I know I do bang on about it, but autumn sowing of hardy annuals in a greenhouse or coldframe really does make all the difference. At a time when the light levels are low and leaf growth slows right down, the young plants are able to put most of their energy into growing a substantial root system which will get them off to a flying start when they are planted out in the spring.
It’s a new one to me – I was in the greenhouse watering the tomatoes when I noticed that the leaves were being eaten and there were caterpillar droppings scattered about. I came indoors and did a quick web search and established it is the Tomato Moth caterpillar. The suggested solution was to give each plant a firm shake – and sure enough caterpillars were soon falling off the plants (as well as the occasional unripe tomato) onto the soil. I gathered up approximately 20 and will repeat this action daily. The caterpillars can be green, but are generally brown like the one I photographed. They can defoliate the plants and munch their way into the tomatoes so are a pest not to be ignored. They are probably one of the few downsides to the glorious weather – rather like butterflies the moths are having a bumper year.
As – what I am assured by the Met Office is the last snowfall – drifts past the window, I’m resolutely preparing for warmer days. The dahlias that have successfully overwintered under the greenhouse bench have been disinterred from their dry compost and repotted as have their colourful new companions. Dahlias, I’ve decided, are rather like zinnias. Forget subtle shades and go for maximum colour impact. This is especially true in our coastal garden where pale colours can look washed out in high summer.
I’ve started sowing salads of varying sorts in my cold greenhouse and a couple of warm days has had them germinating. I stand the pots in a polystyrene fish box and cover them with fleece if really cold weather threatens, but generally I find that the greenhouse is all the protection they need.
The ranunculus that I planted in pots at the end of November are on the move despite the cold and the poor light levels. The good thing about growing them slowly, rather than in heat, is that they will be sturdier plants than those that will be on sale at garden centres in a couple of months time. Too often they have been forced and not properly hardened off and have a tendency to collapse rather than fulfil their promise. The pots with no sign of life are anemones that are biding their time and will put in an appearance when they are good and ready.