January can be the coldest month but there is plenty to do in the garden

The start of a new year can often mean the coldest weather in the garden.
While New Year resolutions aren’t for everyone, this is a great time to plan out your intentions for the coming year.
Intentions begin with preparation, so once you’ve made your list you can start on the jobs that need doing to turn your vision into fruition.

Check and prepare
You can make a start by ensuring everything is in good working order. This means cleaning all your pots, tools, water butts and greenhouses in preparation for spring sowing.
Cleaning a greenhouse may not make your gardening blood flow but by removing algae, moss and grime, you will give your plants a head start by letting in more light, with the added bonus of also controlling any lingering pests and diseases.
High winds, cold spells and rain are all enemies of your garden, so regularly checking stakes, supports, ties, fences and unprotected furniture, and tackling any damage will be a very good use of your time.
Outside, any vacant plots that you have not been able to tackle yet can be dug over if the weather permits.
Check your winter protection is still working for you — survey any stakes, supports and ties that might have been damaged in bad weather.
Continue looking after the wildlife that lives in and visits your garden— put out wild bird food for hungry birds (see recipe below) and continue to leave some areas of your garden uncut for shelter until the spring.
Providing food, water and shelter for wildlife in your garden will help maintain biodiversity and improve your garden’s health.

Use a forcer to accelerate rhubarb growth

Use a forcer to accelerate rhubarb growth

What to grow
Of course, you can indulge your need to grow at this time of year. You can plant bare root roses, chit your first early potatoes and start your sweet pea seeds.
Other plants to sow include antirrhinum, begonia, geranium, lobelia and verbena seeds.
Perennials, such as anemone, auricular, aquilegia, hollyhock and kniphofia, can also be sown during January.

If you are anything like me, you’ll think that rhubarb is too often overlooked. If you grow your own, you can prepare an early crop of rhubarb by placing a forcer, or a large container (turned upside down), over the emerging growth.
Keeping the crown in darkness will force the stalks to search and reach for light, accelerating the growth.
Two months later, the stalks should have grown to approximately 20-30cm and should be ready to eat. Rhubarb crumble enthusiasts, take note.

Let a sleeping queen lie
If you find yourself digging your garden on a fine day this month there is a small chance that you might unearth something special in your soil.
While you are unlikely to find shiny treasure in your topsoil, you might accidentally unearth a hibernating Queen Bee. If you do, don’t panic. There is no need to bury her again.
Instead, move her carefully to a cold and dry place and provide her with a sugar solution that is equal parts sugar and water – a bottle top is good for this.
By doing this, she can continue hibernating but if she wakes you’ve given her a sugar kick that will help her find a hibernating place somewhere more to her liking.

Making bird food and a feeder for a winter’s day
You don’t need a fancy bird table or feeder to help out our avian friends this winter.
This bird food and feeder idea comes from the RSPB and would be an ideal activity to carry out with children or grandchildren.
Once finished, the feeders can be attached to trees or fences or somewhere else that would provide safety from predators.
Quick word of warning, the food is not suitable for dogs or cats, so position accordingly and is unsuitable for anyone with a nut allergy. I shouldn’t need to say that you shouldn’t eat the bird food, but I have.

You will need:
Good quality bird seed; Raisins; Peanuts; Grated cheese; Suet or lard; Yoghurt pots; Some suitably strong string; A mixing bowl; Scissors

Carefully make a small hole in the bottom of a yoghurt pot. Thread the string through the hole and tie a knot on the inside, ensuring it is large enough that it doesn’t pop out again.
Leave enough string so that you can tie the pot to a tree or another appropriate place.
Warm the lard to room temperature. Then cut it up into small pieces and put it in the mixing bowl. Now you can add the other ingredients and mix them together with your finger tips. As you add the ingredients, keep squidging it until the fat holds it all together.
Fill your yoghurt pots with the bird cake mixture and put them in the fridge to set for an hour or so. This will stop the contents from simply falling out once you hang them up.
Hang your pots and keep an eye out for hungry birds. The RSPB suggests the cake might attract greenfinches, tits and great spotted woodpeckers.
You can help ground feeding birds like robins, thrushes and blackbirds by putting seeds, chopped apples and grated cheese on a purpose-built station or platform raised just a few centimetres from the ground.

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