Friday, 10 February 2012 4:43 PM
By Old Geezer
You could not describe the the current climate in East Anglia as gardening weather by any stretch of the imagination.
My vegetable patch is under several inches of snow, with a foot high drift right along the middle! That's not to mention the snow all over the front path. Here are a few tips to make the job of clearing it easier. Use the rake head to tap the snow down, the same as if I was preparing a seed bed. Then using the teeth of the rake 'chop' down on the snow, just hard enough to dig the teeth into the snow, and pull towards you.
Aim at getting pieces about a foot square, once you get the hang of it, it's easy as the packed down snow comes away cleanly from concrete/slabs etc. Simply hook the slabs of snow off the path.
In the garden though, it is a different matter altogether. There are actually big advantages in having a decent layer of snow; it acts as a blanket which protects plants from the wind and severe frosts.
The other surprising thing is what happens when it melts. Rain, significant rain that is, usually ends up forming a 'cap' on the soil resulting in the majority of any subsequent rain just running off or simply laying there and evaporating.
But, melt water from a layer of snow soaks into the ground. This matters as many areas, although they might not seem it, are in fact suffering a deficit in ground water. The top might well be moist, even wet, but deeper down the soil is much drier than it should be. This is a worry if we get a dry spring again, as the crops will not have this reserve to tap into.
So what can we be doing to prepare for spring? If you have room on your window sill for a few pots then it is worth sowing a pinch of cabbage seed.
A good variety is 'Greyhound' and you only need a dozen or so plants at a time.
As usual, there is a little trick or two in making this work. I use fairly standard three and a half inch pots. First, fill a pot almost to the top with compost and gently firm it down with the base of another pot. Stand the filled pot in a saucer of water and leave it until the surface is visibly moist.
The next thing is to leave the pot to drain, allowing excess water to drip out of the bottom. I find another saucer filled with gravel is ideal for this.
All is now ready to sow about a dozen seeds as evenly as possible. Having done this all that is left is to cover the seeds with a little compost and place the whole thing in a polythene food bag.
Try to avoid too much direct sunlight and when the first leaves appear you can open the bag, pushing it down the sides of the pot.
I leave the pot in the bag because if there is a sharp frost forecast it is a simple matter to pull the bag back up for the night, especially as many window sills will get very cold.
If the pot gets dry, the soil will come away from the edge of the pot. Water it the same as the soil, i.e. stand it in shallow water to soak up the moisture, rather than watering the top.
The same thing works for cauliflower, calabrese, lettuce, even leeks can all be started this way. So can onions, but for these you should use smaller pots, sow just four or five seeds in a pot and then plant as a clump.
You could also sow broad beans two to a pot – push the seeds about a third of the way down into the pot.
Another trick is to start off some early peas by sowing them in a length of guttering. If you want a six foot long row, use two three foot lengths and don't forget to block the ends off!
All of the above can be done in an unheated greenhouse, even a poly tunnel.
Just remember to invest in some bubble wrap in case the weather turns nasty in a few weeks time!
Happy snow clearing and sowing.
All the best, Old Geezer.