Winter into Spring

by frankbeswick

As Spring advances and daylight time grows longer, the garden begins to awake from its dormancy.

Good gardeners are not idle over winter, as they work on their soil and do necessary repairs, but this winter of 2015 -2016 has not been easy. Parts of Britain have flooded, some areas several times over, and those of us fortunate enough to escape the floods have faced wet ground and some quite cold conditions. The winds have been bad as the storms which have beset North America make their way across the Atlantic and attack us. Damage to gardens has been done and repairs are needed, but we have had to wait until the weather settles down.

Picture above shows a raised bed with the canes marking where comfrey has just been planted.Picture by Frank Beswick

Repairs to the Greenhouse.

If you could complain about discrimination to Mother Nature I would, but she doesn't listen. The wind that races eastwards from the Irish Sea thirty miles away across my unprotected plot selected some greenhouses to attack. Plots two through to seven all had damage, and I am on plot seven. Why me, Mother Nature! Am I not very green? I suspect that a short lived vortex was at the root of this very  localized damage. Several windows were blown out. Fortunately, as a Briton I am no stranger to wind, so I leave it a pathway for it to escape. But it still took out some panes of glass. One pane went when a bolt shifted in the framework causing a weak aluminium strut to bend, so the glass broke under the strain. But my discrimination case against Gaia would fail on the grounds that a week or so earlier other greenhouses went completely. Karen, a really pleasant and jolly woman, lost her whole greenhouse, which turned into mangled aluminium and broken glass. I have been fortunate. 

So what repairs are needed? Jeff, a good friend,  gave me some spare glass, some of which I have fitted  into  the  empty spaces. But not all of it fits, so I have had to order some replacements in. I am using polyurethane instead of glass, when I can get it. Slowly over the years I am moving to polyurethane panels, and there's a reason: they don't break as easily as glass does. My young grand-daughter will be brought to the allotment as the weather warms, and I want her to wander around freely-and safely. So any remaining glass will be covered with metal mesh for safety's sake. 

We don't use putty to affix the glass, but we use W clips, four for each pane. However, fixing down the structure needs something stronger than clips. I have bolted the greenhouse to flag stones and cemented it down with Pink Grip, a very powerful cement. The bolts have held, but I am going to reinforce the Pink Grip, as the wind can exert quite a force. I have repaired the small bolt that shifted, and some panes that had slipped were restored into position. 

Next will come improvements to the greenhouse floor. My floor is wood chip,and it is looking fine, but wood chip needs constant refreshment, as it composts down. Then the pots will need filling with compost, multipurpose compost that is.But I am in no hurry to plant tomatoes and other greenhouse plants,for I learned my  lesson several years ago when I planted tomato plants in an unheated greenhouse, only for there to be a late frost. All dead overnight! Lesson learned, but gardeners have to learn from their mistakes. This year I am going to try new plants, aubergines I hope. You see, my daughter-in-law grew up in Portugal,where these were part of her diet. I have never grown them, but she is keen, so why not give them a try? Andrew, my son, will help me add a second greenhouse, this time a fabric one,so we can grow more plants in protected conditions, such as aubergines. We will fill in the space vacated by a cherry tree that I was forced to fell when it caught disease from an infected damson. 

Herb bed

Herb bed newly laid out
Herb bed newly laid out
Frank Beswick

Getting the Garden Ready

One morning this week Andrew, my son,  and I arrived to do some digging. A thin winter sun shone in the pale blue sky, and a mild breeze was like  a chilly kiss in the air, taking the white smoke from Jeff's bonfire gently into the sky. "Ideal for digging." Andrew  declared before setting to work preparing Constancia's plot. I have dedicated a small area to Constancia, Andrew's wife, as her very own little share of the allotment. It was the area that had last year been the hugel, a small mound used for growing, and after I had dug it up it needed some tender loving care.So she has been smiling sweetly at Andrew and suggesting how nice it would be if he dug it over for her. So he did, and he made a good job of it. There was a bit of couch grass to dig up. This perennial weed gets everywhere and needs constant attention. 

In the meantime I finished digging over a section of a large bed. I have converted two rectangular beds to four smaller square ones, taking out a wood chip path in the process and replacing it with boards. But the whole lot needed digging, hoeing and raking to make it ready for planting. I am certainly glad of the help. Andrew is thirty one years younger than I am and it shows in the digging. 

