Jobs for March

March is an exciting and busy time for the vegetable gardener. Seed sowing can really begin now but always keep an eye on weather conditions and try to plan ahead, far better to follow the weather than the calendar. Spring is officially here and I’ve been a busy little bee planting onion sets, early potatoes and sowing seed in the greenhouse.

More jobs that can be tackled this month, depending on weather conditions:

  • Sow early peas in guttering, modules or direct if the soil is warm enough
  • Sow chillies and tomatoes, keeping the trays on a warm sunny windowsill indoors
  • Plant early potatoes
  • Sow sweetcorn into individual pots towards the middle of the month, put them in a greenhouse or place on a sunny windowsill and keep the pots warm
  • Sow sweet peas (for their lovely flowers and perfume)
  • Plant raspberry canes
  • Sow brassicas under cover
  • Plant asparagus crowns
  • Sow lettuce and radish in a cold frame or under cloches
  • Carrots and turnips can be sown outdoors under cloches
  • Plant strawberries

I will be posting jobs each month for the veg and fruit garden. Depending on the weather, some of these jobs may not be possible to carry out, but can be tackled another time once conditions are right.

Planting Onion Sets

I planted the onion sets yesterday, in went the trusty Red Baron and a new variety (for me), Hercules. I always grow onions from sets, I find them easier and I get better results than seed grown onions. This is how I plant onion sets:

  • Gently push an onion (pointy tip facing upwards) into the soil, butting it up against the line guide to keep your row nice and straight (I use an old piece of wood). Leave the tip of the onion exposed from the soil, if your soil is heavy don’t force the onion in, use a dibber, otherwise you might damage the onion.
  • I know roughly how far apart to plant onion sets by stretching my thumb and forefinger apart (as far as they will go) and using the space between as my guide.
  • Continue this process until you run out of onions sets or your finger and thumb start to ache.
  • Give the onions a good watering and keep the space between them weed free as they grow.

Some folk start onion sets off in cell trays in an unheated greenhouse, planting them out when conditions are right. I haven’t bothered doing this but I’m sure it works fine. I hope the Hercules do well, time will tell. Which varieties are you growing?

Planting Salad Potatoes

I’ve been planting Charlotte salad potatoes in the glorious warm sunshine. The past few days have been quite warm, easy to forget it’s only March.

Potatoes use up a lot of space in the veg garden but I always find room for salad types. I have some Charlotte seed potatoes left over so I will probably plant another row in a few weeks time, this should help to prolong the harvest period. I missed a few plants last year, thankfully a long spell of good weather allowed me to continue digging up Charlotte potatoes well into October.

Desiree main crop potatoes are going in at the allotment next month, the growing tubers should break the compacted soil further down where it’s hard to dig.

First Day of Spring

Today was the first day of spring and a beautiful one it was too. I spent a few hours in the vegetable garden, getting a few jobs done. I couldn’t help but notice the 7-spot ladybirds breeding, my garden is a magnet for them at the moment.

They certainly seemed to be enjoying the warm sunshine. Ahem! Record your ladybird sightings at: http://www.ladybird-survey.org

Emptying the Compost Bins

I have been emptying a few of our compost bins recently, the compost is crumbly and smells earthy, a sure sign that it’s ready for use. The compost is rich in chicken manure, green waste and kitchen scraps. Tiger worms have certainly been doing their bit, our bins are literally wriggling with them. I shovelled the compost into a waiting wheelbarrow, then tipped it straight into some of the raised beds.

Now I’ve got some empty bins to fill with more magical compost-making ingredients.

Wildlife Pond

Yesterday I found a small frog amongst the rockery plants, a great sign that our small wildlife pond is still attracting lots of wildlife. We made the pond last February, using one of those rigid plastic pond moulds. It has 3 shelves for marginal pond plants to sit on but we added a few bricks and large rocks to make ‘steps’, this should make it easier for wildlife to enter or exit the pond. We also added a small rockery around one side.

How the new pond looked this time last year:

Buying plants for the pond was fun, there were so many to choose from but we tried our best to stick to native plants. Puddle Plants appear to have a good selection: http://www.puddleplants.co.uk/search.php?mode=search&page=1

So far the pond has a pretty water-lily (not a native but hopefully future baby frogs will enjoy using the lily pads), bunches of oxygenating pond weed, yellow flag iris, small rush, evergreen grass and a marsh marigold. The pond is a constant source of fascination for me, being a fairly new pond I’m amazed at the amount of wildlife it has attracted already. We added a few pond snails last year (the population has increased somewhat) and I saw water boatmen, water louse and pond skaters last summer.

I’m hoping frogs will spawn in our pond this year, that would be great. However, I’m currently enjoying planting around the pond to create a ‘wild’ look to give frogs and newts cover from predators. I haven’t seen newts yet but they should like the rockery seeing as there’s lots of hiding places.

The decision to include a wildlife pond to our vegetable garden was mainly to attract frogs to keep the slug population down, but the pond has become so much more than that. I find myself visiting the pond more and more, watching and learning about so many other fascinating water creatures. I highly recommend adding a pond to your garden if you can, it doesn’t have to be an extravagant affair, a recycled sink or raised pot/barrel are just some examples (Flighty’s Plot uses a shallow dustbin lid for a pond at the allotment). Children will be fascinated by water and pond wildlife (I know I was as a kid), with a little extra thought you can add water to your garden safely, especially important if you have young children. Whatever you choose, fill it with water, pop some pond plants in and within no time you’ll be hooked as much as I am.

If you already have a pond, are you also eagerly awaiting frog spawn? Many pond owners are already recording the first frog spawn! Use the Pond Conservation online survey to record your information, all entries go towards the Big Spawn Count: http://www.pondconservation.org.uk/bigponddip/BigSpawncount/BigSpawnCountonlinerecordingform

Ladybirds

Ladybirds are everywhere at the moment, lots of them too. They’re in the greenhouse, peeking out of the bug boxes I’ve provided, grouped together on shrubs, fence posts and they’re even spilling out of the joins of my wooden raised beds.

I’m hoping they stick around and zap all the aphid this year.

Forced Rhubarb is Ready

In January I forced my crown of Timperley Early rhubarb, using my rather stylish forcing jar. Stems are ready to harvest once the leaves reach the top of the forcer. The sweet aroma of rhubarb filled the air as I pulled pink tender stems from the ground early this morning.

A bowl of warm rhubarb crumble is just what’s needed to cheer up such a wet and miserable-looking day.

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