A dry month in the Kitchen Garden

Stephanie's Kitchen Garden Diary - 27th March 2015

March has seen the Kitchen Garden emerge from the long winter into spring and the burst of growing activity that it brings. We have experienced a very dry month in Stephanie’s Kitchen Garden with some lovely spells of sunshine. However the temperatures have struggled and it is only now, at the end of the month that the warmth of the sun is beginning to be felt.

It has been a busy month of seed sowing and pricking out in the greenhouse. This month we have sown salad leaves, lettuce, tom plantsrocket, kale, calabrese, cabbages, French beans, peas, sweet peas, basil, parsley, watercress, courgettes, cucumbers, leeks, tomatoes, carrots and beetroot. Phew! Many of these have pricked out into small pots. In the cold frame we have brussel sprouts and broccoli ready to be planted out into our vintage vegetable cage. Our greenhouse is filling up and space is becoming sparse. Its amazing how, not matter what the size of your greenhouse, you always wish for more space at this time of the year!

Early in March we planted out our broad bean plants and our shallots. These had been in the cold frame acclimatising to the weather whilst the ground was dug over and fertilised with fish, blood and bone. The shallots have been left uncovered, but the broad beans still need some protection from hungry pigeons and birds. They were planted alongside the overwintering broad beans we planted out back in the autumn. Each plant was staked and then the whole crop was covered with fleece. We built a framework from slot and lock and draped the fleece over it, securing it in the ground with tri-pegs. When the plants are bigger, the fleece and frame will be removed and a chicken wire fence will be erected around the crop for the rest of its life.

Our mint plants have been divided and repotted to keep them vigorous and healthy. This is a process we carry out every year at this time. Our lavender and rosemary have been trimmed to promote fresh new growth, and we have sowed basil and parsley in the greenhouse.

This month we harvested the last of our leeks. We had plenty of these left and they have certainly kept us going through the traditional ‘hungry gap’. However, with the weather warming up and the days lengthening, the remaining plants would soon start to grow ready to flower, rendering them inedible. Now we are all stocked up on delicious leek soup in the freezer!

During March we have completely emptied our compost bins ready to begin filling them up again throughout the summer. Over the winter we have gradually added compost to our beds, but still had plenty of crumbly black compost ready to be used. This was spread as a mulch all around the garden, both on the ground and in the raised beds. It will help to suppress weeds, add nutrients to the soil and also introduce more worms which help keep the soil open and healthy. Doing this every year continually improves the structure of the soil making it perfect for growing healthy vegetables. Hard work, but so satisfying, especially when you consider that the compost is completely free!

We have begun the annual war on slugs and snails this month. According to recent press reports, this year is predicted to be a bad one when it comes to our slimy enemies, so we will be taking regular steps to ensure they don’t get the upper hand in our garden. Jo has been monitoring the soil temperatures in our beds and towards the end of the month they were warm enough to apply our first dose of Nemaslug. This process will be repeated at 6 weekly intervals throughout the growing season. We have also stocked up on organic slug pellets to protect our new young seedlings from snails.

Last year our cold frame was a haven for hungry slugs and snails, so we have applied copper tape around the outside to stop them from making their way in. We will also be applying the tape to the pots of vulnerable plants such as our sea kale which is now a year old.

March has been a really dry month in Stephanie’s Kitchen Garden, with very little rainfall. The soil has been really dry and plants in pots have needed regular watering. We have even had the sprinkler on our onion, garlic and broad bean crops. This month we set up our irrigation ready for the coming season. We have been laying out our soaker hoses in the main beds. These are set up on timers during the main growing season, but for now we will be turning them on as and when we need them. The raised bed irrigation has remained in place all winter so is ready to go whenever we need it.

grow housesOur tomato plants are growing very strongly in the greenhouse, enjoying the balmy temperatures provided by our heater. Pretty soon we will be able to plant them out into our tomato grow houses which we have assembled this month. These are cleaned and dismantled for the winter and put up again each spring.

Our fruit bushes and trees are all showing signs of buds bursting with leaves and blossom. These have had a good watering during the dry spell. The raspberries and blueberries have also been given a good mulch with Strulch to keep the moisture in the soil and prevent the

weeds from growing. Our rhubarb has begun growing under the forcers promising a delicious crop in the not to distant future.

It has certainly been a busy month in the Kitchen Garden. It’s lovely to be growing in earnest and looking forward to the productive season ahead.

 Here are some of the jobs we've got planned for April in Stephanie's Kitchen Garden:

  • Begin spraying fruit trees with Epsom salts as soon as the foliage begins to emerge.
  • Plant out shallots and broad beans.
  • Plant out new potatoes at the beginning of the month.
  • Pot on seedlings.
  • Plant out brassicas into vegetable cage.
  • Sow sweetcorn, kohl rabi and successional salads.

We're always here to offer advice and support. Go to the Ask the Expert section on the website and Email Horticultural Advisor Jo Blackwell with your Kitchen Garden queries or Pest Control expert Gavin Hatt and they'll do their best to help!

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Our 108-page Spring catalogue is out now and it's packed full of gardening ideas and products to solve the problems every gardener faces, plus plenty more seasonal ideas for harvesting, storage and preserving solutions.

Happy gardening!