February frustrations are growing!

By Shell Tarling at

Is anyone else getting increasingly frustrated with waiting for the growing season to get under way, or is it just me? I blame the commercial world that we live in. Every which way I turn at the moment I am bombarded with e-mail deals, magazine offers and not to mention the shop displays, all telling me I should be seed sowing, plug planting and buying my entire stock of summer flowering plants right now!
A recent trip to the garden centre greeted me with the most abundant colourful display of their summer bulb range. How tempted was I to walk away with a basket brimming with their sensational summer bulb and corm offers; Gladiolus, Crocosmias (or Montbretia if you’re old school), Lillies, Begonias, Iris and more? I managed to keep my money firmly rooted in my pocket. As tempting as it was, I believe it’s too early to be planting these, and yes, I know it says on the packet that you can. However, as much as February can trick us into believing spring is here, it is known to be a very wet month and I don’t want my money to end up rotting in the ground. So I’m going to wait until at least March before buying these.
I decided to go and get my monthly fix of gardening magazines instead, only to find myself even more frustrated! Pages upon pages of articles about the best vegetables to grow this year and step by step instructions on how to maximise success with seed germination (always useful), and some even giving away free seed packets (also a bonus). What they don’t warn you about is the long gap between germination and actually planting them into the ground – and what happens in between.
I’ve fallen into this trap before and it taught me the valuable lesson of patience. With no greenhouse, cold frame or propagator to get me started, I enthusiastically set about planting enough seeds to create a harvest that would feed the world ten times over. Much to my husband’s delight (not) I turned the conservatory into what he described as something resembling the set of the film Jumanji.
I experienced my first introduction to Damping Off (a fungal infection causing my young seedlings to collapse because the conditions were too damp), a combination of high humidity and poor air circulation. Nothing I could do about that, so unfortunately I had to start again.
Once my new seedlings had developed they started to become very tall and spindly (also known as leggy). They were not getting an adequate amount of light as the days were just not long enough, and so they were stretching up to reach as much light as they could. I potted them on (moved them into the next pot size up) and made sure that I planted the stems quite deep to give the plant support. They continued to grow well, in fact I found that I was running out of space for them. Now here comes the dilemma that the magazines don’t forewarn you about…it was still too cold to move them outside to harden off.
This is a process by which you would normally place them in a cold frame, where they can acclimatise to the outside temperature but still remain protected. I didn’t have a cold frame, and there were still a good few weeks to go before the risk of frost would pass. So what did I do? Well, moved a lot of the furniture around and lived with a makeshift greenhouse attached to my living room for much longer that I had anticipated. Needless to say, I will be waiting until at least March before I even think about sowing any seeds.
There are still plenty of other gardening tasks that can be completed this month however, and it really does pay to be prepared. Remember the weeds that I talked about back in September last year? Well, they’re still growing but not particularly quickly at the moment so it’s a great time to get out there and get rid of some of them. Brambles in particular are slightly easier to remove from the ground at the moment as the soil is damp, and digging them out with a mattock will certainly keep you warm.
In anticipation of getting my seeds started, I have been thoroughly washing out my trays and pots, to ensure no bacteria from last year will be transferred to my new seedlings this season. I have a new greenhouse that I am eagerly awaiting some help to construct, and I will be putting in some new raised beds this month and another cold frame too. Now is a really good time to carry out any constructional work like this, while you have the bare bones of the garden structure in front of you.
Finally, I have a question for you. As this is the beginning of a new growing season and we have the whole year ahead of us, is there anything in particular that you would like me to write about for you? Or, if you have a question that you would like to ask, please send them in to CVT or comment on the Facebook/Twitter feeds, and I will compile an article that focuses on any questions that you may have. I would love to hear from you.