This monthly article is mainly designed for those new to gardening who are looking to enjoy the fruits of their labours on their dinner plate. For experienced gardeners, it will act more as an aide memoire as to what needs to be done. I would however ask those experienced gardeners out there to get in touch with their tips, to help those new to growing fruit, vegetables and flowers.
The one thing to remember about gardening is that it’s all about planning ahead. Sometimes you reap the rewards quickly (annuals flower within weeks of planting) or in years (asparagus beds take a few years to give good crops). The thing to remember is that it’s not an exact science; you’re at the mercy of so many variables – mainly due to the weather. This dictates everything from the rate of germination, to plant growth, flowering and ripening.
There is no absolute set date for any job in the garden, so you’ll need to take your soil condition into account before sowing etc. In general, cold wet soil isn’t a welcoming place for most seeds. If your soil is wet and sticks to the soles of your boots, I’d wait a day or two for the soil to dry a bit more before doing anything.
Finally, grow what you like! There’s absolutely no value in growing something as prolific as courgettes for example, if you can’t abide them! Your neighbours will soon get fed up with your ‘surplus food parcels’ and will hide behind the settee rather than open the door to you!
So, if you’re thinking about starting a vegetable patch, here’s some advice……..
- Get into the garden as soon as you can, and cover the area you intend using as a kitchen garden with thick polythene / tarpaulin weighed down with stones. Doing this now will help kill off the vegetation and make the next steps that much easier!
- Once the ground has thawed and is reasonably dry, peel back the covering you’ve put on, mark the shape of your veg patch with sand trickled from an old plastic bottle. Remove the top layer of growing vegetation and dig the ground over, incorporating as much organic matter as possible. If you are making a bed in the lawn, remove the turf and stack it upside down somewhere out of the way – after a year or two it will rot down into fantastic compost. Alternatively chop it up and bury upside down in the planting hole a good spade’s depth down. Don’t just dig it in to the top surface, or it will just re-grow.
- Start off with a small veg patch this year; if you find you enjoy growing your own and have some success, you can always make it bigger next year – assuming you have the space.
- 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 around 40% of the potatoes in the first year due to wireworm and / or keel slug
- 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
Don’t worry if you don’t have space for a veg patch, a large number of vegetables (including potatoes and carrots) can be successfully grown in tubs.
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 during March. Marking out irregularly shaped seedbeds and broadcasting drifts of different seed gives a more natural look. Sweet peas can be sown outside during March. 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 now be planted into the garden, taking care not to disturb the roots.
JOBS TO DO IN THE GARDEN
For the months of February and March
As this edition of The Bay covers two months, check the instructions on the seed packets to establish when best to sow them.
Sow: (under glass where appropriate)
- Broad beans
- Early peas
- Brussels sprouts
- Onion sets
- Early Potatoes
- Summer cabbages, turnips and spinach
- Seed onions
- Aubergine and peppers
- Jerusalem artichokes
- Bare rooted fruit trees and bushes
- Perpetual spinach and chard
- Cabbage, Purple sprouting broccoli and kale
- Brussels sprouts
- Chicory and endive
- Celeriac, celery and Jerusalem artichokes
- Finish pruning currants (black, red and white), and gooseberries.
- Force rhubarb by covering with a large purpose made pot (or an old dustbin).
- Prune appleand pear
- Prepare vegetable seed beds, and sow some vegetables under cover (see above)
- Chit potato tubers
- Net fruit and vegetable crops to keep the birds off
- Prune winter-flowering shrubs that have finished flowering
- Divide bulbs such as snowdrops, and plant those that need planting ‘in the green’
- Prune wisteria
- Prune hardy evergreen hedges and renovate overgrown deciduous hedges
- Prune conservatory climbers
- Cut back deciduous grasses left uncut over the winter
- 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 backCornus (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
- Use cloches to warm and dry out the soil before sowing seeds
Here’s a recipe for celeriac and parsnip mash. A great alternative to mashed potato – and lower in carbs!
You will need a large celeriac and around 500g of parsnips, butter, salt and pepper.
Peel and chop the celeriac and the parsnips. Place in a large pan of salted, boiling water and cook for 15 to 20 mins until soft. Drain and mash the vegetables, adding butter and seasoning to taste.
This year in addition to his monthly advice on what to do in the garden, Fulke will be sharing the garden make-over that he is undertaking for a friend
On the face of it, my friends’ garden looked very appealing, but as they walked me through it, I began to understand why they saw the need to make changes. It was fairly obvious that the initial owner’s brief was one of ‘low maintenance’ – there isn’t a patch of bare soil to be seen anywhere. The whole garden being covered by different coloured pebbles, stone and slate. The shrubs used where, what I would call, municipal. Virtually all evergreen, some variegated, lots of duplicate planting – with very little colour in sight.
So my starting point was to establish the brief – what would they like in the garden? ‘As it’s such a small garden, every plant will need to earn the right to be here!’ was the prompt response. Some of the existing shrubs could stay in order to provide architectural structure. However, any new plants must not only provide yearlong colour and interest, but scent (wherever possible), berries and fruit for the birds, cut flowers and of course herbs for
cooking. The icing on the cake would be the inclusion of a small vegetable garden to provide some runner beans and salad crops during the summer. A simple brief for such a small plot! Now the most difficult question of all………and the budget? Well it appears that less than £1000 would be acceptable.
The next step with any ‘makeover’ is to draw a plan (right) of the garden to scale, noting the direction in which it faces. Also useful to note where the sunny areas are. So armed with a 5 metre tape measure, I spent a rather wet Sunday afternoon measuring everything in sight.
The next few weeks will be spent researching plants and putting down ideas on paper, to share with my friends, and hopefully gain approval to start. I’ll report back in the next edition of the Bay.