After some chat with Jeff and Brian,  who came over to see me, [allotments are great for socialization between like minded characters],  I went to the herb beds. It is nearly time for garlic to go in, but my first thought was to plant carrot seeds, Early Nantes, a variety that can be February sown.  I planted the carrots not  in the tyre planters, which are for the herbs,  but in the area around the tyres, to make fuller use of the land. A thought struck me, the sides of the raised beds would shadow the seedlings, so I took them off and have begun to replace them with something smaller,fence posts laid on the ground. There is work to do filling the planters with  compost, but that's for the weekend-hopefully. You never know with the weather at the moment.  

Constancia wants to develop the flower bed, making it wider, so Andrew has been prevailed upon for lifting the turf. It's a heavy job so the services of a strong young male will be much appreciated. 

Constancia's plot

Constancia's plot
Constancia's plot
Frank Beswick

W clip

W clip
W clip
Frank Beswick

More beds

Beds for salad crops
Beds for salad crops
Frank Beswick


This is a time of year when the life of the soil is resurgent. I have seen plenty of worms wriggling as I dig, evidence of the concealed life of the garden that thrives in the subterranean darkness  and dislikes the light. But the surface layer reveals the life of the root layer, for the early rhubarb is springing up as the change of seasons stirs its crown to life. Life above ground is steadily returning. The buds of the apples are awakening, and the gooseberry bushes are sowing signs of budding as well. So are the gardeners. The dedicated few who have been working over winter are supplemented by those who begin to attend in Spring. These are the ones who like to do everything in a hurry, mad dash to dig and plant in the warmth of Spring. Myself,I prefer to  get head start with Winter work. 

As the Autumn runs into Winter I cease to cultivate, and I become frustrated, but as the days lengthen and the weather becomes more clement I am freed to grow again. There is a soaring urgency to plant the plot to the full,and an ambition that this year will be a prizewinning one. Hope springs eternal! But the year will be busy. There is not only my own plot, but my positions as chair of Trafford Allotment Federation and vice chair of  Urmston Allotment and Garden Society to soak up my time.  Well I am retired, am I not, but who says retirement is not busy? But the work is enjoyable and fulfilling. I would not change it for the world. 

Updated: 02/24/2016, frankbeswick
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frankbeswick on 01/13/2024

It is the same substance . The polythene is clipped on to the frame.

DerdriuMarriner on 01/12/2024

Thank you!

Might polythene be synonymous with Unitedstatesian polyethylene?

Would that polythene be top-hemmed for inching onto a rod or nailing onto a board?

Would it be heavy enough to stay in place or would it require some kind of battening down?

frankbeswick on 01/12/2024

Strong polythene.

DerdriuMarriner on 01/11/2024

The last paragraph under your first subheading, Repairs to the greenhouse, mentions your son realizing a fabric greenhouse.

What fabric would be most appropriate, most cleanable and most durable?

frankbeswick on 04/03/2023

They grew. The weather did not pose a problem.

DerdriuMarriner on 04/03/2023

The last paragraph under your first subheading, Repairs to the Greenhouse, considers that "This year I am going to try new plants, aubergines I hope. You see, my daughter-in-law grew up in Portugal,where these were part of her diet. I have never grown them, but she is keen, so why not give them a try? Andrew, my son, will help me add a second greenhouse, this time a fabric one,so we can grow more plants in protected conditions, such as aubergines."

How did the aubergines do? Were you and your son able to anticipate or outsmart watery, windy Nature?

frankbeswick on 02/27/2016

Thanks Angela. Today I worked on the greenhouse, repairing the glass. It is not fully right yet, as one or two broken panes need finishing off and replacing. I also worked on the beds, digging and hoeing to create a tilth.

Gardening is a way of life, and you will find that in retirement you can really take it up with enthusiasm. My gardening activities are a combination of simply cultivating my plot and being a committee member. Being a committee member enables me to exercise responsibility in an area of activity that I really love.

AngelaJohnson on 02/27/2016

Some day when I retire, I'd like to garden. I enjoyed reading about your experiences, especially about taking Mother Nature in stride. I had to look up the word "aubergines" to discover we call them "eggplants" in the U.S. What a difference in names.

frankbeswick on 02/26/2016

Thanks Jennifer. At the moment I need the colours of nature reviving and surging up again. It has been a slow, cold winter.

jptanabe on 02/26/2016

Thoroughly enjoyed your reflections on your transition from winter to spring gardening. Still too early for much gardening activity here. I have to admit I'm looking forward to the colors returning!

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