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.