T the time of writing the countryside is in the grip of a fine white frost. This necessarily holds up a great many outdoor garden operations, but there are many things to do. For example, you most likely have some vacant land which you are going to dig over for the first or second time, and which will require manuring. Personally I find that when I try to manure and dig at the same time seem to have too many things to do, Ind am always going back to the heap to get more manure, which naturally interrupts digging.
Much time is therefore saved if manure is wheeled on to vacant ground when the surface is nice and hard. Distribute the dung or humus
in little convenient heaps, which will remove the necessity of walking over soft earth when a thaw sets in.
If you have not yet done your pruning, you may have a shot at that. No matter what some folk say (for there is nothing that is not said by someone). you do no harm by pruning ordinary fruit trees in frosty weather. Much of this work is done in November; but January is a good month, especially for plums. In the case of well established trees, little need be done to plums beyond thinning. While we are on the subject of pruning I may perhaps mention that on the very day on which you thin your goose-berry and red currant bushes and cut out all the old wood in black currant bushes, you should devise some protection for these bushes against the depredations of birds. Sparrows and other useless birds are fond of spring salads with a fruity flavour. On these they would gorge themselves at our expense. But spread a few strands of black cotton over the bushes, or an old net, and you need have no fears for them. Some people wisely congregate bush fruits together in a sort of chicken-run of fine mesh wire netting—a good but expensive idea. Boycott protectors afford splendid protection for a moderate cost and very little trouble. They comprise various evices for rapidly covering bushes. beds, or lawns with a protection of black cotton strands.
Birds But not all birds are troublesome by any means. Some are to be encouraged by all the means in our power. We all know that among the worst pests we can have are caterpillars, aphis and ground grubs. Now there are many bites which live exclusively or almost so on a meat diet. These are to be coaxed into every garden and, if possible. 'ncouraged to nest there. It is well known that one whitethroat hen (a common bird) will kill more grubs and flies in a day that a gardener might kill with sprays, powders and picking in two or three weeks.
Sparrows are anathema. Killing them may sound cruel, but it is what the Ministry of Agriculture advise you to do. They cost a fortune to grain farmers each year. Other rogues and vagabonds are the wild and tame doves, and the jays. Blackbirds can take in any amount of ripe fruit; but I only halfcondemn these for every single morning (except in frost) they catch grubs and worms everywhere.
Great insect-eaters are the robin, tits thrush (also partial to snails), starling, whitethroat swallow and martin, hedgesparrow, wagtail (in moist places) and wren. Most of these are with us all the year round, and all of them have been in my quite mor'est garden. Several of them have nested there, and done a deal of good in feeding a hungry family. You are doing yourself a service by making a bird-table during these hard days. Give them suet, fats and bones.
I have a table nailed to a pergola. and within easy view of the kitchen window. Funnily enough, sparrows seldom come. The most frequent guests are three species of tit, robins, starlings and thrushes. I have made nesting boxes for them in fairly quiet spots. Thrushes are too big, and anyway do not nest in holes; but all the others (and a great many summer insect eaters) will soon feel at home in a nest-box built of pieces of wood five inches square. Make the roof a bit larger if you wish, and don't forget the entrance hole. Make this seem too small (one and a half inches square is too generous), If it is big enough, troublesome sparrows will claim it. You want tits and robins, and the Iike. The little carnivorous birds now performing acrobatics on pieces of suspended suet will perhaps bring a hungry wife and ten hungry fledglings into your garden in summer—and then won't the grubs disappear!
How are those onion seedlings coming along? They will readily germinate in a temperature of 55 degrees or rather less. While you are waiting for the wisps of green to appear you may keep the boxes in the earkness. The glass which covers the box should be turned each morning, and at this time you wine off the beads of moisture condensed there. But as soon as the leaves are through the temperature should be slightly lowered and plenty of light given.
I make a point of mentioning this because too many beainners who have rightly begun germination in some such spot as a warm cupboard, think it possible to continue in great warmth and half light. Spindly and sickly growth. followed by lathe or no yield, will be the result. If you can do so get the boxes of seedlings right up against the glass of the house-window or greenhouse. But watch frost. Frost is attracted by the peculiar currents always active over panes of glass, whose presence is proved by the grotesque icefigures on window panes. A sheet of brown paper thrown over the box on frosty nights will keep seedlings warm, for frost always descends, With this treatment you can look forward to healthy crops. Mopes you have a greenhouse warmed slightly (or a warm shed with nanes in the roof) think this is rather early to sow marrow and tomato seeds or of other half-hardy plants, A ven4ure might succeed now, but later is safer.