Monday, 18 February 2013

When the sun comes back out to play

Blue sky, cloud, tree, vapour trail – and sun.
If there isn’t an adage suggesting that the weather has the power to make life feel an awful lot better (or worse), then there should be.

After what has seemed to be weeks characterised by, at best, greyness, and at worst, by greyness plus rain, the weekend brought with it a massive improvement.

I have no idea whether the weather is cloudier than it was in my youth or whether I’ve simply become more susceptible to the cloud cover, but blue skies and sunshine are a wonderful restorative for subdued spirits.

The clematis is starting to produce leaves and buds. The weekend’s sunshine – strong enough to leave the skin feeling warmth – was enough to see a half dozen satiny, purple crocuses unsheathe their stamens.

One narcissus has opened fully; several dwarf daffs are on the way. And all around the patio, rising from the black compost in a variety of pots, more daffodils and tulips are standing to attention.

As much as last year taught me about the extraordinary capacity for survival of plants, it is still a wonder to see the vine, which has looked so dead since it shed it’s leaves, now starting to show signs of life again as buds swell almost imperceptibly.

A few dryer days had seen soil in my little potager begin to dry out, making it considerably easier to spend further time digging in the compost and manure.

About a spade down and I’m hitting some sand, but since a tree has grown in this spot, there’s more than enough depth for a few crops.

The plethora of worms borrowing through the thick clay is extraordinary: long ones, stubbier ones, thin ones, fat ones, pink ones, blue ones, red ones. Never in my life have I seen so many.

Progress is slow: gnarly roots below the surface, including those left over from the hedge that had been dying slowly before one of neighbours ripped it out late last summer, get in the way.

Although I’ve got rid of many stones, there are still more.

With one barrow load of manure and something like 100 litres of an all-purpose, organic compost now at least partly dug in, more will be needed simply to bring the soil surface up to the top of the concrete edging.

But after an hour of patiently digging away, it was time to turn my hand to sowing.

Nobody ever really seems to lay down absolute instructions on what you need for this, so I have already accumulated a few things. In the end, what was used is a combination of things.

A propagation tray with vented lid, which was lined with capillary matting and then took a 40-cell tray on top of that.

Les had told me to rub the compost between my hands as I part-filled the tray, and getting my hands into the soil again was another of the day’s pleasures.

Once those are part-filled, they’re patted neatly – another tray does the job superbly – and then you’re ready to start putting seeds in.

Because the potager plot is not ready yet, and because I’m concerned about the temperatures, I decided to start some things off under cover rather than straight outside.

The first pea to go in this year is Meteor, a name that hopefully proves indicative of growing speed, and alongside, broad beans (Witkiem Manita) and runner beans (Painted Lady). Aren't these names delightful?

In too went my two varieties of chilli – a sweet baby orange pepper and a cayenne – plus radishes (French breakfast 3) and spring onions (White Lisbon), the latter two on the basis that I could never get them going at all last year, so maybe a bit of extra care will help now.

It’s all rather experimental – but exciting too. There is, after all, something quite amazing, quite mystical, about taking a dried seed – in some cases large and clearly of what it is, and in others, tiny – and knowing that at least one or two should return to life under the soil and produce yet more of their kind.

The lid of the propagation tray went on top, vents closed: the internet provided the answer on that one – leave closed until signs of germination appear and then open.

And sitting as the whole thing is in the growhouse, that should give the seeds a reasonable amount of protection. Now all that is needed on my part is patience – and regular checks to ensure that the compost is moist.

The improved weather went beyond just allowing some gardening: the cats could spend time outside and, as Sunday morning drew to close, the sun having burnt off the early-morning mist, it was warm enough in our sheltered patio to sit outside for a while, and simply to enjoy a sense of wellbeing.

Altogether, it was the sort of weekend that reminded you of how good it is to be alive.

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