.
But, that was then, and this is; well, time to get going again.
January 26th: Ailsa Craig, onion seed
February 1st: Purple Shaft, aubergine seed
February 4th: Victoria Blue, salvia; Atropatana, Iranian oil salvia
February 12th: Moneymaker, tomato seed; Bedfordshire Champion, onion seed,
February 20th: Californian Wonders, sweet pepper see..
previous years diaries accessible through the main menus
Suddenly it is here, and just as suddenly it is now
Christmas and New Year are come and gone; January’s blues are finally usurped by February’s lengthening days, and by way of added bonus this year we get to celebrate a brand spanking new public holiday right here at the beginning of February: Lá Fhéile Bride; St. Brigid’s Day.
Although this 1st day of February has always held a special cultural significance, and on many trains of thought is considered the first day of the Celtic spring not only here in Ireland but across many parts of north-western Europe, it is only here, this year, that the day itself has been officiated as a national public holiday and placed on a par with St. Patrick’s Day.
So it is that the milk once again flows in the bellies of the ewes; snowdrops, though tiny are gleaming white, catkins dangle as blue tits check out nesting suitability of every nook and cranny and the first of the daffodilly golden trumpets have unfurled, heralding, if not the arrival of spring, then perhaps at least that winter’s end is not too distant now.
But February being February, often hides a wintry sting in its tail.
The monster’s measure was kept ticking-over during the darker days. Drills and raised beds were cleared and covered before midwinters with running repairs to gate-posts and fence-lattes carried out as needed. Empty pots were rubbed and scrubbed, and tools were put under cover.
The measure increased somewhat at winter’s end with the acquisition of an overgrown and sadly neglected polytunnel that sat unused at the end of the allotment site these last number of years. This twenty-foot-long eyesore has kept us more than busy with the clearance of its crop of six-foot-high creeping thistle from every square inch. It was a challenge, and it has been a minor achievement to make notable progress, and so hopefully come April-May it should have a totally new aspect.
Winter can be a challenge to any gardener, from the backyard potager to the large estate manager there is much to do in preparation for that which the winter season brings to the garden. Many tasks need doing to make sure the garden pulls through in some semblance of order once winter passes. But with that said, an acknowledgement also that the dark season must be allowed to do what it does best: vernalize.
Though winter can be daunting to the gardener, there are few things more disheartening and demoralizing to the allotment gardener as the totally dilapidated aspect of a large allotment site during the winter months where many plots are purposely allowed go to absolute wrack and ruin: acres of rotted timbers, mangled netting, falling down knock-me-up-sheds and rusted homemade cloche frames; wheelless barrows, tineless forks and tangless hoes. This seems to be a specific peculiarity of the Irish and British Isles allotment sites for we’ve not experienced this level of expected and accepted horticultural neglect elsewhere, and we have visited allotment sites in many other countries and continents. It is as if site management will accept anything so long as the income stream is maintained. And so as long as annual rent and con-acreage stipend is paid well then you can grow and sow as you please, or simply create a plotted blot for the allotment landscape, with impunity, so long as you renew your lease. Although everyone else can see it staring them in the face (and although some allotment sites do not allow livestock), no-one must mention this particular elephant haunting the allotment sites. Everyone pays their money and you learn to work with what you get, and should such elephants be always named Abandonment well so be it,
However, back to allotment future with focus firmly on the monster’s own measure this year’s sowing diary is started: Ailsa Craig and Bedfordshire Champion onion seed are sown under cover since the end of January. We also sowed some salvia seeds ‘Victoria Blue’ along with some foraged Salvia Atropatana seed compliments of the National Botanic Gardens last October, and today we got to put Moneymaker tomato seeds into modular trays; once again under cover.
Last week a neighbouring plot-holder kindly gifted us some Aubergine seed. Returning from Portugal before Christmas she purchased a packet of Aubergine seeds for £1.09. the pack containing upwards of 2000 seeds. A pack of 12 Aubergine Seeds averages £3.99 in most high-street garden centres in our fair city. Wow! And as most are selectively blind to Colonel Hathi’s troop on the dilapidation of allotment sites perhaps it would prove redundant to attempt to draw attention to Gajjini or Hathi Jnr on the shop shelves. But a bargain is a bargain, with thanks to our neighbour. We’ll leave that particular jungle to another day.
Spring beckons: green fingers and grubby nails await. Mrs Dirtdigger has been removing thistle root inch by inch and by week’s end we should be re-assembling the polytunnel grow beds in good time for the off come first week of March. Winter has been long but we remember that February is the shortest month. We have packets of seed and packages of bulbs to set out and sow; sets to start and tubers to chit. The seed chest is full to overflowing, and they won’t grow in the packets; time to move the diary on we thinks, but mindful still of the lingering chill in the early February air.