Spring is, fairly obviously, the time when most gardening kicks off. If you’re gardening outdoors, late February and March are about digging the soil, mixing it with manure, compost or whatever else you need to make it fertile, chopping back any annoying plants, getting your seedlings in and ‘chitting’ your potatoes (of which more at a later date).
By preparing the land properly now, you’ll save yourself loads of grief as the year progresses, particularly if you weed out all your beds before the little sods get a proper hold. I opt for a trowel, the radio and patience as the best weed-pulling method, rather than messing around with weed killers. Do invest in a good pair of gardening gloves though – slugs may well be lurking in the base of dandelions, and few experiences offer more of an unpleasant sensual shock than getting a handful of slug slime – plus the gloves will protect you from any broken glass or general scratchy things that may be lurking in the soil.
If you’re the kind of person who cares about manicured nails (in which case it may be best to stick to indoor planting) gardening gloves will give you a measure of protection against breaking your nails too. Personally, I write off having nice nails from March until November, and have a manicure routine that consists of ‘chop off all my nails and keep a scrubbing brush next to the sink’. I’m trying to build up calluses on my hands to help me dig for longer (my, but I’m painting an attractive image of my hands!) so don’t bother with hand cream but if you work in a grown-up job where you need to look well-groomed, you may want to add some E45 cream into the mix.
If you’re gardening indoors, you don’t need to worry about all the hand-maiming, back-breaking stuff. All you need to do is plant up your seedlings, put them somewhere sunny and water them regularly. Within a week or so, the first shoots start appearing and, if you’re going to get the gardening bug, it’ll probably kick in about now. Something about making a seed grow is immensely satisfying – no doubt connected to the whole ‘creation of life’ thing – and it’s amazing how quickly you can develop a bond with your plants (not in a Prince Charles way – more like being a cat lady, but with less allergies, scratches and cat-pee to deal with*)
One of the things that’s great about gardening – whether indoor or outdoor – is that it massively reduces your rubbish. I don’t claim to be uber-eco but it is rather nice having a planet to lark about on, and landfill is a terrible waste when there’s so much else you can do with your refuse. I’ll be writing about various ways you can use household items in your gardening on a regular basis, but here are just a few things you can start collecting to re-use.
- Cardboard egg boxes – use them as seed trays,and plant your seedlings out in the boxes as they’ll rot into your soil
- Yoghurt pots – Put holes in the bottom and use as small pots. I like to plant them up with corresponding fruit – say, strawberries in strawberry yoghurt pots – but that’s probably a sign of mild OCD teamed with kitsch cravings.
- Milk cartons – cut them in half and use the bottom as a plant pot (after putting holes in the bottom)
- Soft drink bottles – ditto, but you can also use them as mini-greenhouses if you cut them in half as above, fill the bottom half with soil and seeds and perch the top half on top.
- Toilet roll insides – used to prop up pea shoots when they become a few inches tall
- Thoroughly washed spray cleaning bottles – used as free plant misters – but do make sure you remove all trace of the original product before use.
- Thoroughly washed squeezy ketchup/mayonnaise/shampoo bottles – directional high-pressure watering cans (and makeshift water pistols once it gets sunnier)
- Not thoroughly washed washing up liquid bottles – add water and use to fend off aphids (blackfly and greenfly)
- Newspaper – for making seedling pots (of which more another time)
- Thoroughly cleaned eggshells – to crush up and put around your borders to fend off slugs and snails.
- Lollipop sticks and wooden ice cream spoons/chip forks – to use as plant labels
And of course, you can also turn your used teabags, peelings and any raw produce into compost (of which more at a later date. If you’re itching to get composting right now, in which case it may be worth taking a look at your social life, don’t put citrus peel, bread or anything cooked in the pile or you’ll attract rats.)
The more gardening you do, the more you’ll start looking at household waste as potentially useful. Chipped crockery can be used as planters. Broken crockery (but not glass) can be used to help drain pots. Tights can be turned into a kneeling pad for extended weeding sessions (or you can chuck a cushion into a plastic bag). Getting into the habit of thinking, ‘What could I use this for?’ keeps your creative mind ticking over as well as saving the planet so it’s no bad thing whichever way you look at it.
Tomorrow, I’ll start covering seeds: over time, I’ll outline which fruit and veg are easy, which ones need to be ignored to thrive, which ones are hard work but worth it and which ones are best avoided at all costs. First comes a celebration of the tiny but mighty pea. In the meantime, if you have any seasonal gardening tips you’d like to share, feel free to post them below.
* Forget the question of whether you’re a cat or a dog person. The more important question is whether you’re a cat or garden person. Before gardening, I loved the little fluff-monsters. However, it’s amazing how quickly you can develop an aversion to an animal that is inclined to eat your seedlings, dig up your beds and poo in your garden. I now understand why my dad swears by a waterpistol (if you don’t want to give errant cats a soaking, windmills along the edges of your beds will scare them off, along with the birds, and are a great way to give the garden some colour at this time of year when the flowers are only getting started).