Dig It

With Fulke Andel Gardening advice for the new (and not so new) gardener

Let’s hope we’ve seen the last of the heavy rain. It strikes me that ever since the Met Office started naming the storms, they’ve become more productive. Perhaps we should petition them to go back to having anonymous storms! I have to say that the cold snap in February was very welcome, and hopefully helped kill off some bugs that had survived the mild winter.

The day’s length is such that the plants now want to get going, but the ground temperature must be right for success. March is said to arrive roaring like a lion and leave like a lamb, so patience is a virtue this month, as we wait for the spring lamb. Don’t panic if the weather continues to be bad, as the plants will catch up – eventually.

There is no such thing as an absolute set date for a job in gardening, as temperatures vary according to where you are in the area. Temperatures are warmer nearer the coast than they are 10 miles in land, so adjust what you do for where you are and the weather.

Frosts can still be a hazard, so keep vulnerable plants protected at night if frost is forecast. March winds are also notorious for their ferocity so check exposed plants are well supported.

Now is the time for a thorough spring clean; weed and dig over your borders incorporating as much organic matter as you can – those chilly winds will really help to dry out the soil. Mulch bare soil once you have done the work and remove moss and weeds from paths, terraces and driveways. They may be boring tasks but if you don’t get on top of the garden now (especially the weeds!) it will be a nightmare for the rest of the season.

Clean and repair your garden tools, book the lawn mower in for a service (if it hasn’t had one already) and check garden furniture for any rot. When it is warm enough, treat sheds, fences and trellis with wood preservative; brushes and rollers are fine for most things; however a sprayer is well worth buying for tricky projects such as woven panels!
For those of you planning your first vegetable garden, prepare your soil adding as much organic matter as you can.

For a first year’s crop, potatoes are considered a good choice as they help break up the soil. In reality – it’s you digging up the potatoes later in the year that breaks up the soil! If you’re planting in what used to be a lawn, you can expect to lose a lot of the potatoes in the first year to wireworm and / or keel slugs. Buy good quality seeds as it’s a shame not to get the best rewards for all the hard work put into preparing your vegetable patch. Remember to take soil condition and weather into account when sowing seeds.

For those more interested in flowers, here are some things to keep you busy. . .hardy annuals can be sown in pots or modules to provide colour in the garden. If conditions allow, you can sow directly outside. Marking out irregularly shaped seedbeds and broadcasting drifts of different seed gives a more natural look. Sweet peas can be sown outside this month. Place autumn-sown sweet peas in a sunny position, perhaps on a high shelf in the greenhouse that gets plenty of light. Sow summer bedding plants in a heated propagator or under glass. Early spring is an ideal time to plant herbaceous perennials, including geranium, astrantia and oriental poppies.

Plant summer-flowering bulbs. Prepare the soil first, to ensure that drainage is sufficient to prevent the bulbs rotting. Anemone coronariatubers need particularly well-drained soils. Indoor forced bulbs that were in the house for winter displays, but which have now finished flowering, can be planted into the garden, taking care not to disturb the roots.

Sow/Plant

Beetroot

Broad beans

Early peas

Brussels sprouts

Leeks

Lettuce

Radishes

Parsnips

Shallots

Onion sets

Early potatoes

Sow under cover

Summer cabbages – under cloches

Early cauliflowers– under cloches

Early carrots– under cloches

Your windowsill or a propagator in the greenhouse will come into use now to start off your

tomatoes, peppers,aubergines and cucumbers

Plant Out

Plant bare rooted fruit trees and bushes

Harvest

Leeks

Parsnips

Spinach beet

Chards

 

Fruit

Prune apple and

pear trees

Prune gooseberriesblackcurrants, red and white currants

General

Protect new spring shoots from slugs

Plant summer-flowering bulbs

Lift and divide overgrown clumps of perennials

Top dress containers with fresh compost

Mow the lawn on dry days (if needed)

Cut back Cornus (dogwood) and Salix (willow) grown for colourful winter stems

Weeds come back in to growth – deal with them before they get out of hand

Start feeding fish and using the pond fountain; remove pond heaters

Open the greenhouse or conservatory doors and vents on warm days

Reader’s Tips

Sprinkle ash from garden bonfires around the base of fruit trees, they’ll love the potash! Of course, if you haven’t the space for a bonfire, make friends with a neighbour who has a log burner!

S.D. – Hendy

Seasonal Recipe

 Here’s a recipe for Cheesy Leeks

Leeks casserole with white sauce and cheese

Leeks casserole with white sauce and cheese

A tasty accompaniment for a Gammon Steak.

Serves 4.

Takes approximately 20 mins, you’ll need 4 leeks, a jar of cheese sauce (M&S Cornish Crunch or similar), English mustard and grated cheddar cheese.

Preheat grill to high.

Clean the leaks and cut in half, par-boil for 5 mins and drain.

While the leeks are boiling, heat the sauce, add the mustard and stir.

Tip the leeks into a baking tray, pour the sauce over them.

Sprinkle with grated cheddar and grill for 5 mins or until the leeks are tender.

 

Ed’s note: EASY CHEESY SAUCE!

Ingredients: 1 tbsp plain flour, 1 tbsp butter, pint of milk, 100g mature cheddar cheese, salt and pepper, tsp ready-made mustard.

Method: put flour, butter and milk into a saucepan and heat gently stirring with a whisk until the sauce thickens. Add the mustard then remove from the heat. Stir in the cheese and season to taste.

 

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