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JOHN STOA: Keeping spirits up in the spring sunshine

John earths up Casa Blanca potatoes
John earths up Casa Blanca potatoes

After a very dry April when the garden hose was in constant use, the rains finally arrived in the last few days of the month.

We can now start to plant up our onions and other hardy fruit, flower and vegetable plants, and no doubt weeds will make a comeback.

The cool dry spell was great for weed control as very few weeds were germinating and hoeing was easy for killing them as they just shrivelled up under cloudless skies.

There is so much work to be done with seed sowing, planting and the start of the change over as the spring flower show begins to pass over and we concentrate on the summer bedding plants that the problems of the coronavirus can be put at the back of our minds.

Watering crops on a sunny day

Unfortunately there are so many people affected and death rates so high and wide spread over whole communities that many people are aware of losing close friends and relatives.

Gardens and allotments are becoming places of peace where the flowers and growing crops help to keep our spirits high.

As measures are being considered for how we start the relaxation of lockdown rules and with so many people now taken to gardening, there is a great need to open up the garden centres, but with social distancing rules still in place, so folk can buy in some compost, plants, seeds and other gardening aids.

Plants brought on early from seed on my indoor windowsills have now all gone into the greenhouse and so far I have not needed to put in a heater over night.

Grafting an apple tree

However my Pumpkins and Courgettes are still a bit tender so they have the windowsills all to themselves.

They have been sown individually in cellular trays.

The greenhouse has been a hive of activity as plants are moved out for hardening off to allow more space for other younger plants needing the room.

Sweet corn seedlings in small cellular trays got potted up into individual pots to grow on under glass for a couple of weeks before hardening off and planting out at the end of May.

African and French Marigolds, Nemesia and Livingston Daisies all needed pricking out but will stay under glass  for a couple of weeks before hardening off once threat of frost diminishes.

First strawberries to flower mid April

Geraniums have all been outside since beginning of April, but growth has been poor as weather has been cold all April.

Tomatoes are growing strongly under glass but so far none are flowering so planting will be delayed till mid May.

Grape vines under glass are growing just fine. Seigerrebe and Solaris have all got plenty flowering shoots and some may need to be thinned, but Black Hamburg is surprisingly poor with many shoots without any signs of a bunch.

Outdoors the tulips and daffodils are going over so removing the seed pods is a frequent task.

However as one show ends the next one begins as Rhododendrons and Azaleas begin to flower, as well as my numerous young geraniums grown for borders, tubs and hanging baskets.

First geranium to flower

All through winter I remove all flowers so they can concentrate on growing, but once they go outdoors for hardening off I let them all flower.

I keep track of the different colours as reds go in square pots, pink in black pots and white geraniums go in clay coloured pots.

Potatoes are now all above ground so earthing up is done just in case we get a late frost.

Sowing has started for turnips, salads, peas, dwarf French beans, runner beans, parsnips and swedes.

A friend up at City Road Allotments has two apple trees with unimpressive apples, so I grafted a few shoots with Discovery, Falstaff, Fiesta and Red Devil, and if they all grow she will have an interesting family tree.

John pots up his sweet corn

Once you read up about grafting it is a fairly simple operation with a good success rate (provided you have a sharp knife) and gives great satisfaction when the new varieties begin to grow.  So fingers crossed.

Wee jobs to do this week

Early strawberries under low polythene tunnels had the benefit of a long sunny April. Although it was a dry spell it is always necessary to water plants under tunnels so they never suffered. They have now responded and burst into bloom, but the flowers need to get pollinated by bees so the tunnels get opened up. Last year I picked the first berries from my tunnelled crop on 11th May, but the cool spring this year may delay picking a few days.

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