More good advice (99 days to go…)

by Max Akroyd

I think the last week in February is one of the turning points of the gardening calendar. These are just moments in the year when an instinctive watershed is crossed and it feels timely to sow certain things. In this instance, lots and lots of things.

Nothing is lost yet and everything remains to be gained. The greenhouse is packed to the gunwales with germinating things. And I’m turning soil for fun now, any spare minute I’m out there. Beds which were cultivated last year yield easily to the fork or spade but I don’t credit the labours of that brave but hapless last-year-me though, I just assume I’m magically much more excellent this time around. Occasionally I exhume one of last season’s plant labels, little memorials to hopes dashed… “I don’t remember eating that” I say to myself. And I shrug and put it in my pocket, ignoring the old lessons of already burgeoning grass and weeds.

I am trying to show a bit of restraint by resisting the urge to fill all my beds straight away. Instead of sowing 100 metres of early peas, I’m trying to ready the space for a succession of three or four crops – those second early, early main, and main crop harvests everyone in the books seem to achieve. Similarly against the grain of habit, the broad bean sowing is on hold: many metres of Aquadulce sown last October will suffice. For now. (I did buy a Spanish variety that you can sow in Summer, though. Just in case.)

Not for me a huge sowing of beetroot in February this year either. It only meant a listless search for ruby red leaves in a forest of weeds last time. Instead they’re in 3″ pots in the greenhouse and there’s a smug, short but nicely cultivated bed waiting for them out there. Same goes for turnips, spinach, kohl rabi and chard. There’s more bed space ready for the earliest brassicas already being potted on under cover and a home for some extra onion sets next the autumn-sown ones which are already romping away.

The mammoth strim-a-thon is almost complete too. I’ve found corners of the field I never knew existed…

If there weren’t just 99 days to go, I’d be be having a slightly self-satisfied week off this half term. Instead the feeling of urgency pervades all. I wake up thinking about which cauliflower crops in June (It’s Patriot). I’m persuading the oldest of the kids to help me on the field. We planted twelve trees today and I’ve got stacks of other tasks lined up for us, all noted down and everything. He’ll be glad to get back to school! Meanwhile, I’m peering anxiously through the thicket of early sowings and trying to see the big picture of the harvests beyond, the gardening year in the round.

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The journey just completed mainly saw me bent over a yellowing organic gardening text from 1971 and finding gems of information readily available since I was four years old. It’s there in black and white. Advice to sow less, more often. And to sow less in Spring to leave room, and some of the gardener’s energy, for the later sowings which fill the winter table. How come I can only accept advice once I’ve already learnt the lesson the hard way?