Winter is making way for brighter, warmer spring days and the ground is getting warmer. The days are getting longer – there’s even time now to visit our plot in the evenings. It’s time to prepare our seed beds for the coming year and starting to grow plants under cover, In April the first seedlings start to appear and established plants will need feeding, seeds need to be sewn, and young seedlings will require potting on. But there is still a danger of frost and pests are on the rise.
There’s not much to harvest – April is the so-called ‘hungry gap’ when there is little to harvest (and not much is growing!).The most important job is getting the ground ready: dig over beds; lift any weeds; apply organic matter (compost/manure) and apply plant feed. There is also a chance to make some early preparations by erecting climbing frames, preparing cloches and cold frames, and re-establishing borders and edges.
March is not only when most of ramp up our activities on our plots but it’s also when plot inspections start.
It is also in March that we cut the grass for the first time in the year, bringing with it that very British smell of mown lawns (and some green growth to add to our compost heaps).
Finally, The Shed at the Digswell site re-opens this month – pop in on Sunday mornings between 11:00 and 12:30 to stock up on canes, compost, fertilisers, grow-bags, slug pellets, seeds and other essentials.
Broad beans, peas, early chitted seed potatoes, onions, root and stem vegetable, cabbages and cauliflowers, lettuce and salad crops.
Prune berries, prepare frames/cloches/fleece. Weed, remove large stones and rake seedbeds and apply fertilisers. Dig bean trenches.
Early rhubarb, kale, sprouting broccoli, leeks and spring onions
Early spring is the time to plant root crops, and carrots can even be planted outdoors under cover during February. And a little preparation before they are planted can make a big difference to crop.
Carrots naturally grow in well drained sandy soil. They are not well suited to heavier clay soils where their development is hindered by solid clay or stones and the wet ground can increase the likelihood roots rotting. This can be overcome by growing them on raised beds and/or by selected short root varieties.
Whilst root vegetable take nutrients from the soil, too much goodness can cause them to fork. Carrots, for example, tend to have greatest success when grown in a bed that was well manured for the preceding crop.
They are sometimes grown for competition in plastic tubes containing a soil/sand mixture. 'V-shaped’ channels in a bed to the depth of a spade head, filled with a mixture of sand, coffee grounds and spent soil from grow bags can also help to reduce obstructions to root growth, and prevent forking.
Potatoes are a versatile vegetable, and the process of preparing the ground and growing potatoes helps to break up the soil. By now, seed potatoes should be well chitted – with several short, plump roots sprouting from their ‘eyes’.
Before planting them, ensure that some well-rotted compost or manure has been dug in. The potatoes should be planted in ‘V’ shaped trenches at least 12cm (5”) deep. Trenches should be at least 30cm (12”) apart for early varieties, 37cm (15”) for maincrop varieties.
When to plant and harvest:
Water the potatoes during dry weather and apply a liquid feed every few weeks to increase the yield and the quality of tubors. As soon as the green shoots start to appear, earth up to cover the stems with a ridge that is ~15cm (6”) high – this is stop light reaching the potatoes.
In almost any year Slugs are the most troublesome pests on our plots.
A cubic metre of soil can hold up to 200 slugs. Most of these are below ground during the day only surfacing in the evenings.
The best way to keep them in check is to tackle them on several fronts:
Now that there is so little growing on the plot, it’s a good time to visualise how it might be redesigned and reshaped.
Firstly think about the layout, and how you can provide access to all beds without compacting the soil. This can be achieved through a combination of grassed areas, paving, soft paving such as gravel or woodchip, and strategically placed slabs.
So plants take up a lot more space than others: squashes, rhubarb, tomatoes are likely to spread, whereas carrots, beetroot, leafy crops and the alliums are space-saving. Similarly, construct frames and plan to grow taller plants (sweetcorn, runner beans, etc.) where they won’t cast too much unwanted shade.
Taking this a step further, some crops can be grown in combination where they require different nutrients. For example, growing onions amongst carrots can help deter carrot fly and the ‘three sisters’ – sweetcorn, climbing beans and squash – complement each other as they grow.
Some plants can provide visual interest – e.g. taller flowering plants such as artichokes or cardoons, and crops with colourful foliage such as mixed chard varieties and some brassicas. Most flowers will also add interest and attract pollenating insects.