By Nick Condron
February is a month of new beginnings and growth, and that’s exactly what’s happening here at our community garden project. As it starts to get warmer and the days begin to lengthen, we’re getting ready to start planning and planting for the upcoming growing season. Indeed, there are few better moments in the year to get outside and reconnect with nature.
Our woodland area is always the first to show signs of the transformation ahead, as glistening white snowdrops emerge across its floor, accompanied by clusters of bright yellow winter aconites. Above them, the beautifully intricate catkins dangling from the hazel trees offer a glimpse of the fresh green hue that will soon begin to spread throughout the rest of the garden. The birdsong is louder and some bumblebees are waking up. It’s enough to raise one’s hopes that we can look ahead to spring.
This year we intend to plant some woodland strawberries as groundcover amongst our trees so that our small forest can become more edible by producing fruits during the summer.
In the polytunnels, it’s time to have a good clean-up and begin seed sowing. Sweet peas can be sown in deep pots, to germinate frost-free undercover and grow on in the cold frame. Later in the spring they will be planted beside their supports and provide summer colour and scented cut flowers for indoors.
It’s also time to sow the summer’s tender crops, such as tomatoes and chillies, which we begin in a heated propagator, but they’ll also be fine at home germinating on a warm sunny windowsill. As the month goes on we’ll also be sowing summer bedding plants such as antirrhinums, cosmos and sunflowers; starting off our dahlia tubers in shallow trays; and planting some summer begonia bulbs, all in the relative warmth of the polytunnel.
On the vegetable front, besides our regulars, we’ll be growing some more sweet potatoes after last year’s did so well, proving a particularly delicious ingredient in some of our Friday team lunches. We grow these from slips, which are the long shoots that have been removed from ‘chitted’ sweet potato tubers, available by mail order. Once planted, they grow much like regular potatoes but require a longer growing season and warmer conditions so we plant them in the polytunnel.
We’ll also be growing Oca which is another tuber, otherwise known as New Zealand yam, which we’ll treat just like potatoes but harvest at the end of the season once the leaves have been killed off by hard frosts. And finally, we’re growing Yakon for the first time. Again it’s a tuber and treated in a similar way, but quite a funky one by all accounts, owing to the fact it can be eaten like fruit, added to stir fry like water chestnuts, or even juiced and boiled down to make a sweet syrup.
There’s a tremendous amount of growing to look forward to. Happy gardening!
Such a fabulous and worthy project.
Long may it continue and be copied elsewhere in Thanet.