Coping with wet and cold
It certainly felt like a record breaker but 2012 turned out to be the second-wettest on record for the UK. Split it into individual countries, however, and the statistics mount up against England. While rainfall in Scotland and Northern Ireland was much closer to their respective averages, England had its wettest year ever - some 1,123.2mm or 131 per cent of the 1981-2010 average. Wales suffered its third-wettest year, with 1,716.2mm. Whether you are working in Cornwall or Cumbria, Aberystwyth or Alnwick, you probably spent much of last year in your waterproofs.
Heavy rainfall and waterlogged ground lead to many problems. Roots can literally drown when air in the soil is replaced by water for longs spells. Soils can quickly compact and lose their structure. The incidence of moss may increase dramatically on lawns. Wherever you are trying to work, take note of the condition of the soil when planning jobs. Try spiking grass areas to help drainage and introduce air. If you are hoping to plant fruit trees, gently forking the ground several days beforehand may help to dry wetter soils.
Fitting in the jobs
"Notoriously unpredictable" is perhaps the best way to describe the weather in January and where possible it will pay to take one day at a time and fit tasks around conditions. Continue tidying beds and borders, repairing lawn edges and fixing garden structures, but when conditions are too wet or too frosty, attempt only those jobs where no or very little damage will result. Prepare propagation equipment and begin sowing seeds appropriate to the temperature that can be maintained.
Check deliveries of composts, pots, containers and labels. Make final seed selections - remembering to try something new. How about the Karmazyn broad bean? Added to the Chiltern Seeds catalogue for 2013, this unusual variety is compact and has traditional green pods but the beans are pink and tasty when added to salads. Looking ahead to a July sowing of peas, the Thompson & Morgan pea Alexandra is worth considering. Bred for downy and powdery mildew resistance, this pea is said to produce a good crop into October, with the slightly curved pods producing eight or nine peas each. An interesting kohlrabi from Suttons is Vienna Mix. A duo of white and purple varieties, this vegetable could be popular with the caterers because it can be used cooked or as a colourful raw ingredient in salads.
Sally Drury, Technical editor