Grow Your Own! Caretaking and Damage Control

Snowy gargoyle

I’ll bet that if you could get the statistics up, one of the least spoken phrases in my neck of the woods lately would be “Oooh, it’s nice outside.” Because it isn’t. It’s been a Game Of Thrones esque winter here, cruelly punctuated with tricksy odd days of sunshine to make the crippling cold and stealth frosts even harder to contend with*.
OK fine, so there are no White Walkers to contend with in sunny Brightlingsea but its been bloody cold for a bloody long time. When faced with a balmy nine degrees for Saturday daylight hours, I had to take the opportunity to get in my garden today and see exactly how bad it has been out there.
*I speak comparatively as one snow week in North Essex basically amounts to a continuous three month blizzard anywhere else. We don’t do snow in these parts very often. 

The snow might be a laugh if you have nowhere to go and a properly lagged plumbing system, but it can be a total bitch for both floral and vegetable gardeners alike. There’s more going on at this time of year than all the mud and bare branches might suggest, and late (or entirely timely, based on the last few years) snow and frosts can strike right when new plant life is at its most vulnerable.  For the last two years I’ve been lucky and managed to blag my green babies through the winter despite knowing/caring very little about tricks like fleecing pots and digging up corms for safe keeping in the shed where the subzero temperatures are less likely to kill them. I give an open apology to my dahlias, may they rest in loamy peace if they decide not to come back this summer. The violas and primroses all seem to have taken their three day snow blanketing as something of a spa treatment and are doing very nicely but we have a serious amount of blank looking daffodil and tulip leaves which makes me nervous not just for the pretty factor but also for the bees if they don’t flower.
I’m on a bee mission this year in our garden. We really need bees, people. Bees pollinate stuff and make that lovely summery buzzy garden music too. Bees get a rough time of it in a world thick with non discriminatory pesticides and they really need a bit of help. By ‘help’, I mean poison free nectar, by which I generally mean as many untreated flowering plants as is possible, for as much of the year as possible. With the recent cold and unpleasantness, I am at risk of a much lower flower count for the spring which has prompted me today to put in a 3 point care plan for my bees, and any of their mates who might visit.

Lung wort, the first spring flowers in the garden this year

First off- flowers. Actually caring for everything in my garden that flowers and not taking for granted that there will be other petals and sepals around if some don’t miraculously thrive with little to no effort from this greedy person who is more concerned with a decent carrot crop. This year I will tend, I will deadhead and I will fertilize. I will read up on how to love and prolong the little patch of lung wort currently in flower in the mudbed. Sweetpeas and nasturtiums are started off in the conservatory as we speak to go out next month and boost the pollen count. I will do better for the flowers.
Secondly- pest control. I’m going to seriously reconsider the organic but still deadly bug spray I used last summer to control the flea beetles munching through my cabbages and chard. Leafy veg that doesn’t flower should not attract bees, but I’m being a bit of git by saying that this makes bug poison ok to use in some parts of the garden. This year I will try to keep on top of the munchers by natural means and the old wives cocktail of washing up liquid from a spray bottle. We will see how that goes. I am also going to restrain my dandelion removal compulsion and not yank out those pesky, mass rooted bastards until they have flowered. I hate dandelions. Bees love them. Maybe I can grow some big enough to harvest the roots for some tea. I will also restrict myself to only ripping the wild geraniums (which flower quite convincingly) from the veg patch and let them do as they will in the main beds. I am not even bothering to thin out the nettles that grow behind my pear tree, bugs and bees love them and they still manage to sting my through my ultra strong gardening gloves so to hell with it, let them stay. I’m mentally strong enough to let some unruly weeds grow in my specially arranged outdoor space. Good God, I need a gin just thinking about it.
And thirdly, finally, whatever, there is housing. We have a nice little bug hotel already in place for solitary bees and their crawly cohorts, and I’m off to fetch another one from the garden centre on Monday.  I’ve also started up a little woodpile right at the back of the garden which will stack up as housing for a multitude of woodlice and beetles and other little critters which may have a home in my garden. I may live to regret this.

So that’s the care angle from today. Damage control was a little less light handed and involved hacking back many of my outside plants to rid them of their snow-murdered extremities. My broadbean stalks are about 40% intact after snipping off all the black and dead bits and have been treated with some fresh ties and a compost boost. Hopefully they will make an April comeback. My rhubarbs are in sight again after their winter hackback, though one is looking much healthier than the other. I’m hoping for some rhubarb vodka action later in the year so these babies will get the star treatment but for now there’s not much to do for them other than to pile on some fresh compost. The garlic cloves I put out in January are breaking the soil now and looking strong. With any luck they will smell strong too and put off Moby Dick The Phantom Crapper from his visits to my veg patch. Shallots don’t appear to be doing so well but there’s not a whole lot to be done about that for now so they got a brief weeding and some new dirt on top too.
I now take a moment to sing my thanks to the Gods of Chard. Chard is amazing. My three little chard plants have not given a single shit about how cold it has been and are stoically carrying regardless of the fact that they should be long dead by now. They aren’t massive, but they are healthy and very green and if they go on at their current rate will be big enough to start snipping into my scrambled eggs again in the next few weeks.  Go chard!!!!

Tomatoes, courgettes and butternut squash seeds have all been planted today in the conservatory, when those are done in the propagator I’ll be getting the herbs going. Believe it or not all that took me four lovely outdoorsy hours, which is more than enough work for a Satruday, so I’m off now to inspect the local beer pumps before dinner.

How’s your garden looking?


2 thoughts on “Grow Your Own! Caretaking and Damage Control

  1. You sound very proactive and you’re putting me to shame. I’ve only just started a few seedlings, but yesterday with the weather so glorious in Dublin i was out weeding in the garden. As much as i hate plastic i’m really going to have to invest in butterfly proof netting this year, my fruit and veg were decimated by insects and birds last year.

    1. Ha, this is the most I’ve done out there in months so if I am proactive it is most overdue! It’s just a relief to have a weekend when it’s dry enough to be out there.
      I have no idea if it’s true but my mother in law hangs little scraps of tin foil around her garden she swears it stops birds stripping her jostaberry bushes.

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