What to do in March
Now is the time to feed your soil. I like to use pelleted chicken manure – one of the reasons is that you can see where you have put them and there is no fear of over feeding. If you use fish, blood and bone it is often difficult to see where you have sprinkled it. However, do beware if you have foxes and badgers around as they seem to love the smell of fertiliser and will often come along and dig up your precious plants! Use a hoe to spread the fertiliser and water well if it is dry. This will then enable the plants to take up the food through their roots.
Use a cloche to warm up the soil and then you can sow early carrots – this is a good way to avoid carrot root fly. It is also a good thing to buy a variety that is resistant to carrot fly such as ‘Maestro’, Reisitafly, or ‘Ibiza’. Sow your carrots as thinly as you can as then it will avoid the need to thin them out. The smell, which is caused by thinning out carrots, is one of the things that attract the carrot fly. Try companion planting by growing something like onions or mint next to your carrots, this will keep the female fly away. Now is also a good time to sow poached egg plants, these are hardy annuals and provide a kind of landing stage for things such as hover flies and lacewings which are also good at keeping pests at bay. You can sow them directly into the ground, where they are to flower, don’t forget to thin them out, if not they will not flower very well as they will be too congested.
Although it is still cold some vegetable seeds can be sown outside now. Parsnips require space sowing at 15cm spacing; put three seeds at each station along the drill. Parsnips are very erratic at germinating and so with three seeds you should get something appearing, and so no gaps in the row. You can use radish to mark the rows while the parsnips are germinating.
Lettuce can be sown now indoors and outdoors with some protection such as fleece. Sow a pinch of seed every two weeks through the year to ensure a regular supply that is not overwhelming. I always sow mine in cell trays as they seems to be easier to manage that way – you can then hold some back or plant them out when you are ready for them. There is a wide range of lettuce varieties and while most will grow well in a good soil, cos types need a very fertile soil. One of the best varieties to grow is All Year Round or Webb’s Wonderful although there is quite a range to choose from now, we sell Marvel of Four Seasons and Black Seeded Simpson at the Garden House, they are both great varieties that do well and also give good interest to the vegetable plot as they have great colour.
Runner beans and celery are two crops that like plenty of feeding and moisture over the summer. Now is the time to dig out trenches for both 60cm (2ft) wide for celery and 90cm (3ft) wide for runner beans. Both should be a spade’s depth and as long as you want the row to be. Break up the bottom of the trench and add plenty of well-rotted farmyard manure or garden compost, even shredded news paper will do – anything to retain moisture through the summer and help hold nutrients and by doing it now by early June when the plants go in the paper and compost will have broken down.