When you decide that there are enough green shoots to let you know exactly where you can stand and safely dig, do it with a fork. That way there is less chance of slicing through underground bulbs!
Crawling through a border at this time of the year, trying to pick out weeds and give a prettier background to the emerging snouts of bulbs and early perennials, it is easy to forget the scrum of plants that squashed up against each other here last summer.
Between the straggling weeds, the little bulb shoots and a few emerging perennials, it all looks quite bare. There seem to be so many places where a few of those many pots of bulbs standing about looking for good homes could be put.
Wouldn’t they look great in the ground rather than in plastic pots? Of course they would. But I know in reality that I would not put a tenner on there being space in there to fit more plants.
Only a few inches below the surface, there are plants getting ready to fire. It is all going on down there, kicking off, rearing to take off.
There are later bulbs like lilies, irises and tulips, sprouting, just as there are clumps of aster, dahlia, delphinium and michaelmas daisies.
They are invisible though, unlike aquilegias, sedums and hemerocallis that, even when last year’s growth has died down, still show tiny signs of life above ground this early in the year. Then there are peonies, which may or may not let you know of their whereabouts.
The main point is that quiet does not equal empty. Just because I cannot see them does not mean that they are not there.
I have put a spade into the earth at this time of year only to hear the tortured smunch of metal through fat bulbs too many times. Meatloaf had it right when he sang “I won’t do that”.
Once the weeds are out of the way, the best bet is to sit tight and wait another while and watch for little green shoots to show themselves before trying to crowbar any extra plants in.
And when you decide that there are enough green shoots to let you know exactly where you can stand and safely dig, do it with a fork. That way there is a little less of a chance of slicing through invisible underground bulbs.
In the meantime, if you fancy working off the turkey, start digging vegetable beds. These days, we are less inclined to dig up the whole area.
Unlike our predecessors, we tend to treat the soil as a whole eco system. We have reached the conclusion that repeated, over enthusiastic digging is not productive.
If you have an already dug bed, all you need to do is to extract the weeds. Dig down to get up the tap rooted dandelions docks and the like. Simply pull or hoe small annuals and chase the roots of creeping buttercup and ground elder.
If there are areas of small annuals that you can avoid digging, you might get away with simple hoeing. These annuals can then be left on the soil to die and be reincorporated into the soil.
Once the weeds have been seen to you can then bring in the manure. This is a matter of laying a blanket of it over the cleared ground. There is no need to dig it in. In real life when an animal contributes their manure to the field, it is is incorporated into the ground by rain, worms and beetles. These three will generously do that for you too. Save your back and let them do what they are good at.
Check the broad bean and garlic beds that you planted up last year for weeds.
Cut down autumn fruiting raspberry canes to about 20 cms. Use the opportunity to remove weeds from between the canes and manure the bed too.
If you have asparagus beds, make sure to clear these of weeds. Avoid walking on the beds. The shoots of this early crop are only barely beneath the ground.
With all that hard work done, you should also do a few easy and pleasurable jobs: If you have been digging vegetable beds, you now need to plan on what you will grow.
Hunt through your store of seeds and see what is still viable and in date. Assuming the crops these gave you were to your liking, get ready to sow them again.
In addition, you will want to stock up on your favourites, the seeds that always serve you well.
Finally, pick a few new crops that you have not grown before. Or even choose a few varieties you may not have tried before.
So if you have always grown one variety of carrot or pea or beetroot, branch out and try something new, something you have been told is particularly tasty. We grow to eat after all.
My own resolution is to grow more peas. There is no such thing as too many peas. I have never met anyone talk of a glut of peas. So, for me, more peas and more varieties of pea.