Fine January weather helping gardeners to be ahead of game

I've had no grumbles whatsoever with January. The relatively open weather has allowed us to get so much necessary outdoor work done that there's a feeling of being slightly ahead of the game. As an elderly country friend would say, “The longer this continues, the shorter winter will be.”

Thursday, 30th January 2020, 7:00 pm
Tom Pattinson gets a few strawberry plants and pots them up for early fruiting under cover.

A current priority is the lawn edges which tend to lose their crisp appearance after a year of growth. We tend to forget that grass is a plant that can migrate sideways as well as grow upright. It starts to encroach on borders so the half-moon cutting tool, line and spade help reinstate the sharp edge that pleases the eye.

Just over a year ago, a burst water pipe from the main line to house had to be excavated as it ran under a lawn. Re-turfing covered the patch temporarily, but settlement over the intervening seasons has left a slight hollow. There's no better time than now to rectify that by de-turfing the area, making good with soil and relaying.

Rebuilding part of a drystone wall is ongoing, and it coincides with working steadily through the mixed borders, weeding where necessary and relocating perennial plants that have outstayed their welcome in a certain space.

Soft and top fruit pruning is up to date and I anticipate the greenhouse peach bursting into glorious pink bloom around mid-February, closely followed by the grape vines.

The time is right to dig up a few strawberry plants and pot them up for early fruiting under cover. Using soil from the vegetable garden is OK, and a bench in the unheated greenhouse is ideal because the plants are frost tolerant.

No greenhouse? Don't let that stop you! A few potted strawberries on the indoor windowsill in full light will fruit satisfactorily. There's interest in watching the white (or pink) flowers emerge and fruits develop then ripen. Use cache pot covers to make a more attractive feature and anticipate the magic moment, a taste of indoor, home-grown strawberries ahead of the main season.

All the island vegetable beds are cleared and ready for action, apart from those supporting leeks and sprouts, which will continue cropping until spring arrives. So, it's time to get the new seasonal plan under way.We sourced the first early potatoes a fortnight ago at the garden centre from a decent choice of cultivars on display.

They've also a good range of second earlies and maincrop varieties in stock at present. Although mail order is convenient enough if you`re prepared to wait for delivery, it's preferable to stand face-to-face with a range of plant material and hand-pick what is deemed to be best.

As a result of that visit, sound, seed potatoes of large-egg proportion are now standing in trays, eyes facing skyward, on the greenhouse bench. If a serious frost is forecast, they'll receive an overnight covering of fleece. They could alternatively stand in a cool spare room with plenty of daylight. The idea is to encourage sturdy shoot growth in preparation for spring planting.

'Suttons Foremost' is the main choice because the potatoes emerge from the late June landscape shining white. It's akin to unearthing buried treasure. They taste good too. Now that a favourite variety has been secured, we can add a further variety either new or not grown for a while, at leisure.

Given our limited northern growing season, any potential short-cuts in cultivating vegetables must be explored. Sprouting or "chitting" seed potato tubers in advance of planting is one. This ensures we have a head start when planted and they root quickly, and given reasonable weather go from trowel to forking-up within a ten-week time frame.

Before you realise, March will be here, and according to the gardening tomes we should be sowing pea and bean seeds directly into drills outdoors then. But if the weather's not suitable for germination, precious growing time can be lost. It's better to start some early crops in pots or trays under cover now, then introduce the resultant tough, young rooted plants to the garden in March.

I'm currently sowing peas, five per small pot, and broad beans, one to each pot. They're packed into a domed-top propagating tray and stand in the conservatory until germinated, then go onto the greenhouse bench where the cooler conditions and full light toughen them up. Start your onion sets and shallots into growth now and they too will hit the ground running in spring!