Using fleece, tips on sowing and planting in dry conditions, spring salad harvest, trial update, interplanting, plant raising and pests
There is plenty of strength in the sun, and soil warms readily on bright days, especially where the surface is dark. That is one of the many reasons (in this climate) for using a compost mulch, as it makes a black surface.
Its interesting that using fleece covers contradict that, being white and reflective, but they more than compensate with an ability to retain warmth after sunshine, and to protect plants from the cold winds which are often a feature of spring. Without the protection of fleece, my recent plantings would have suffered badly in the 60mph winds of late March – and all the covers stayed in place, with just a few stones to hold them. Fleece gets less blown-away than polythene, especially when you lay it directly on plants as in the photos.
Sowing and planting in dry weather
I think that dry weather will be a feature of April, and no dig helps counteract this because of winter’s moisture staying in the soil, unexposed to drying winds. I use water mainly at planting time, to water plants in with a can, giving enough water directly on them to settle their rootball into the surface compost and soil, and then I leave them to it. However on light soils you most likely need to give a second dose of water after two days or so.
If the surface is dry at sowing time, you can draw a drill using a hoe or the end of a rake, then water into that, not elsewhere. This concentrates the water exactly where you sow seeds and its good to cover them over with drier compost or soil, then leave them to it. An exception is parsnip which takes two weeks or more to appear and its seedbed will often benefit from being watered every five days or so, in dry weather and especially if there are drying winds.
Salads undercover then outside
April is the most productive month for salad leaves undercover, from plants sown last September. They now have well-established roots and long days to grow in, before some of them switch to flowering mode in the month’s second half.
Currently all the mustards, spinach, lettuce Grenoble Red, wild rocket, ruby chard, chervil, coriander, dill and parsley are growing beautifully. Whereas leaf radish, salad rocket and most coriander are already sending up some flowering stems, as well as growing new leaves. We pick the larger and outer leaves weekly, as well as removing any yellowing and slug-damaged leaves, but they are remarkably few, thanks to careful picking, infrequent watering and the quality of the undug soil.
These salad plants, productive over so many months, have had no feed or fertiliser. I have added nothing to the polytunnel and greenhouse soil since the 7cm (3in) mulch of compost last May, which has served to grow both summer and winter crops. I do not use any liquid feeds since there is no need with this system.
By late April I expect to be picking the first outer leaves of lettuce sown February and planted in March, covered by fleece until first pick.
Trial of digging and composts
This is where I have three strips of 2m (6.5 feet) width and 9m (29 feet) long. The nearest one is dug, the other two are undug. The nearest and second strip have municipal compost on top which has food waste added, the third strip has composted cow manure on top, 5xm (2in) per year. Each strip is divided into six beds of 1.2m (4 feet) width.
I have so far sown parsnip and carrot in the right hand bed of each strip, and planted spinach, broad beans and beetroot in the third bed of each. Next up are potatoes to plant. In late May the nearest beds of each strip will have climbing beans and winter squash.
In 2014-15, with a few leeks still to harvest, the three strips yielded 65.6kg (dug, municipal compost), 76.9kg (undug, municipal compost) and 73.6kg (undug, compost of cow manure).
This is a way of growing more from smaller areas, when you have fertile soil and choose suitable combinations for your climate and the time of year. A useful interplant/catch crop in early spring is radish, either sown direct or module-raised. The latter works better because half its growing is already done in the modules, and the photo shows radish almost ready between pea plants, just three weeks after planting. The peas are for salad-shoots, not pods.
You could try radish like this between broad beans too, or sow a row of salads for cutting as small leaves. There are lots of combinations, depending partly on how you space plants, and you need fertile soil.
There is plenty to do now and here, I am a little behind after a busy March of talks and courses. Also the hotbed heat has been diminishing through March, so I just boosted it with another four barrowloads of fresh horse manure on top. In three days, the temperature a foot into the heap then rose from 35C to 65C. On the heap’s surface it is 18-25C and I recently cut the bottom off the pallet to get my plants closer to this warmth.
Now is best time for pricking out celery and celeriac – its getting late for sowing celeriac, don’t delay if you have not already. Its finally time to sow basil and melons if you have extra warmth available. I would wait until mid month before sowing courgette, cucumber and squashes.
I was upset to discover some damaging digging by a badger. They are numerous here, and increasing in number, but are a protected species. Difficult to fence out in a rambling garden like this, so I have to leave with it, use netting over some beds.