March 2018 will certainly be a month in the garden that we will not forget in a hurry.

Stephanie's Kitchen Garden Diary - 27th March 2018

rhubarb 18March 2018 will certainly be a month in the garden that we will not forget in a hurry! We have veered from extreme arctic weather and deep snow to gardening in our shirtsleeves in the sunshine. Gardeners and garden have both been exposed to some interesting conditions for the time of year – and survived! Despite the suspended animation that the snow brought at the start of the month, we’ve made up for lost time and have been busy, busy, busy ever since.

Outside in the Kitchen Garden we have obviously been held up by the weather. Crops such as leeks and parsnips are usually sown during February and followed up by further sowings during March. This year we only made our first sowing after the snow had melted away and we had warmed the ground with a layer of fleece. As I write this, at the end of March, the first tiny seedlings are just beginning to appear beneath the fleece.

Overwintering crops such as broad beans, spinach and broccoli have survived the cold but have been slow to put on new growth. Our overwintering broad beans, which looked decidedly sad after their brush with the snow, have perked up and are starting to grow. Their spring sown counterparts are currently hardening off in the cold frame and will be planted out in the next couple of weeks. We also have peas that are nearly ready to be planted out alongside them.  We have planted out our shallots alongside the garlic and onions planted last year. The shallots have been given fleece protection to see them through the cold snap that is forecasted for the Easter weekend.

Despite the awful recent weather, we are still harvesting. The kale is providing some good leaves, we still have a few celeriac ready for harvesting and we have a lovely supply of spinach leaves from the raised bed inside the greenhouse. We also have leeks left over from the winter crop and these will be harvested very soon before they run to flower. The rhubarb is growing as we watch and we will be harvesting some delicious forced stems in the days ahead in time for Easter.

We have completed the digging over of our main beds this month. They were treated to a generous mulch of homemade compost back at the end of 2017 and this has now been incorporated into the soil. We left it roughly dug over and let the snow and frost break it down before raking it out. The potato bed has now been covered with a layer of polythene to warm the soil before the new potatoes are planted out. We normally follow the tradition of planting these over the Easter weekend, but will be leaving it for another week or two this year.

The garden structures and supports have all been given a wash down with warm soapy water to smarten them up for the season ahead. Over the winter our garden becomes a breeding ground for algae and this includes our metal arches and obelisks. One of the benefits of the powder-coated steel is that it is easily restored with a wash and our garden structures look like new. The kitchen garden is neat, tidy, clean and prepared for the growing season to come.

Inside the greenhouse it has been constantly spring, despite the awful weather outside.   When the cold was too much to bear, the greenhouse was a haven of warmth to retreat to. As a whole we have sown our greenhouse crops at the same time as we would normally, holding back only on our tomatoes as we were mindful that we wouldn’t be able to move other plants out to the cold frame in time to make room for large tomato plants if the cold weather continues. The staging is already packed full of little plants jostling for space alongside the tender plants from the wider ornamental gardens that we overwinter in the warmth. The tomatoes were sown in the middle of March and are already little plants potted on to individual pots.broccoli march 18

March is the month that brings to the fore one of my favourite jobs of the gardening year; pricking out. I like to leave it until a sunny day with blue skies where I can leave the greenhouse door open and spend a morning moving tiny seedlings to larger pots. Sunny days have been few and far between this year, and far too precious to spend inside the greenhouse, but the pricking out was still as satisfying knowing we were out of the freezing weather! We are continuing to prick out seedlings as and when needed and have just spent an enjoyable hour pricking out the tomato plants into individual small pots before being put back into the heated propagator with the aubergines and peppers.   Hopefully it will not be many more weeks before we can take down the bubble insulation from the greenhouse windows and open up the view to the garden from within. For now, it will remain until the weather becomes a little more consistent with no threats of extreme cold weather. Keen as I am to remove the insulation, I have to remind myself of the old saying ‘Ne’er cast a clout……….’

Since the snow disappeared the garden seems to have jumped into growth and nature appears to be trying to catch up on the pause that the snow brought.   And it isn’t only the life that has come alive – the slugs have begun to appear clinging to the bottom of pots and seed trays. We have just ordered our first Nemaslug application of the year. The soil needs to be above 6 degrees in order to use it, so we will pop it in the fridge and place a soil thermometer in the earth to give us the green light for applying it.   We have used nemaslug for many years now and have always found it to be very effective indeed. It will be applied every six weeks right through until October.

The weeds are also beginning to grow, which is always a good sign that the soil beginning to warm up. Now is the time to begin a weekly ritual of removing them whilst they are still small. Initially this is being done by hand with a handfork, but as the weather improves the hoe will be used to cut them off and leave them in the sun to perish.  

Or course the highlight of March for us gardeners is the passing of the Spring Equinox and the clocks going forward an hour. This has given us all a precious extra hour of light at the end of the day to spend in the garden. For me this is the best time of the year – long light days, warming weather and a whole season of growing between me and next winter.

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

  • Plant early and main crop potatoes.
  • Plant out brassica plants into the vegetable cage.
  • Sow cucumbers, squash and courgettes in the greenhouse.
  • Continue pricking out and potting on seedlings.
  • Sow salad leaves for successional planting.
  • Remove bubble insulation from greenhouse windows and give them a good clean.
  • Put Capillary matting onto greenhouse staging ready for hot weather ahead.
  • Leave greenhouse door and windows open on fine days to allow air circulation.
  • Hoe off any weeds that appear.
  • Apply nemslug to soil.

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