This month our very own gnome emerges from his garden shed to welcome the new gardening season.
Are you new to gardening? Maybe you’ve just got an allotment and are wondering how to start, what to grow, when to sow? My advice? Think about what you like to eat, and what is easiest to grow. My favourites are spuds. They are simple as long as there’s some organic matter added; they can cope with weeds (will smother most) need earthing up a couple of times and an occasional watering, aren’t fussy about exactly when they are harvested and will store well. Main crops may get blight in a warm, wet, windy summer, (browning the leaves from the edge with a silvery mildew beneath); if this happens, swiftly chop the foliage right off and wait a couple of weeks before digging the tubers up, they won’t store quite as well so keep an eye on them; keep in paper sacks somewhere cool and dark; light will turn them green and poisonous. Some of my gnome chums say potatoes are so cheap to buy, why bother growing them? But I say, grow the tasty heritage varieties the shops don’t sell, and you’ll never go back to a bland supermarket spud.
PREPARATION: harvest last of winter crops and put all debris in newly emptied compost bins; add organic matter (compost, farmyard manure) to soil, mulch where and when appropriate, dig in green manures 1 month before sowing; rake seedbeds smooth; warm soil with cloches or plastic sheeting, hoe as weeds appear; apply seaweed meal or other organic fertilizer 2 weeks before sowing. Carrots and parsnips don’t want organic matter. Complete essential structural repairs, clear overgrown corners, wash pots and seed trays and tidy everything.
SOWING & PLANTING: Direct: early spuds and onion sets from mid-March; main-crop spuds and red onion sets: early to mid-April. Under cloches from late March: beetroot, carrots, parsnips, turnips, radishes, leeks and peas. In modules in the greenhouse: lettuce, rainbow chard, spinach and summer cabbage. March in heat: tomatoes, peppers, aubergines, cucumbers, celery, and celeriac. April in heat: French and runner beans, courgettes and squash.
FERTILITY: Seaweed meal can be scattered at a couple of handfuls per square metre; fresh, it can be used as a mulch or dug in (wash the salt off or gather it after rain). It contains a wide range of trace elements, contains reasonable amounts of nitrogen and potassium, and also improves soil structure as its gelatinous nature encourages the formation of soil crumbs. Liquid feeds made by steeping comfrey and nettles in water are also beneficial, especially to fruiting and struggling plants, so cut and steep now to use over the next couple of months. Seaweed concentrate is diluted and watered in or used as a foliar spray. Organic chicken manure pellets can give a boost, especially to leafy crops as they are high in nitrogen, but too much nitrogen can produce lush growth more vulnerable to pests and disease; slower more robust growth is hardier and healthier. If you are just starting and haven’t had a chance to add much organic matter extra fertilisers may be of use initially and a regular application around fruit trees and bushes at this time of year is beneficial. However the ideal to aim for is lots of organic matter to encourage good populations of worms and micro-organisms which make the nutrients available to the plants.
Confused? Don’t miss my mate Ruth’s Urban Gardening Course giving you monthly guidance on what to do and how to do it – the organic way of course!