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Guytons Garden - Donít forget to water


swedes-655December began with a sizzle in the south. Temperatures reached extraordinary levels, giving our southern gardens a good dose of what you northern gardeners regularly enjoy; sweltering heat and cloudless skies for days on end.

The moon indicated that the first week be one of inactivity and the sun backed up her suggestion that we find something relaxing to do that didn't result in sweat and sunburn. That "do little, stay cool" period lasts the whole of the first week of December and ends on the 7th with an opportunity for all of us, north and south, to sow root crops. I'm going to sow swedes.

As you know, nothing beats a Southland swede and I aim to make sure I've got plenty to eat and share. To that end, I've secured a supply of the best swede on the planet, Doon Major, from an elderly swede grower who refused to be tempted by the "new and better" varieties offered to him by enthusiastic seed merchants of the 1980's and kept his line of Doon's going to this day.

Swedes enjoy a December sowing directly into a rich soil. Like other root crops that can be sown now – carrots and parsnips etc – swede seeds should be covered with something flat, a plank or strip of linoleum, for the first 10 days following sowing. This keeps the soil in which the seed sits moist and allows the seeds to sprout quickly and send out shoots and roots without fear of drying-out. It's an old technique that works well.

The new moon will greet my seedlings as they break the surface of my garden and look over them from the 9th through to the 13th of December. The rising vitality she brings will suit the first pair of brassica leaves perfectly and by the time the prolific "first quarter" period running from the 14th to the 21st of the month arrives, my seedlings will be cranking! This period is the one you want to make maximum use of to establish your summer garden, as seeds will sprout quickly in the open garden and even more rapidly inside your tunnel or glasshouse.

It's under the cover of plastic that I'll be concentrating most of my energies during the first quarter as I've heat-seeking plants that don't like to be checked by variations of temperature outside. The secret to success with seed-raising in any protected environment is regular watering. If you've an automated sprinkler system, you need not worry, but if you're a hand-waterer as I am, you'll have to adopt a reliable, regular watering habit if you want to succeed with seed. I like to warm the water I'm applying first, and use rainwater rather than reticulated town-supply, but that's not always possible.

The most important thing is to get it to them in a timely manner. On the 23rd and 24th of the month, the position of the moon favours the up-take of liquid fertiliser by plants. Their stomata are made more receptive during the change from the first quarter to the full moon phase, so apply your favoured foliar feed freely. The following few days are festive ones, it being Christmas an all, but don't forget your plants, especially those reliant upon you for their water. Slipping out to the tunnel house might be just the excuse you need to escape the hustle and bustle of the season and all of the dishwashing that requires.

ROOT CROPS: Swedes enjoy a December sowing directly into a rich soil.

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