Richard Sudell wrote a chapter in his ‘Practical Gardening and Food Production’ book all about monthly jobs for the garden; as well as advice in general sections on food plots, fruit garden, flower patch, general maintenance and under glass, he starts with a little description of the weather to be expected. He uses the phrase ‘February fill-dyke’ and I tried to find out if there were more of the same type of sayings listing what to expect in the different months… and I haven’t been very successful.
I found ‘February fill-dyke, be it black or be it white’, which was a short version of ‘February fill the dyke, be it black or be it white; but if it be white,it’s the better to like,’ meaning I guess that there would be a lot of precipitation either as rain or snow. I also found ‘February fill-dyke, March muck it out’. There was also a famous painting with the same name by Benjamin Williams Leader, first exhibited without much success in 1881.
Here is what Mr Sudell has to say about the weather:
February fill-dyke! Black or white, the month is likely to be wet. gardeners must beware of trying to work very wet soil, but every opportunity must be seized to get up to date with outdoor work. Pruning, manuring, and all construction work are jobs to be completed in spite of the weather.’
One thing he advises which would not be practical or possible for most people is using soot; when Mr Sudell was writing, every house would have a chimney, every chimney would have to be swept, there would be soot in abundance! ‘Keep soot swept from domestic chimneys; it darkens and so warms the soil; it destroys pests; it possess a little food value’. Other advice he offers would also not be taken today; to discourage field-mice from ‘playing havoc’ with early peas, it’s recommended that they should be immersed in paraffin and then rolled in red lead… hmmm, I think not!
It’s interesting to note that among the vegetables to be sown at this time of year are aubergines; this is another thing which destroys the myth that British cooking was boring and ‘exotic’ Mediterranean fruit and vegetables were unknown! In the previous chatter on January gardening, fruit trees listed included were peaches, cherries and apricots.
Here is an interesting article about February: