March Hints & Tips

March heralds spring and by this time many of you have already started your crops either in a greenhouse or polytunnel. Those of you that don’t have the luxury of a green house may have started off your crops in a sunny position on a window sill. If you start off your plants in this way you could use a white board behind the plants so that they get light from both sides and not just at the front. Windows provide less light than you may think, so aim to move the plants outside as soon as possible and avoid sowing seeds too early so that the seedlings don’t have to stay on the windowsill for long periods. The seeds you may have started off in this way may be Brussel sprouts, leeks, onions, summer cabbages and cauliflower. If they are large enough it might, weather permitting, be time to harden them off in a cold frame before transplanting them in in your plot.

Ideally Greenhouse, or indoor sowing can progress with the likes of aubergines, beetroot, celeriac, celery, peppers and chillies, tomatoes and tender herbs.

As winter begins to retreat, planting outdoors can start as long as the ground has some warmth in it and not waterlogged. You have by now added organics to your beds and tested the Ph of your soil. seed potatoes that you have chitted, broad Beans, early carrots, lettuce, onions parsnips, peas, radishes, rocket, spinach, spring onions, turnips can all be sown where they are to grow. However, if the frost bites and the winds are a problem then the areas sown must either be fleeced or covered with cloches. Other seeds must still be sown indoors, under the protection of the greenhouse or polytunnel.

The top tasks for March would be preparing beds for sowing and planting out if you haven’t already done so by removing weeds that have survived over winter, rake the soil and apply some fertilizer or organics.

Harvest the first rhubarb of the year if you have any and remove any remaining Brussel sprouts, celeriac, parsnips and swedes.

It will be your last chance for planting new bare root apples pear trees, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, gooseberry and current bushes April will be too late, and only container grown plants will get established and fruit.

My allotment calendar tells me that it is possible to grow asparagus from seed starting in March. However, it is much easier to buy ready to plant rootstock and plant them out in April.

Vegetables that have overwintered like onions, kale, spring cabbages and cauliflowers may look worse for wear but by feeding them up with a top dressing of fish, blood and bone meal, chicken manure or seaweed based organics will pep them up no end.

If it’s not too wet, it’s a good time to make runner bean or celery trenches 2-3 ft wide and 1 foot deep and fill them with compost as they need good rich fertile soil.

Feed trees with a high potash fertilizer or fish, blood and bone meal, chicken manure or seaweed based organics or a layer of good old farmyard manure.

Protect your crops from March pests and diseases which include slugs and snails, pigeons, cabbage caterpillars can appear at this time of year, Fruit aphids can also be a problem.

Start to spray apples against scab, check for big bud mite on blackcurrants and don’t spray any fruit trees or bushes when they are in blossom.

Cabbages are one of my favourite vegetables and according to my research there are four types, Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter and now is the time to sow Summer and Autumn Cabbage.

All four groups are grown in the same way but sowing times vary; Red cabbages need early spring sowing as they are slow growers. The seeds can be planted directly into the soils but in my view the best way to plant the seeds is either in seed trays or place two seeds in a modules. Once the seedlings are at a good size prick out the weaker plant. Planting out the summer and Autumn cabbages would be May to June.

Winter cabbages is the last thing you have on your mind but they should be sown in May to June and planted out June to July. Spring cabbage sowing is in June to August with planting out being in October to November.

The best sites are sunny locations with soils of a Ph of 6 - 7.5. Avoid Acid Soils. If the Ph is too low you may have to apply some lime which will in addition help to deter clubroot. Before planting or sowing Summer or Autumn cabbages apply a general fertilizer at the manufacturers recommended dose. Allow 30-45cm 12-18in between pants and rows depending on the size of the variety.

Cabbages are robust plants needing little water. However, in prolonged dry spells thoroughly soak the plants every 10 days. When hearts begin to form, generous watering will greatly improve the size of head.

Protecting your crop is very important and rotating your crop will help in preventing pests and diseases. In rotation cycles, cabbages and brassicas in general could follow beans and onions. Brassicas also benefit from the extra nitrogen peas and beans add to the soil.

Pests as we know are caterpillars, the cabbage root fly and pigeons. In order to protect your bed’s it is recommended to cover the bed with insect proof netting prior to planting out the seedlings.

Well that’s all from me this month and I hope you enjoy these hints and tips. I look forward to meeting you all on site over the next few months.