Green Wizardries: The Rites of Spring

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Green Wizardries, The Rites of Spring by Maxine Rogers

Spring is here and I am seeing a lot of orchards that could really have used some summer pruning last year.  It is vastly easier to rub off buds of branches forming where you do not want them in June than to let the tree waste its energy forming branches you have to clip off in February.  Summer pruning causes the tree to put more energy into fruit production than branch production.  

If you didn’t summer prune, you will have a lot more work now.  My life got a lot easier when Kate Janeway came to the Garden Club one year and explained the basics of pruning and the advantages of summer pruning.  If you have a calendar, it is a great idea to write in a little reminder at the beginning of June that now is the time for all good orchardists  to get pruning.  

Even with summer pruning, I still have to get out there and give the trees a little haircut.  When I do, I take a plastic ziplock bag with a clean rag and a bottle of Dettol disinfectant.  I wipe down my pruning saw, loppers and secateurs before starting on a tree.  This helps to prevent the spread of diseases from one tree to the next.  

This is also a great time to spread lime in the orchard and to give the fig trees an extra helping of lime and a generous helping of bone meal.  Figs are not pruned the way we would prune an apple or a peach tree.  Figs produce fruit on the ends of their branches so you don’t clip the branches back.  With figs, you have to look at the tree and think, which branch will I not be able to reach this summer?  Then prune the whole branch out to keep the fig tree open in the centre and with branches you can hope to reach in the summer.  

If you have a polytunnel, now is a good time to leave some seed potatoes out in a tray in a sunny windowsill to go green and develop shoots.  The potatoes can be planted in the polytunnel or a cold frame at the end of the month and this will get you the first new potatoes a full month early and they are such a delicacy.  Steam them and serve them tossed with butter and herbs.

I had a crop of  Windsor broad beans planted out in October and they were doing well but an extreme cold snap killed them off.  I will plant some more of the Broad Windsors this month but will wait until March to plant out the Jerusalem broad beans as they are from the Levant and are just that bit more tender.  

A friend on Hornby grew a great crop of Jerusalem broad beans last year and confessed she didn’t really know what to do with them.  They are a very versatile bean.  Just soak them overnight and bring them to a boil and turn the heat down and simmer them until they are tender.  Drain and toss them with whatever salad dressing you like, add some fresh chopped onions, dried tomatoes and peppers, whatever herbs you like and you have an excellent bean salad that is a good meal in itself and also a great side dish.  

Jerusalems also make great baked beans and soup beans.  Broad beans were originally used to make hummus before people started to use chickpeas.  The Arab World and the Horn of Africa uses them to make a sort of bean porridge that they eat for breakfast.  It is called Ful and will keep you full all day.  Try it spiced with cumin and olive oil.  

February is also the time to start some seeds.  If you have a good spot in your house which is bright but not too hot and not too cold, you can start celery, onion, leek and celeriac seeds now. I also started sweet peas, German chamomile which makes a great tea, hyssop and calendula.  I started these flowers in an unheated greenhouse.  I pot up extra sweet peas to give to friends.  Peas don’t like having their roots disturbed.  The sweet peas are planted out without dividing the plants and they do very well.  

Calendulas are a very hardy flower and I am only planting them now to speed up the blooming time.  Calendulas are an excellent flower to grow for pollinators.  They really increase the number and diversity of wild creatures visiting your garden.  This in turn helps create a balanced environment where no one creature gets out of balance.  Calendulas are deer resistant and make a pretty cut flower.  

Inside the house I am starting Cosmos daisies and alyssum under the lights on my propagating shelf.  Both flowers are very pretty and attractive to pollinators.  The cosmos attract a lot of butterflies and moths and the alyssum attracts many smaller pollinators as well as smelling like honey.   Good luck with the Rites of Spring.