Pawpaw leaves and frozen bread sandwiches on the menu
Brilliant, the mild weather continues and my garden jobs are getting done, helped by the slowly increasing hours of daylight. I've just sown some tomatoes, sweet peppers and cucumbers, trays of onions and loads of salad crops.
Pawpaw leaves contain a chemical called papain, which breaks down proteins found in meat and dairy. The leaves can be made into a tea to treat indigestion.
Of course the first three are in a heated propagator but the others are just on my bench under cover. I've potted up a sweet potato and put it on heat to force some shoots, and sown some pawpaw seeds. (I want the leaves to cook with my somewhat tough chicken meat - cockerels do not fatten like hens and make chewy meals, an enzyme in pawpaw makes tough old meat tender. Indeed they used, cruelly, to inject it into old cows just before slaughter to make their meat more palatable.)
I've started bringing in strawberry and gooseberry plants to force, they do not get any heat, just come under cover, but this is enough to bring them into earlier growth and give me fruits weeks if not months earlier. I'm also about to bring in some grapevines, peaches, cherries and apricots, it's just I need to make some space first!
Fortunately I am at home for a while, we recorded GQT in Warrington which goes out the 21st January and I'm 'at liberty' till I go to Lavenham on the 24th. Now that's pretty local in Suffolk, which makes a nice change from the long rail journeys I frequently have. Mind you I love watching the changing scenery from the train, it was quite an eye-opener to cross the Pennines on my way up to Warrington and see snow still lying about here and there.
I forget how gentle is my low altitude southerly climate compared to the bleaker ones some gardeners have to cope with. Even so it has been a harsh winter, and could be so again, February is often nasty.
Amongst the losses so far I've been surprised by the state of a young peach sapling of Avalon Pride. I planted this autumn before last, it's allegedly peach leaf curl disease resistant, and although it did have a touch of the red blotchiness and curling leaves it threw off the attack. Unfortunately it has suddenly produced the worst gummosis I have ever seen with oozing gummy sap up and down the whole of its slender trunk. I guess the freezing weather burst the bark; it seems to have done similar to some branches on an old apricot as well. The latter may recover but the damage to the peach is so extensive I fear it cannot survive. So I've ordered a replacement, and another, a Rochester, to replace an old tree which fell last summer.
I've also some more apricot saplings coming - with every other jam possible in my cupboard my twins have become obsessed with apricot jam demanding it in frozen bread sandwiches (which they invented). I freeze loaves of organic sliced bread for convenience, they like it when still frozen, sort of like cookie ice cream I guess.
Bob Flowerdew is an organic gardener and panellist on BBC Radio 4's Gardeners' Question Time.