Snow, houseplants and Romanescu cauliflowers
Hello! It’s another week into spring, but we’ve all been brutally reminded that this is a treacherous time of year, full of burgeoning hope dashed to smithereens on the hard ice of winter’s last snarl. Meteorological spring it may be: but you try telling that to the sparrows shivering in my snow-shrouded hedgerows.
It is quite unusual for us to have snow in Somerset: in fact this year is the first time we’ve had anything more than a light dusting for two or three years now. Cue schools closing, and my timeline filling up with videos taken from the business end of a sled.
I remember when the kids were small and we lived in a chillier bit of the UK we would take compost sacks (even then I was finding ways of upcycling) up Box Hill, an ancient beauty spot on a very steep slope not far from Dorking in Surrey, and spend the afternoon hurtling down at breakneck speed with the dog sprinting alongside. Happy days.
Nowadays the kids have morphed into young adults who don’t do uncool things like sledging on compost sacks, and I’m older and prone to getting crabby if my knickers get wet. So I prefer to admire it all through the window, ring round my gardening clients to cancel visits, and retire, slightly grumpily, indoors to wait it out in front of a fire.
All this forced inactivity is quite timely really: I have just finished the planning stages for the new book I’m writing for the RHS and I’m about to launch into putting words to paper. So I can use my down time to buy a little breathing space before I have to wave goodbye to the last shreds of my social life and enter book-writing purdah for the rest of the summer.
There is still quite a lot of gardening you can do indoors, of course, even when it is snowing outside. All the houseplants need repotting at the moment, so I am doing that sliding tile puzzle thing you do where you find a larger pot for one houseplant, pot it on then use its old pot to repot another houseplant… until you run out of pots and have to raid the nearest charity shop for more.
While I’m at it I take cuttings where I can: this is a brilliant way to get hold of new houseplants for free, and they’re completely guilt-free too since there’s no importing, peat, pesticides or any of the rest of the unfortunate side effects that come with a hard-to-control houseplant habit.
My favourite houseplant cuttings are those which come with roots: cheeseplants (Monstera) are great for this, as they have aerial roots so you can literally just lop off a chunk and repot it for a new plant. I’ve also done this with rubber plants: cut off a growing tip around 10-15cm (4-5”) long, just above a pair of leaves, then take your cutting and trim off the stem to just below the bottom-most leaves. Remove the leaves apart from the topmost tuft, stick it in a pot of gritty compost and… new rubber plant!
You can propagate most houseplants one way or another: knock a fleshy leaf off a succulent, leave it to dry off for a few days then pot it up: snip off pilea and peperomia leaves and simply stick the stalk into some compost. And – my personal favourite – you can even root new streptocarpus by slicing a leaf into strips across the central vein then half-burying each strip with the cut edge down: they make cute little baby plants all along the buried edge. It is enormously rewarding.
So… what’s been going on in the garden?
I wish I could report more progress, but what with the snow followed by icy temperatures and really pretty miserable sleety rain it hasn’t been much of a week for growing.
That said, the tomatoes are making headway and now most have their second ‘true’ leaves, the ones which look like the adult leaves, with serrated edges. Their appearance is my cue to pot them on into larger pots: I put them straight into 10cm (4”) pots as tomatoes grow so fast there’s no point in being cautious. The ones in the propagator are now well ahead of those on the windowsills, making me think a propagator is a must for growing on, if not actually germinating the seed, when you’re sowing this early: and that, of course, means extra energy so is a much less sustainable way of growing.
Cue my next experiment, which is to sow another batch of seeds (perhaps not quite so many: I do need to grow some other veg apart from tomatoes this year) this month and see if there’s any difference: will February-sown plants be weaker than March-sown? Will they crop sooner? Or will the difference be so small as not to warrant all that extra electricity – to say nothing of the endless faffing about – required by early sowing? Watch this space….
The summer brassicas I sowed last week are just poking above the compost – they really do germinate very quickly (the Romanescu cauliflowers won the race this year). As soon as they’re properly up I will move them out of the propagator – currently at 10°C – and into the cool greenhouse to grow on, so they don’t get too leggy.
This week it’s all about hardy veg, and I’m hoping I can get some turnips, leeks and beetroot sown at least. The queue is building now as I usually have most of my earliest seeds in by the first week in March, but I daren’t this year: annual flowers, the first leafy herbs and peas are all on hold for now, till the weather gets kinder.
But it’s a good lesson in patience, and taking your cue not from whatever timetable you might have drawn up for yourself but from the weather outside, and Mother Nature, and good old common sense. And so I remind myself that the warmer weather will come, and my seeds will still sprout if I sow them next week, or even the week after, and my garden will one day come to life again, and all I have to do to make that happen is wait a little longer. And perhaps make a few more houseplants.
What are you doing to keep busy while the winter ends? And how has your garden been coping with the vagaries of early spring?
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I've been going through my freezer and baking and cooking items from last season. Yesterday I finished up last year's pumpkin by making bread and muffins. I have also been tending to my broccoli and cauliflower in my grow room downstairs. Spring in Idaho seems to arrive earlier than for you, there is still chance for snow, but the grass is already growing :)