Kitchen garden in January


It’s not even a month since the Winter Solstice and already I’m noticing that we’re already starting to gain a little more light in the evenings. It’s not much, but it’s definitely a positive!

Last Sunday – despite dreary grey skies and wet ground underfoot, I took the baby and the buggy into the garden at 4pm. Whilst E slept after a being wheeled a few short circuits around the garden, I raked and collected up the last of the leaves for the leaf bin. I worked until just before 5pm, when the light was diminishing rapidly by the minute. Just three weeks ago it would have been impossible to work past 4:30pm… so I can’t complain.

Collecting up the last of the autumn leaves and clearing away last year’s homegrown cosmos flowers were two small but significant jobs that have been lingering on an ever-growing list of Things To Do This January. My Smallest Smallholding may well take a pause in January, but for me it gives me a little breathing space to catch up on a whole host of jobs, before everything kickstarts once again in the spring.

Frosty raspberry leaf backlit by sunshine

Realistically, with a 4 1/2 month in tow, I can only grab snatches of time here and there. To pretend I have hours on hand to potter and preen will do me no favours. So I need to keep the momentum going to keep on top of everything that needs doing.

One thing I’ve learned about parenthood is that I have to work around my new routine. So my To Do List needs to be simple and straightforward. That way, I can tick, tick, tick off the boxes and feel like I’m getting somewhere.

Here’s a few jobs that I’ve lined up for January and February at The Smallest Smallholding:

– Cut down autumn fruiting (primocane) raspberry canes
– Weed & mulch veg plots
– Continue cutting back brambles and pulling up nettles in the overgrown patch
– Plant garlic and winter onions (it’s still relatively warm and February – the coldest month – is still to come)
– Tidy long border
– Plant the last tulip bulbs (eek)
– Prune buddleias, roses and clematis
– Chit potatoes

What does chitting potatoes mean?

Chitting potatoes
It’s that time of year, when my kitchen windowsill fills with egg boxes full of chitting potatoes.

When I began growing my own fruit and veg back in 2006, there were a whole host of horticultural terms and phrases that I had never come across before. Throughout the last decade, I’ve picked up a fair amount of knowledge (I don’t think you ever stop learning and adapting when you’re growing your own), and a bit of a gardening vocabulary as well.

One of the first definitions I picked up was ‘chitting potatoes’.

In short, chitting potatoes means leaving them out in a cool, light space so that the potatoes can start to grow a few sprouts from the speck-like ‘eyes’. Chitting can usually start with earlies and main crop potato types from January or February, and usually a cooler windowsill with a sunny aspect will do. Always opt for seed potatoes (available online or from your local garden centre),  as these will be carefully bred and selected without diseases, and chit ‘blunt’ side up where you’ll likely find the most eyes for sprouting.

Whether you chose to chit your potatoes or not before planting them out when the soil is warm is entirely your choice. There is still an ongoing debate as to whether chitting actually helps the potatoes grow any stronger, faster or more prolifically. Me? I’m of the opinion that if you can give them a head start, then why not.

New Potting Bench

In the run up to The Big Day (aka the day I will push a baby out and my life will change forever and ever amen), I think I’ve been nesting. I’m constantly tidying up, turning out, washing, organising… always on the move and always with a list as long as my arm to complete.

One job that isn’t necessarily fundamental to getting ready for Baby Bear’s arrival, but has been on my mind for a long, long time is my greenhouse. I haven’t bothered to clean it out properly for at least two or three growing seasons, and you could really tell. Bindweed had crept under the greenhouse base, pots had been left to stack up, fall over, become full of dead leaves and spiders and it just looked like an eyesore in the corner of our little patch of Smallest Smallholding.

When Buy Fencing Direct contacted me to ask if I’d like to review one of their products, it was a great excuse to justify spending a few hours getting the greenhouse sorted out. I opted to review a potting bench – more shelf space and a working area for sowing and potting on is exactly what I need.

But first, I had to tackle THIS monstrosity to make room:

Untidy-Greenhouse

My first task was to set about removing all the old plastic pots, studiously and carefully rehoming the dozens of spiders nestled between each pot. Luckily our local tidy tip has a hard plastic collection point so those pots won’t be going to landfill.

Next, I pulled up about six tonnes (hyperbole alert) of bindweed root, and levelled one side of the soil next to the wonky path that I built a few years ago. Using some basic weed suppressant liner, I lined and fixed the ground, and laid a layer of shingle over the top. Instantly it looked much neater and should hopefully keep the dreaded bindweed at bay:

Shingle-Flooring

Then the big job; putting together the potting bench. It had arrived sans box, fastened together with instructions which were actually more informative than Ikea’s point and mime flatpack offerings. There were actual words, which helped immensely. After leaving the bench outside for a good couple of weeks, we couldn’t find the screws that came with the flatpack so not sure if they got lost in transit or not. Either way, we had to get our own from Wickes.

Putting the bench together was definitely a two-person job, especially since the last time I handled a screwdriver about two weeks ago I properly skewered my finger, thanks to pregnancy hormone-induced clumsiness. The instructions were easy and very clear, but one thing I would have preferred was if the pilot holes had been drilled for us… but that’s just a minor consideration since it went together well and everything fitted as it should. We just had to do some careful measuring (read: I measured and Rich re-measured and readjusted) and I had to hold bits of wood in place whilst Rich fixed the screws.

Potting-Bench

It’s definitely a sturdy bench and looks very smart… I’m very pleased with the build quality. And together with the newly laid shingle flooring, freshly washed greenhouse glass and some tidying up it’s made a world of difference in my little greenhouse. Really looking forward to using it now! Just got to finish the tidying, shingle and glass cleaning on the other side, and my greenhouse will be looking tip-top… Some replacement glazing would be lovely too (I call the missing panes “great ventilation”…)!

You can also read my interview with Buy Fencing Direct right here: http://greengardens.buyfencingdirect.co.uk/our-interview-with-smallest-smallholding/