by Max Akroyd

January has a reputation for being a two-faced kind of month, and it’s easy to fall off the end of the festive conveyor belt feeling a little disorientated. And the garden can feel like it’s giving you the cold shoulder.

View towards Plouyé from the garden

But the prospect is 100% forwards in growing terms: with the slowly lengthening days reversing December’s long descent into gloom, it’s finally the time to get sowing. But only indoors. Onions (from seed), aubergines and tomatoes will all compete for early space in our propagator. I’m also going to try sowing some celeriac at the end of the month in the hopes that I’ll be able to produce something bigger than a cricket ball…

Outdoors the picture isn’t as unambiguously optimisic. We moved to Brittany in January and, compared to the unforgiving experience of a North Yorkshire January, I remember being elated by the signs of spring emerging all around; the most important indicator being that smell of things growing which emerges at the end of the month and which beats autumn’s decay hands down. But I won’t get fooled into putting much directly into the soil: maybe a few more shallots and that’s about it. Any mild spells will be used to prepare more beds – if it’s not too wet. Whatever the weather throws our way, most of  our tiny fruit trees and bushes will be pruned this month.

First light, 2 January 2010

The polytunnel will act as the garden substitute and I’ll be sowing lots of hardy greens and even some radishes in there to get the first taste of 2010. When reliance on the garden for food becomes mandatory these fresh offerings will assume an importance not usually associated with them at other times of the year. In fact, self-sufficiency-wise, January would be a worryingly vast, desolate tract of time without a freezer-full of pork to structure survival around…