Mid March 2020, catch weeds tiny, set seedlings deep, sowing no dig, weather now live
It’s mild weather here and growth is way ahead of normal. We have not yet finished pruning apple and pear trees, roses and penstemons. Plus new weeds are germinating. It’s time for that first light hoeing or raking, on a breezy dry day.
Now is good for sowing tomatoes, celery and celeriac under cover. And carrots, parsnips, early potatoes, onion sets outside.
For timing of sowings, Homeacres ‘official’ zone is 8, but in reality it’s closer to 6. Similar sowing dates say to Kentucky US. The main weather difference to continental climates is we have more constancy of temperatures, thanks to the sea being 35 miles away, both sides. So far in March, the low is -2C/28F and the high is 15C/59F. See link to the weather feed below.
This term means disturbing weed seedlings, when they are so small you don’t even see some of them. New weeds will die in place when they are at two-leaf stage or younger, so before they have a root system strong enough to help them survive being moved or damaged.
Use a hoe or rake to move just the top cm or half inch. The photos show how there are so many more new weeds on dug, disturbed soil.
Propagation and pricking out
Someone wrote to me, after seeing my propagation 3 video and he had then “dared” to prick out lettuce: For years, I been told that this is a no no for lettuce. Thanks for sharing the info, my lettuce are doing fine.
All seedlings can be pricked out. The only issue is a small damage to tap roots, but seedlings quickly recover. So it’s best not to prick out carrot and parsnip – they will grow but then you have short roots at harvest.
Go deep! I make holes deep enough for the modules’ root system to nestle below soil level, with stems thus supported and effectively shortened. Leggy plants become sturdy.
We don’t fill the holes: that happens with time as it rains and thanks to weather and birds.
Through winter the workload is very small, just the lovely harvests of lambs lettuce, swedes, carrots, chervil, leeks, spinach and kale. Now is suddenly time to set out new transplants of peas and radish – see the video filmed 4th March. Then within 2-3 weeks we shall transplant onions, beetroot and lettuce, and sow carrot.
Lat year this small garden was photographed by Jason Ingram for a monthly feature in Which? Gardening, so that’s in every magazine until December.
These photos are from 2019, since I have not sown any carrots yet. It will be next week I hope. See my online course 2 for more about sowing and transplanting no dig.
No dig sowing is pretty quick – rake the surface level to knock out not any larger lumps. Now draw drills with a hoe or the end of a rake, say 1.5cm/half inch deep. I take carrot seed in the palm of my hand, then use fingers to dribble it across the rows. You can also sow a few radish seed say every 5cm/2in, to mark the lines and have an extra harvest.
The value of overwintering vegetable plants
Growth of new seedlings is slow in early spring, but overwintered plants have strong roots and are growing relatively fast now. Use my now-reduced Calendar as a reminder to sow spinach 10th August, salads for undercover in September, and broad beans early November. Among many sowings all year.
Minimise slug habitat
Slugs can be a problem for new seedlings. My two main preventative measures are:
1 No dig, ensures no harm to predators and less soil alcohol attracting slugs.
2 Minimum hiding places, no wooden sides to beds, tidy garden, no straw mulch, only compost
Weather and broad/fava beans
I had covers on my broad beans over winter, mainly as wind protection, and the Thermacrop did a good job. It’s stronger than fleece and did not tear in the gales. Now the beans are 30cm/1ft tall and growing rapidly, need open air.
They are earlier than usual, so far, thanks to the mild weather. I am monitoring that more closely with a new Davis weather station, and there is now a live feed to my website. Data there has been collected since 6th March 2020.
Johnson Su bioreactor
These two professors working in Texas and California have perfected a recipe for composting wood chip in a highly fungal manner. I have wanted for a while to make such a ‘bio-reactor’, and last week we did after a tree surgeon dropped off a tonne or so of fresh wood chip.
It’s now in the enclosure and fully moist, but very woody with little green leaf. The temperature was briefly 50C/120F but is now 28C/82F. It’s on the north side of Homeacres house, a damp spot. It will stay in that pile for a year, then we shall see.
Weedkiller in hay
A reminder about the small risk of aminopyralid weedkiller, sometimes found in horse manure after the horses ate poisoned hay. If unsure about using horse manure, you can test by growing broad beans in pots or modules filled with the manure.
The photos show what happens if it’s a mild dose, with new leaves curling inwards and growth then stopping.
Questions to Charles reveal prevalent misunderstandings.
My worry about laying cardboard around established fruit bushes is that bindweed etc will probably still find its way through the gaps where their main stems come through. I also wondered if the bushes would benefit at all from the compost on top of the card – I.e. would the nutrients leach through the card to their roots,
Compost is much more than “nutrients washing down”. That is what fertiliser does. Compost is about feeding and stimulating soil’s natural process, which empowers everything else, including plant roots’ ability to find food and moisture.
Mulches such as cardboard and compost do not stop weed growth 100%. More like 50-99%, depending how thoroughly you mulch, and the vigour of existing weed roots. With bindweed for example, you need to keep pulling the new shoots, otherwise it will recolonise your mulched area. Mulches/covers (including compost) weaken new growth of existing weeds, making it easier for you to eliminate bindweed et al.
1) Should we do raised beds or just cardboard + compost (got some conflicting opinions in our household)
2) Should we fence the veg patch in? We have a chicken wire fence on one side, wooden fence on the other and brick walls on the remainder.
3) One of our house mates thinks we should sieve the compost before sowing seeds, but we didn’t do that when we sowed at Homeacres, are we ok to sow straight into the compost you gave me?
4) What should we plant now other than onions, leeks..
No need for raised beds unless you want the extra work and to buy materials + risk of more slugs hiding behind the wood
Fence only if animals are coming to eat!
Sieve – why sieve?! They say it in old fashioned books! I never do.
Read my sowing timeline