March is coming in like a lamb – more fine weather. However the long cold spell of late February is due to end soon with a probable and not unusual complication of damper conditions again. However the dry spell has been brilliant for doing lots of gardening, without mud, and I hope you have managed to be preparing your ground for spring. I noticed how even after one dry week, the surface of many beds could be raked lightly to break up surface lumps, and it is now time for a few early sowings.
Spinach is one of the best vegetables for an early outdoor sowing. Look for seed of longer lived varieties, such as Toscane and Boa F1, so that harvests are over months rather than weeks, even into June. If you like green spinach leaves in summer, sow leaf beet in April to crop when the true spinach has gone to flower, although leaf beet’s flavour is less impressive than real spinach. Leaf beet and chard are better sown in April than March, to reduce bolting, and ruby chard in particular is better sown in May if you want it through summer and into autumn.
The calendar of sowing in spring is a long one with considerable waiting for best dates to come round. Don’t feel pressured if your allotment neighbour is making earlier sowings than you because it is often the later ones that do better in the end. After spinach the first vegetables to sow outdoors, from mid March, are radish, parsnip, lettuce, pea, brassicas of early varieties, onion, salad onion and carrot. All can be covered with fleece and will be much helped by that. All these vegetables except carrot and parsnip can also be sown undercover in modules and then planted in April. Indoor sowings now include tomato, pepper, chilli, aubergine, and celeriac, with some extra warmth if possible, so the first fortnight on a windowsill is worthwhile. Also beetroot in modules, four seed to each and thinned to four plants per module.
First and second early potatoes also want planting now. My favourite way is to make a small hole with a trowel to pop them in about one inch deep, then “earth up” with extra organic matter, which can be less well rotted compost and manure, depending what you have available.
So there is plenty to do without even thinking of sowing climbing beans, sweetcorn, courgettes and squash: keep them for sowing later when it is warmer.
Progress at Homeacres
I have been surprising myself with the amount of new beds here and almost every one is different. With help from Josh, a keen young gardener who is also doing a monthly trial of different ways of living and eating (http://vimeo.com/iwanttoliveinavan), we made a bed of municipal green waste compost and used a lot of it to mulch a bed between fruit trees. That one, with plant fabric on top, is now planted with alpine and everbearing strawberries.
Then Steph helped to mulch another bed between other apple trees and I shall probably plant a few squashes there.
Around the greenhouse was a muddy, squelching mess after all the building work and erection on 11th (see February). I was wondering how to grow anything there and when showing some course participants the muddy mess, I thought to dig up a clod of soil to find out what it looked like under the compacted surface. In fact, the pasture roots and worm channels were still intact, from two or three inches down, so I just put compost on top and trust worms and other soil life to heal the damaged layer which is now about eight inches down! I had not meant this bed to be so deep but it kept on growing! It will be an interesting comparison with the beds of thinner mulch beyond.
Two beds beyond the greenhouse have less compost on, a mere three inches or so, and are covered on top with either black polythene, green polythene (from a friendly farmer’s old sheep polytunnel) and cardboard. This sequence has twelve photos to give you a good idea of how the beds were created.
Another bed has four inches of manures and compost on grass, with a strip of cardboard along both edges to keep grass at bay there, and I covered that bed with plant fabric as a kind of safety measure in case the four inches is too little for buttercups and perennial grasses.
Just for a change, I bought a mushroom kit from www.organiccatalogue.co.uk with three kinds of spawn on wooden dowels. Then on reading the instructions, I realised that it is a major project to plant and look after the mycelium. First I took a wheelbarrow into a distant field to cut a low branch off an oak tree. Then drilled 9mm holes for the fungi-carrying dowels, then Steph covered the dowels and other wounds with ultra hot wax, then I put the logs in black polythene sacks and buried them in a shady spot for at least six months. Just a beginning…. more on this in the autumn, I hope!
Updates from March 15th 2013.
The cold weather has certainly been severe for mid March, a reminder of how fortunate we have been in recent years, decades even, to have milder early springs. Currently it is turning less cold but also wet so that is no better!
Planting 8th March
However it may warm up and become a little more spring-like around the equinox and perhaps it may dry up again around the full moon on 27th, maybe Easter will even see nice weather. One has to hope. The month’s last week is good time for planting onion sets, potatoes and more lettuce, salads outside. There is no rush at this time of year for most other sowings and plantings. However it is a good moment for sowing celeriac and celery, as long as you can offer some warmth, so a windowsill is excellent for them.
I already planted some early potatoes on the second hotbed and some salads in a small bed where peas for shoots, spring onion, spinach and lettuce are planted together, with fleece on top. Normally I would be planting early cabbage and calabrese at this time but a combination of cold weather and not having a greenhouse until a month ago has been tricky.
I wish I had fleeced my overwintered salads outdoors, which looked fine until Monday 11th, when they were shrivelled by a bitter northeasterly gale, an exceptional wind, the winter’s coldest day. The salad which survived best is good old lambs lettuce.
It made the greenhouse an attractive place to be with a maximum on that day of 12C, compared to 0C outside. However the difference by night is much less pronounced: for example on 14th it was -7C outside (winter’s lowest temperature here, in mid March!) and -5C in the greenhouse, so I am glad to have plants growing on top of the hotbed, Tomato seedlings are in the middle and I laid fleece on them overnight. A friend nearby left her tomato plants in an unheated greenhouse and they were frazzled; if plants freeze, it is a lot of effort and expense lost. In a frost of -2 or -3C, the greenhouse holds just enough heat overnight but keep an eye on the forecasts in case another severe frost is predicted.
I have finished mulching all the recent plantings of fruit trees, using combinations of manure, compost and cardboard, with landscape fabric on top. The fabric does not kill weeds because it lets some light through but should prevent weed growth when combined with the other coverings underneath it. Also it stops blackbirds from scattering the manure. Steph helped with the last three trees where we laid cardboard first:
Other news from Homeacres
There has been sudden and rapid progress of the conservatory, after the oak pillars and beams finally arrived. Mark has been working steadily and rapidly so these pictures span only five days, once I had treated the timbers with OSMO UV protector.