March 15th update, energy rising, selective sowing, tips on planting and covering 8


Exciting times, spring energy rising in the UK at least. From reports of weather in some of the USA and Scandinavia, we are fortunate to have mild temperatures and in Somerset. the first two weeks have seen average night minima 5C/41F, day maxima 12C/54F. Last year in comparison, the same two weeks in early March were 1C/34F and 10C/50F.

So you never know, but the important thing is to respect your calendar of appropriate sowing dates, which are the average that works every year. Don’t sow too early, especially warmth loving plants such as courgettes and French/climbing beans. Undercover, I sow basil first week of April, courgettes and squash in mid April and summer beans on 10th May: they grow more quickly in warmth and overtake the earlier sowings. I am sowing tomatoes next week.

Planting, hole depth, small plants

Two tips.

  • Holes can be deeper than the plant roots and compost. Aim to bury all stems so that you have sturdy plants, with leaves at surface level, tucked in close to the surface and less exposed to wind.
  • It’s quicker and easier to set out small plants, and you need less propagation space. I have remarkably little for my large garden, many plants are there for only four to five weeks, see the photos.

Sowing no dig, into surface compost

When the compost is light and of good quality, it’s quick and easy to draw drills for sowing.

If your compost is wet and lumpy, I would consider raising plants rather than direct sowing.

Usually, this is a benefit of having spread compost in autumn, giving time for winter weather to have softened it. But it needs to have been well decomposed when spread.

  • keep your finest compost for the surface layer
  • break up lumps in a wheelbarrow, before spreading compost
  • compost is any decomposed material such as animal manures, your own, town/green waste, leaf mould and spent mushroom compost.

Fleece covers

It’s effective and simple, lay fleece directly on top of seedlings. Then they can bask in the surrounding warmth during any sunshine. If you raise fleece on hoops, the warmth rises away too, plus covers are more vulnerable to damage in high wind.

Here I use a stone every 4ft (1.2m) along the sides as a quick way to hold fleece/row covers in place. Then it is quick to remove for weeding and soon, picking.

Get these seeds going, but for many veg it’s still worth waiting

See my sowing timeline to sort out your dates. Actually I cannot find it on the new site, sorry! Meanwhile I have copied the first four months below. First early potatoes and onion sets are now in season to sow, among many other seeds.

A golden tip is to use any warmth for germinating seeds, and after the first leaves appear you can lower the temperature. I use the hotbed for seeds and seedlings, then move plants to an unheated bench – the greenhouse has no extra heating.

Check variety descriptions 

Peas are a seasonal example of this. 

Dwarf peas grow to about 60cm/2ft high and may support themselves, though s few small branches to support them will make picking easier.

Medium varieties (3ft/75cm high) need twig/branch/net supports.

Tall varieties (rows 1.2m/4ft apart) need lots of space and support!

Keep on top/ahead of weeds!!!

This is now a key job, to save you so much time in all the months ahead. Hoe weeds before they have a true leaf, even when they are barely visible. Run the hoe shallowly through surface compost: it’s a glide, not a hack. Effortless.

Or scuff the surface to dislodge hundreds of tiny seedling roots, to dry in andy sun and wind.

Big job avoided, of larger weeds in weeks ahead. Be proactive. Likewise it’s good to keep removing older, lower leaves of broccoli to have less habitat for slugs.

10 a day

Steph reveals her mastery of Homeacres’ small kitchen and large range of vegetables. She prepares everything on the morning, and washes up by hand, after I bake the rye sourdough bread.

More salad leaves

Each week’s harvest has richer, thicker, glossier leaves, it’s wonderful.

The first plants to flower are tatsoi, and salad rocket is not far behind. Mustards, pak choi, spinach, chard, endive and lettuce continue to grow nicely under cover.

Outdoors we have mustards, lambs lettuce, winter purslane, spinach and chervil.

Making compost

Check this new video on making compost, ingredients and some results. Gather some brown materials for adding to the greens of spring and summer. Suddenly my heaps are over 60C as we add the first mowings of grass and edgings to shredded wood, straw, cardboard, kitchen scraps, wood ash and coffee grounds.

Homeacres compost heap in early March, the foot long probe shows temperature of over 50C

Blight resistant tomatoes

Check this from a young German seed company, Culinaris. They go for flavour, and their tomatoes do resist blight. You can buy packets of 30 seeds and min order value is 25 Euros.

