Monday, 8 April 2013

Tempestuous weather leaves gardening in a whirl

An anenome finally opens on the patio.
How many fingers can you cross? And is it possible that crossing some toes too will add to the effect?

The weather pepped up over the weekend. It wasn’t a heat wave, but there was enough warmth to give hope that my bones will feel warm sometime soon.

And enough warmth to make you very aware that the warming of the sun on you skin is very, very different to the warming of central heating.

Such an improvement was also just in time to be able to sit outside and appreciate the results of the bulb planing that we'd done last autumn.

The question, as always, is whether it lasts, but the forecasts are looking more optimistic, at least in terms of temperature.

Spot the healthy ones.
It had been a crazy week. Last Tuesday, I got home to find that the sudden sun that day had boiled most of my seedlings in their propagating trays. Most was gone – it remains to be seen whether any of the peas and broad beans recover. I’m holding out faint optimism for one or two at most.

At least there were two small pea plants – the smallest and poorest, it had seemed – that were outside the trays waiting for the extra coir pots needed for repotting, and thus didn’t suffer. They look so healthy by comparison now.

And then, just 48 hours after that, a blizzard hit. Oh, it didn't stick, but the snow was teeming down, swirling around in the wind, obliterating the nearby St Pancras and British Library.

All this while early mornings would, whether bright or gloomy, reveal frosted car roofs.

How on earth do you judge whether to try to harden off plants or open the propagator vents or do anything when the weather is so utterly all over the place?

Grazing sheep at Hackney City Farm.
It is a learning curve – and then some.

As young plants succumbed to massive stress and shock, the leaves of the broad beans turned from vibrant green to grey, and everything else wilted, it felt soul destroying, having judged so well until that moment.

But you have to get right back into the saddle, as they say after a throw, so on Saturday, with the sun at my back once more, I sat down and sowed two more full cell trays.

One was made up of salad vegetables – I’m going to leave radishes and spring onions until I’m back from my brief trip, and then sow them straight into pots – but included two varieties of lettuce, plus more chard.

The second tray was all tomatoes and chilies, of which there have been no sign in the earlier attempts.

Red leaves catching the sun near Columbia Road.
I read somewhere that the entire country is about five weeks behind usual growing times, so perhaps those first ones may yet geminate, while the new sowing should have a much better chance as the temperature seems to be stabilising.

Yesterday, a pleasurable wander down to Columbia Road allowed to to pick up some more fibre pots for potting on.

And alongside the one pea that I sowed to make a trio with the two healthy plants (a Kelvedon Wonder), I added three broad beans (Witkiem Manita) and three runner beans (St George).

All are sitting on trays – but are not in propagators. Let’s see what happens.

Primula on Columbia Road market.
Also yesterday, I added another row of carrots into the potager – there is no sign of anything pushing up from the first sowing, but as with the tomatoes, they may now appear.

And alongside this now sits a row of turnip seeds.

The revelation of the weekend – of the week, indeed – was the discovery of three tiny pea shoots in the potager, just pushing through and unbending to reach the light.

Sown five weeks ago, I was beginning to doubt that any of them would germinate, but it provides yet more evidence for just how tough and resilient plants can be.

They now have a wigwam erected around them – with space for several more plants – and are themselves encircled by strips of copper to (hopefully) help keep the slugs off as they grow bugger and juicier.

Joyfully able to revel in the weather, I also spent time clearing the space in the pot holding the vine, together with the hanging basket, and sowed substantial amounts of nasturtium.

Potager with added wigwam. And car. For context.
That will keep things ticking over for a few days, I think.

But with the forecast suggesting – finally – that temperatures are approaching a seasonal norm and, most importantly, not plunging below freezing almost every night, gardening matters might finally be looking up.

And the lesson of the lost beans and peas must be that, once leaves appear, open the vents.

As a wise man once put it: living is learning. And the same goes for gardening.

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