When it's icy and cold it's frustrating to be stuck inside but there are still plenty of things that you can do to get your garden in order. On these dark winter evenings there's nothing better than settling down with a cup of tea and a couple of seed catalogues to browse and come up with big ideas for the months to come. So, on this theme, here are some of my favourite "tabletop" gardening tasks that will be keeping me sane over the coming weeks.
- Go through your seed stores and make sure that you aren't keeping stock that is out of date. All seed loses fertility year on year so there's no real benefit in keeping any for longer than three seasons.Check the date on your seed packets and get rid of any that are past their best. As heartbreaking as it may be to do this with seemingly healthy seeds it's not as disappointing as spending time planting and caring for seeds that don't germinate. An exception to the three year rule are carrots and parsnips that only last for one season so if you buy any new seed this time round don't feel bad about planting the lot!
- Once you know what seeds you've already got you can start drawing up a list of what you want to grow and what you need to buy. However, as hard as it may be, resist the temptation to buy everything that catches your eye. Be realistic about how much space you've really got and how many different varieties of each crop you actually want or need. Having said all this, I attempted to grow six varieties of pumpkin last year, five varieties of courgette and eleven different tomatoes (that all got blight!) so I don't always practice what I preach...
- Not sure where to buy seeds from? This year I ordered most of my seeds from Real Seeds in Pembrokeshire. They're great advocates for seed saving so no hybrids here, and each pack of seeds comes with great tips on cultivation. Their website is also a mine of information on saving your own seed if you want to give that a go. Seeds of Italy offer a wonderful selection of traditional Italian seed stock. They're great for tomatoes, salad leaves and an amazing selection of courgettes. The Organic Gardening Catalogue is where I go to fill any gaps that are left after I've made other orders and are a realiable supplier of organic seeds. Finally I make a selection of seeds from the Heritage Seed Library - it's always a surprise to see what I'll end up with but I've got high hopes for bagging some exciting tomatoes and beetroots from the request that I've made.
- Next I like to make a plan of what I'm going to plant when. I have a notebook where I make a month by month plan of what can go in when. This may seem a little military to some people but if you're growing more than a couple of different seeds it's a good way of keeping on top of things. I also find it the best way to manage succession planting so that we get the longest possible season of eating delicious, allotment fresh produce.
So there you go - tabletop gardening in four easy stages. And if this conceptual gardening isn't enough to cheer you up on a cold, winter's night don't forget... it's only a couple of weeks before you need to start getting your chilli seeds planted so the real life gardening can commence again very soon.