Candles light the way to brighter days at the allotment

31 Jan 2013 @ 1.08 pm
| Food & drink

The darkness is beginning to lift on the allotment. Photograph: Christoph Mayer
With one eye on the weather and the other on the hens, From Our Allotment columnists Sue and Vicky at Apples for Eggs are starting to make some headway on their plots

If Candlemas Day is clear and bright,
winter will have another bite.
If Candlemas Day brings cloud and rain,
winter is gone and will not come again.

In true British style we’re beginning this post with a gardener’s eye to the weather by test running this Candlemas saying to see if it might give us a heads up on the forthcoming weather conditions. On the allotment, February is a time of waiting, pondering and planning before the flurry of activity that March brings. It is a time for hoping that this year, the weather will play ball in our growing plans.

Candlemas is celebrated in the Christian calendar on February 2 and is traditionally the day when the candles to be used in the forthcoming year are blessed. The festival’s origins lie in the pagan festival of Imbolc which falls on February 1, midway between the winter and spring equinox, marking the beginning of spring and all that it brings – lambing season, lactation in cattle, snowdrops (also known as candlemas bells), the blackthorn is said to bloom and not forgetting increasing amounts of daylight. Life cycles begin again!

snowdropThe lighting of candles and fires on Candlemas day represented the return of warmth from the sun and all that it brings forth. In fact by the end of February there will be ten and a half hours of daylight. So let’s make the most of these lengthening days.

After a slow start getting to allotment chores we’ve gathered pace spurred on by the unusually warm weather that accompanied the first few weeks of January. And we weren’t the only ones! After the winter hibernation the January sun turned our allotments into hives of activity, a little taster of the busy months to come.

Some soil has been turned, a few weeds removed, compost worked in, raspberry canes cut back and dead strawberry leaves removed. And all before the snow came!

We also dragged out our first home-grown Christmas tree from home to plot and planted it out in the hope that it survives so that we can bring it in next Christmas and indeed in the forthcoming years. Any tips for upping the stakes for Christmas tree survival please do share!


Some jobs for February

We will still be preparing the ground throughout February which will include more digging, weeding and feeding of the ground. Sorting out the paths is high on Vicky’s agenda – this is a good month to tackle any structural and maintenance jobs before the onslaught of seed sowing, planting out, and of course weeding, weeding, and more weeding!

If you have snowdrops these can be divided and replanted to create new areas for spring. This can be done when snowdrops are in flower just dig deeply around a clump of flowers, divide the snowdrop clumps by tearing them apart and replant in bunches of 6-8 bulbs.

Shallots can be planted outside, and onion sets by the end of the month if the weather has been kind.

New fruit trees can be planted now, and it’s a great time to get on top of pruning fruit bushes, including gooseberries, currants, and blackberries.

Additionally carrots, beetroot and parsnips can be sown outside if the soil is starting to warm.

purple-sprouting-broccoliIf you have any purple sprouting broccoli you may be able to start harvesting around now, removing the shoots to encourage more to appear. And if you haven’t already, there’s still time to put an old bin or deep pot over some sprouting rhubarb to force up some tender pink stems for the first crumble of the year in a month or so.

A final piece of Candlemas folklore: “Candlemas day the hens begin to lay.” With more daylight hours this folklore has it that hens start laying again after their winter rest at Candlemas. So those of you lucky enough to keep hens on your allotment there may be some fresh laid eggs just in time for pancake day on February 12! Head over to the Apples for Eggs Facebook page for pancake ideas and recipes.


February Events

Saturday, February 2 10.30am-noon Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s Introduction To Square Metre Gardening. A Dig In event at The Groves’ secret garden. Read more here.

Saturday, February 2 10am-noon Slim Your Bin composting workshop at York Environment Centre

Plotting the past. A year long community project by the York Archaeological Trust. It will explore the 16 City of York Council allotment sites through a variety of activities including using archives, oral history, archaeology, shed survey, photographs, filming and will culminate in an exhibition. To get involved contact [email protected]