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This month in the garden - 2018

January

With the shortest day of the year just behind us, deepest darkest winter is over and January is the time to get planning the spring garden. If you are going to be raising your own plants from seeds, now is the time to get all your seed packets out and see what you've got. Commercial seeds packets have a best before date but in most cases the seeds will last longer than stated. An exception to this is parsnip seeds which are only viable for one year but squash and pumpkin seeds can stay viable for 10 years. Don't give up on old seeds, plant them out and see what you get. You may be surprised by how many germinate and at the very worst you might have some spare plants to swap with friends or give away.

If you are looking for something new to try, January is a great month to settle down by the fire and flick through a few seed catalogues. And with so many catalogues now online now the possibilities are endless. Just take a look at an online catalogue and see how many tomato varieties there are!!

What are the advantages of growing from seed? Being so close to one of the main vegetable production areas in Europe, seedlings are readily available from the semilleros on the coast and in almacens in every town and village. Many of these outlets now sell organic plants. A lot of growers have had great results with these plants but when they have saved the seeds and gone on to plant them the following year the results have not been so good. This is because the plants are, as well as being organic, hybrids. There is nothing wrong with hybrids, they have a place in our food system but the terms F1, hybrid, and GMO are often confused. Just because a plant is organic does not mean it is not a hybrid. Plant breeders have been creating hybrids by cross pollinating two distinct varieties for generations. Natural hybridisation occurs in the garden when pollen is carried from one variety to another by insects. So if you do want to save your own seeds, make sure you start with plants raised from open pollinated seeds.

You'll want to start your summer veg seeds off in February, in a greenhouse, under cover or on a sunny windowsill. Tender seedlings must be protected from frost. So start getting ready now.

There is plenty to do outside this month too. The days are short and growth has slowed down. We're getting a break from the weeds and invasive grasses. Now is a good time to prepare beds for spring planting. The roots of invasive grasses are easier to dig out while they are dormant. Manure or compost can be spread and it's a good idea to cover the beds over with plastic or a heavy mulch of straw or cardboard. When the mulch is removed in the spring, the worms will have been hard at work and your beds will be ready to plant in.

It's not too late to plant some garlic if you haven't already and succession planting of leeks, lettuces, onions, radishes and spinach can continue.

For good, strong tomato poles, cut caña in January while the sap is low.

Readers question: I have heard it's possible to grow pistachio nuts in the Alpujarra. Is this true and can you give me some tips on how to grow them.
Yes it is possible to grow pistachio nuts in the Alpujarra. Pistachio trees like summer temperatures of 38 C and above but also need temperatures below 7 C in winter to complete their dormant period. They can't tolerate temperatures below - 9 C. They are not fussy about soil type and are quite drought tolerant. They prefer infrequent deep watering and can suffer from root rot if they get too much water. There are male and female trees and one of each will be needed to produce nuts. The male trees bear the pollen and the females bear the nuts. They are wind pollinated so bear this in mind and think about your prevailing winds when choosing a position. Grafted trees are available, these are females with male branches grafted on. The trees get very big, very slowly and will bear fruit after 7 years reaching peak production at 20 years of age. They have been known to live and continue to produce for centuries.

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