EXCERPT SOWING TIMELINE

February, best start date is Valentines Day

Sow undercover broad beans, spinach, lettuce, peas for shoots, onion, salad onion, early brassicas (cabbage, calabrese, kohlrabi, cauliflower), radish, parsley, coriander, dill. With warmth aubergine, pepper, chilli – sow these by early March

Sow outside broad beans, garlic if not already

March

Sow undercover as for February plus peas, Boltardy beetroot, celery & celeriac mid month. With warmth tomatoes – sow before mid month for undercover cropping, melon at month’s end

Sow outside broad beans, garlic if not already, and after mid month sow lettuce, spinach, peas, onion, salad onion, early brassicas, parsley, coriander, dill, parsnips, first early potato late March.

April

Sow undercover as for March (except its getting late for celeriac, sow asap), leeks, leaf beet, beetroot (all varieties), chard at month’s end, tomatoes for outdoor growing. With warmth and around mid month, cucumber, courgette, squash, sweetcorn

Sow outside all potatoes, broad beans, lettuce, spinach, peas, salad onion, early and autumn brassicas, parsley, leeks, leaf beet, carrots

May

Sow undercover Courgette, French and climbing beans, leaf beet, beetroot, chard, lettuce, winter brassicas, salad onion. Plus leeks and winter squash by early May. 

Swede at end May

Sow outside same as undercover, also maincrop potatoes in early May, carrots, parsnips but keep seedbed moist until germinated.

Comment

From Roscoe Gibbs, commenting on my video about storing vegetables:

“I’m so glad I found Dowding’s methods before I started my allotment. It worked great last season and now once again he has pulled it out of the bag with information I haven’t heard anywhere else, that will save me time and effort on storing. Thanks again Charles. Everyone at my allotment thinks I’m nuts and lazy, but I think they are slowly coming around.”


Leave a comment

8 thoughts on “March 15th update, energy rising, selective sowing, tips on planting and covering

  • lizcolvin

    This new site is very smart – but I was also fond of the old one and knew my way around. How do I get rid of ants in new poly tunnel and a propagating bench which produced ants in the sand within 24 hours of being built, ants now greenfly later. Also there are wood lice in my greenhouse attacking lettuce seedlings too nifty and too many to squash.

  • charles Post author

    Yes Liz I know what you mean, and there are some things to refine on the new site theme.
    You need moist sand, keep as moist as possible. I controlled ants like that in my sand bench, then by summer as I used it less and the sand dried, the ants established, but it did not matter by then. There are always a few.
    Aphids similar story, moisture is best remedy though with lettuce that can be tricky re mildew. Compost quality, lettuce variety are other factors: aphids attack soft leaves of weaker plants.

  • Alison and Keith Woollacott

    I notice from the photos that you are sowing your carrots in short rows across the bed rather than long rows along the bed. Is that to make weeding easier?

    • charles Post author

      It’s more about picking, easier to put a foot between the rows while selecting first harvests of larger ones: combined picking and thinning.
      Sowing across or sowing along, both work, it’s personal preference.

      • charles Post author

        Charlie, I give the safest dates in the Timeline, which over the years have always worked.
        I do not give the “absolute earliest” because that is more risky.
        Here I am gardening in a mild area, am a professional market gardener who takes some risks in order to have early crops, and have my garden well set up to reduce slugs, which are a main reason for not sowing carrots too early. Plus I always cover early sowings with fleece, which not everyone does.
        So for most, April is good to sow carrots e.g. this weekend.
        And then there is the weather… this year is mild, so earlier sowing has been and is possible for frost-hardy veg, but early May could still be frosty, so no rush to sow courgettes etc, unless you like a gamble.

  • SharonJ

    Hi Charles, you said you did not have to wait for weeds to die under the compost before planting. I live on the west coast of Canada- on Vancouver Island. If I do not kill the weeds and grass first, they just grow right up between the veggies. Worst case scenario is fighting horse tail or equisetum. I had to line the garden beds with in impentetrable (I hope) industrial felt and add the compost on top of that. What a nightmare.

    In order to resolve the problem, I am moving. Gardening is no longer a joy but all out war. 🙁