February Gardening

Just like January, take the opportunity to spend time in the garden on the good weather days. This month there are already signs that spring is approaching, with bulbs appearing and buds forming on deciduous shrubs.
If you followed last months article and used up your winter veg from the veg plot, you may find February is a ‘hungry gap’. Why not try sprouting some seeds? ‘Sprouts’ will keep your green fingers busy until it’s warm enough for spring sowings to begin outside. Most veggies produce crunchy, tasty shoots including beetroot, peas, broccoli, cress, alfalfa and mustard however, grow seeds sold specifically for sprouting as seed for sowing outdoors may have been treated with chemicals to aid germination.
Begin by adding one or two heaped tablespoons of seed to a squeaky-clean jam jar, then fill the jar with water. (Don’t be tempted to add more seed as they will swell upto 30 times their original size). Leave the seeds to soak overnight. Cut a square of muslin (or similar free-draining cloth) and cover the mouth of the jar with a tight fitting elastic band. Tip the jar upside down and drain. Tap the muslin to dislodge any attached seeds. Keep your seeds in a warm, dark place to commence germination. Seeds will now need rinsing twice daily. (breakfast and evening meal times are perfect times). Simply fill the jar with water, gently swirl the seeds around and drain off as before. Keep the muslin cap in place between rinsing’s to prevent the seeds from drying out and to reduce the risk of contamination. The sprouts are ready to eat once they have reached 1-5cm (0.5-2in) long (exactly when is a matter of personal preference). Bring them out into the light a day or two before eating so they can take on some colour and improve in flavour. The whole process may take as little as two days and rarely more than a week.
Like any fresh produce that is consumed raw or lightly cooked, sprouts can carry a risk of foodborne illness if they are contaminated. Unlike other fresh produce, the warm, moist conditions required to grow sprouts are ideal for the rapid growth of bacteria, therefore people in vulnerable groups are therefore advised to cook all sprouts thoroughly until they are steaming hot throughout before eating them.
If the soil is not too frozen or waterlogged then finish digging it over and incorporate garden compost and manure. As you dig look out for ‘volunteer potatoes’ that were missed last season and have begun sprouting. They could spread disease and blight therefore you don’t want them growing amongst your other crops.
Here are my other top tips for February:
• Cut old and congested stems from bamboo plants (a pruning saw will be required!). Save the thickest canes for use as plant supports.
• Trim lawn edges and install lawn edging to create neat, defined borders. (keep off the lawn if it is frozen or wet)
• Hardwood cuttings taken last winter may need potting on into bigger pots. Gently tip them out of their pots to see if they have rooted successfully.
• Net fruit crops to keep hungry birds from stripping buds.
• Plant a container or hanging basket with colourful primroses and place by a doorway.
• Prune late flowering clematis (Group 3). Cut all of the stems of the plant down to a pair of strong buds 20-30cm above ground level.
Whatever February brings I hope you are able to spend some time in your garden.

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Carol Nicholas-Letch – February

You Reap who you Elect
I don’t usually spout, directly that is, about politics: but after hearing about Norfolk Councillors voting in a pay rise of their allowance by a whopping 10.5% I cannot resist. What world do they live in I wonder? They are about to reduce the social budget even further, thus making very vulnerable people even more at risk, .and this will inevitably put more pressure on our emergency services and struggling NHS. How much pay/pension increase did you receive this year or last year for that matter?
The reason the Conservative Councillors feel they deserve that increase? December from the EDP:
Cliff Jordan, Conservative leader of the council, said councillors needed to be remunerated properly and that there was never a right time to increase. Lib Dem leader Dan Roper blasted the decision as “self-serving” and a bad message to be sending when cuts are being consulted.
Both Labour and Lib Dem Councillors voted against the increase but not one Conservative.

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If you happen to be in the company of farmers you might feel you need an interpreter for they speak a language of their own. For instance in the north a ewe is a yow and a mule is a cross- bred sheep. For the uninitiated I will attempt to interpret.
There are probably more terms used by sheep farmers than in any other sector of the farming industry. A cade lamb is one that is hand reared. Between December and its first shearing a spring born lamb is known as a teg, hogg or hogget. For the following twelve months it is described as a shearling. Theaves, gimmers and chilvers are young female sheep while a wether is a mature castrated male. Rams are often called tups. Sheep that have damaged or missing teeth are known as broken mouthed and draft ewes are those sold off when they are no longer productive. A cast or couped sheep has rolled onto its back and can’t get up. Keep sheep are those kept on a temporary basis, usually ones taken off marshes and hills for the winter. A heft or heaf is an unfenced territory on open hillside naturally occupied by a specific group of sheep.
When it comes to cattle a heifer is a term used to describe a young female until the time she gives birth to her second calf. A steer, bullock or stirk is a castrated male. A freemartin is a female that is born twinned with a male and is invariably infertile.
A gilt is a young female pig and to farrow means to give birth.
A colt is a male horse under four years old and a filly is a young female of a similar age. A gelding is a castrated male. The withers are the shoulders and a hand is a measurement of four inches.
In general terms a hybrid is a mix of breeds, a store is an animal that requires fattening up and a cull is one to be disposed of. To flush means giving an animal additional feed to boost its condition and a lick is a solid nutritional or mineral block. If an animal is said to be served or covered it means it has been mated. It’s compulsory for all farm animals to be fitted with ear tags to identify not only the individual but also which herd or flock it belongs to, thus guaranteeing traceability. Freeze branding provides permanent identification by using liquid nitrogen to painlessly turn the hair white.
Arable farmers talk about drilling which means sowing, headland which is the strip of ground around the perimeter of a crop and top dressing which is applying manure or fertilizer to the land. Silage is compressed and fermented fresh grass stored for winter feed.
Commonly used abbreviations are CAP – Common Agricultural Policy (EU), FDM stands for Foot and Mouth Disease, AI for artificial insemination and POL for point of lay in poultry.