IT can be hard to stay positive about the garden in the face of floods and strong winds, but it is worth remembering the lift in spirits that any fine bright day can bring. I like to look back at photographs of the garden on a warm spring, or summer, day and remind myself that those days aren’t far away.
In fact the garden is moving towards spring at an incredible rate. Some daffodils are already finished and although my snowdrops are only just opening I know that some gardens have had them in flower for weeks. Buds are bursting on fruit bushes and many shrubs too; sap is rising in trees and it really won’t feel like long until the wetness of winter is a distant memory.
In the greenhouse
If you have a polytunnel or greenhouse, then it’s worth getting inside it and doing some work. Things may have slid a little over the past few weeks and it is time to tidy up so you are ready for the new sowing season.
Check brassicas and remove any mouldy or spotted leaves. There may be more of these than usual and it is a good idea to get things cleaned up and spores removed before they spread to affect new plants. Tidy piles of pots and wash them in the bath if it isn’t sunny enough to do this job outside.
If you have any peas, beans, lettuce, etc that have outgrown pots, then get them into the ground as fast as you can. It is worth drawing up a planting plan first so you know exactly where you will put what. Try to move things round every year so any plant-specific problems can be minimised.
This is also the point of the year when glass or plastic coverings benefit from a good wash. This improves light levels and gets rid of algae plus stuck-on leaves.
Wait until a fine day before tackling this job, but aim to get it done by the end of February. To do now that will put you ahead of the spring rush.
Things will get busy in the garden in a few weeks’ time, so it is good to think of jobs One important job is to look after your tools and to get them into good order so they can make jobs easier to do.
There’s nothing worse than a pair of secateurs that sticks on every cut and especially if you are trying to prune apple trees and soft fruit bushes.
Use a wire brush to remove rust. Oil all moveable parts and sharpen blades that are meant to have a good cutting edge. While you are at it, you can oil wooden handles and make sure that there’s no mud still clinging to forks and spades.
The lawnmower needs a bit of care too. You might be able to change spark plugs, oil and filters, yourself, as well as checking that the blades are sharp enough and cables aren’t frayed.
If you can’t do these things, then don’t expect a mower to run for years on a wish and a prayer. Take the mower to someone who knows how to service it and you will be all ready for a summer of cutting with a cared for machine.
If you sowed aubergines in January, then they will be ready to pot on now. Prick each seedling out carefully into an 8cm (3in) pot and make the hole deep enough that leaves can sit close to the surface of the compost. Take care not to damage small plants and water them in, so the compost is damp.
Keep plants growing at 20C and in good light. Aubergines can be kept on a warm window ledge for several weeks, but do put a clear plastic bag over the top of the pot to maintain a warm and humid growing environment.
Tomatoes, peppers, melons and more can be sown at the end of February. Buy seeds now if you haven’t done so already and take the time to make a careful choice.
Bargain seeds aren’t always a bargain if they don’t germinate, or if the plants that they grow produce tiny crops. Stick to varieties that have done well in the past or that do well for other people. It’s also worth experimenting with some new varieties, but don’t rely too heavily on what isn’t tried or tested.
Time to sow
Broad beans and peas: under cloches outdoors if the ground is dry enough to dig.
Spring lettuce: in pots or trays to plant out in a few weeks’ time.
Early potatoes: do well if planted in a greenhouse, polytunnel or cold frame now.
Keep sowing rocket, spinach, mustard greens and mizuna for a tasty spring mix of salad and greens.
• Joyce Russell is a West Cork gardener/writer, and author of ‘The Polytunnel Book — Fruit and Vegetables All Year Round’, the best-selling guide to undercover growing.