Spring is certainly on its way here in the south east of England – after a cold start to March with snow flurries and hail, temperatures are set to rise over the next few days with conditions staying dry for at least a week. Of course March is not a month to rely on and we could be back to arctic conditions at anytime, so I will not be taking any chances with my preparations for summer. As the garden is still fairly bare I have used a few photos from last years vegetable garden to illustrate this post.
Following on from my list last month my big news is that my fruit cage is now on order and should be arriving this weekend. I saw the first rooks of the year hanging around the Kitchen Garden today, so erecting this fruit cage will be a top priority this month. I have chosen a fruit cage from Harrod Horticultural primarily because it meets my requirements, but also because I liked the little videos on their website which show you how to erect it. I have also ordered two raised beds to put in front of my new greenhouse which is nearing completion. Hopefully in April I will be able to show you all three in use!
I mentioned last month that I had placed my lovely terracotta forcer from Agriframes over a set of rhubarb. I have had a rethink of the rhubarb bed this month and am just about to order three new varieties. At present I grow Timperley Early, which is a lovely tender pink variety and quite a lot of Victoria, which is a later variety that I am not overly keen on (I find the texture too tough and the taste quite acidic). I also have one crown of Livingstone, which is said to crop in spring and autumn. This was only planted last year, so I have not tried it yet.
My preference for rhubarb is long red stems that can be used for poaching or roasting without losing colour or shape and that will produce a lovely pink liquid to make a rhubarb syrup or liqueur. As the point about ‘growing your own’ is to have varieties that you love, I have decided to remove most of the Victoria crowns (I will leave one) and replant with three new varieties – Raspberry Red, described as having deep red thick stalks and being sweeter than other varieties, Thompsons Terrifically Tasty, which is said to be delicious and ready as early as February without forcing and Champagne which is the best for forcing. I have ordered all three from Pomona Fruits. I am preparing the bed now – digging deeply and incorporating lots of garden compost ready for planting when they arrive in a week or two. Rhubarb should be left to establish without picking in the first year, so it will be next spring before I will know if this is a change for the better.
I have purchased my potatoes and set them to chit on the windowsill in the laundry room. It is important that they are not caught by a frost, so I no longer chit in my greenhouse where the temperature can drop below zero on a cold night. I have chosen three varieties – all First Earlies – Sharp’s Express, Rocket and a salad variety called Vales Emerald. We do not eat a lot of potatoes, so I just like to have a few to eat as new potatoes with the first peas in June and to add to a summer salad. I am going to plant a handful of each variety into potato bags and grow them in the new greenhouse for the earliest potatoes. The rest will be planted out into a bed in the Vegetable Garden at the end of March or early April. Even if well earthed up there is a danger the plants will be damaged by late frosts, so I will cover each row with a fleece tunnel.
The main job for March is to prepare all the flower beds for spring and summer. The beauty of March is that I can go through each bed completing all the work necessary – everything that has been left to stand through the winter must be cut down, roses can be pruned and fed, the old flowerheads on hydrangeas removed, hardy fuchsia can be pruned, everything must be well weeded and any untidy box hedges can be given a light trim. As I go I will dig up and split any perennials that are becoming thuggish.
March is also the month when I turn my attention to the Vegetable Garden. I will be making the first direct sowings later this month – beetroot, carrots, parsnips, spinach, rocket, peas, broad beans and spring onions are the first crops that I sow outside. There are also the peas and broad beans started in the greenhouse to plant out. These first sowings and plugs will be covered with fleece tunnels – I find this helps speed up the germination time and protects young plants from bird damage.
In the greenhouse I have already sown tomatoes and peppers. This month I will be starting off cucumbers and aubergines. I might also try a melon or two – something I have never grown before. I will be sowing celery, celeriac, lettuces, spring cabbage, sprouting broccoli and leeks. For my herb garden I will be sowing parsley and coriander.
Other jobs that I like to do in March include:
- splitting clumps of snowdrops
- commencing the regular feeding and watering regime for permanent plantings in pots
- potting up dahlia tubers to bring them into growth
- tidying and weeding the terraces around the house
- preparing the sweet pea bed ready for planting out in early April
- starting to plant out the hardy annuals waiting in the cold frames.
Finally, I really want to establish a proper herb garden this year. Up until now I have grown all my herbs in pots by the kitchen door, but I need to reduce the amount of daily watering that I need to do. I will always want Moroccan Mint (the best for mint tea), chives and a pot of rosemary by the back door as these are the herbs that I use most regularly. I would like to grow much greater quantities of rosemary though as it is so good for flower arranging and I would also like a variety of sage plants, thyme, hyssop and french tarragon. This month I am going to go herb shopping and hope to have the plants ready to put in the ground in early April. Annual herbs such as basil, coriander and parsley I will continue to grow in the vegetable garden and I have a sheltered spot behind the greenhouse for the more delicate herbs such as angelica and sweet cicely.
I know that this sounds like a very long list, but March is probably the busiest month in the garden for me. I am certain that not all these jobs will be completed, but if I keep up with the seed sowing and manage to tidy most of my beds I will be a very happy gardener!
Please do leave a question if anything I have said needs further explanation and also a comment about your jobs for March – I love to hear from you! I will be back next week with a Vase on Monday and my March Greenhouse Review.