At last, the days are getting longer and as we progress through February, it usually heralds the start of the new growing season for us at RHS Garden Hyde Hall, particularly in the vegetable plots; finally! However, despite the increased day length, the weather isn’t getting any warmer (or drier for that matter) and it is still too early to consider planting or sowing seeds outside. Our heavy clay soil takes a long while to warm up, meaning that, for now, I am restricted to making a start in the greenhouse.
Keeping the greenhouse in tip-top condition has therefore been a priority recently, as in a few weeks time it will be packed out and I will be far too busy to clean it out. So, earlier this week I was busy emptying everything out in order to carry out a deep clean (left).
This is important as a clean, disinfected greenhouse is less likely to house overwintering pests and fungal diseases. Dirty moss and algae covered glass prevents sunlight from getting through and at this time of year every ray is precious to help bring along young, healthy, stocky seedlings. More sunlight getting in will also help keep the temperature inside higher. My preferred weapon of choice for this job is a pressure washer - a thorough blast both inside and out quickly washes away a whole years’ worth of muck.
I have also taken delivery of a new electric fan heater this week - an essential piece of kit in order to keep the greenhouse frost free. Once this was set up it meant I could begin to chit the seed potatoes (right). This involves standing the tubers upright in egg boxes (or trays) or seed trays in a bright, sunny position, allowing the ‘eyes’ (buds) to start into growth; the idea being that this will lead to a larger harvest. Now is a perfect time to set them out, but they really do need to be in a frost-free place. My choices this year include ‘Axona’ (an excellent blight resistant variety), ‘Kestrel’, ‘Setanta’ and ‘Salad Blue’.
I am also lucky enough to have a heated propagator, something that I couldn’t do without now. This allows me to keep seed trays at a temperature of around 20⁰C (68⁰F), perfect for rapid germination. Having such a variety of crops to grow this year means I have to stagger my seed sowing (left). I have sown celeriac ‘Prinz’ and tomatoes ‘Orkado’ and ‘Romello’ in quarter seed trays and, after germination, these will be pricked out into individual pots. Cauliflower ‘Avalanche’ has been sown in a cell tray, which will give me one good strong plug plant to put out once the ground warms up, but that’s not for a few weeks yet…