Thoughts after the Thaw

crab apples

For the first time in what feels like an age (but was only, in reality, about a week), I have been able to walk outside without the muffled crunch of snow underneath my feet. Instead of white skies and frezing fog, we’re enjoying blue skies; not the porcelain blue skies of summer, but a milky blue. I don’t care – the sun is shining, and the warmth on my skin is gratifying. I think the birds feel it too – there’s none of the manic feeding that there was last week. I imagine them sitting in the trees with their wings slightly outstretched, absorbing the sun’s warmth, just as our hens used to do.

British Robin on soil

It’s reminded me that I really need to think hard about more natural sources of food for the birds. I’m utterly gobsmacked at the council’s crass attempts at hedge management – cutting miles of hedgerow back just as the berries are ripening. They’re effectively obliterating the chances of many wild birds surviving the winter by mulching their winter food larder. OK, I know it’s a difficult one – they can’t cut in spring or autumn when the birds are nesting, but why not wait until the depths of winter when the food stores have been naturally depleted? So on my list for planting next year are the likes of cotoneaster, more pyracantha, possibly rowan and perhaps even some more of my own sunflowers. In the past, when the sunflower seeds have been ready, I’ve cut the whole head off and left it out near my bird feeding stations so that they can feed on the seeds in peace, away from the neighbourhood cats.

Frosty raspberry leaf backlit by sunshine

I will also be considering replacing our fruit trees – the damson is leggy and  unproductive, and although our crab apple windfall is fine for the birds (and a bit of jam making), I’d love to have some apple trees for cooking apples. One of my favourite things in the world is baked apple, and really it’s something that I should be easily be able to provide for myself! We’re also going to put in some paper birch trees for natural screening – although they self seed quite prolifically, we’ll be mowing around them so it shouldn’t be an issue. Now that the snow has melted, and pay day is looming, I feel that we have to leap on the chance to get our trees in before the dormant season is over. Here’s some tips on planting bare root trees:

  • As long as you can get a spade in it is ok to plant.
  • Don’t soak roots overnight or similar – you’ll drown all the good mycroryzal and things – and hour or two is fine.
  • Prune back damaged roots and prune out any main tap root to encourage non dominance. You want a bushy root system!
  • Plant to the same depth its been grown at – or just below.
  • Prune back at planting time if needed – unless its Plums or similar and early in a wet a grotty Autumn.

So with the snow melting away, I am once again faced with a visual reminder of what needs to be done before spring arrives in a few weeks’ time. Number one on my list is getting the plots in order – there will be digging, weeding, and pruning. I have been wondering about polytunnels since Christmas – if I could convert one of the plots into a polytunnel space, and how imposing it would be on the garden. Also, being a cat owner, I have to wonder – will my cats feel the need to constantly mark it as their territory? Will it be a magnet for cat pee, bird poo, thus giving me EXTRA jobs? I don’t know. But I am still tempted. If you have any experience or tips with polytunnels – including advice on where to get the best UV-proof but affordable ones – I’d love to know. Please comment!

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