The end of February felt like the end of April with the incredibly warm weather and record temperatures for much of the UK. On several days the temperature in my greenhouse briefly reached 26C (79F)! Young seedlings are very susceptible to sun scorch and it was a close thing whether or not to apply some Summer Cloud Greenhouse Shading to deflect the sun at this early stage.
The soil is incredibly dry too for the beginning of March, as typified by the recent moorland fires across parts of the UK. At the end of February, I transplanted some garlic, overwintered onions and broad beans. They all required liberal amounts of water from my water butt, as the allotment site water is turned off at the mains until spring due to the risk of hard frosts! This early spell of warmth feels exciting and yet somehow a little concerning in view of the unpredictability of the weather.
Nevertheless, the sunshine has spurred me on to start my seed sowing in earnest. Recent seeds I’ve sown in the heated propagator include; aubergine, cucumber and tomato. Brussels sprouts are a long season crop and I’ve also just sown my favourite variety ‘Crispus’. This has been bred to cope with stress and to overcome clubroot. It is a win-win for me!
Value plug plants are an option for this variety too. Plug plants are increasing in popularity in my local area. Not everyone has the time or facilities to sow seeds. They offer a quick-fire alternative and save valuable time in todays rushed world. There are many other veg that also are available as plug plants, including an early Brassica collection mix containing, Broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower.
In early March I will be planting a few first early tubers ‘Foremost’ in large tubs in the greenhouse. These should be ready to harvest at the end of May or early June. If the weather stays settled towards the end of the month, I’ll take the plunge and plant my first batch of potatoes on the plot. The chitting process is quite far advanced and it does them no good to be left on the windowsill too long. I like the variety ‘Maris Peer’, which is really a second early, but it can still be planted late March. This is a great all-round salad type of potato, which boils well, or can be mashed, steamed or roasted. I really like the fact they stay firm when boiled and they have that ‘new’ potato taste too.
When planning the design of your new allotment, having a dedicated soft fruit area, is important. As semi-permanent plants they don’t mix well with annual veg crops. A dedicated area also allows you the choice of erecting a fruit cage or using netting to protect from birds.
Now it is important to keep an eye out for peach and nectarine trees coming into blossom. The blossom can be vulnerable to damage from severe frosts. My neighbour covers her plot with horticultural fleece, clipped into place with pegs and draped over the tree if frost is forecast. It is important then to take it off, early in the morning to allow the pollinating insects to do their work.
Now is the time to put a top dressing of well-rotted manure or soil improver around your fruit trees and fruit bushes. I like to keep the area around the main stem clean. If you don’t have any manure then a fertiliser such as 6X Fertiliser–an organic chicken manure fertiliser is ideal. I’ve recently been using a box of Blood Fish & Bone to give some of my soil a boost later in spring and summer. As I prepare a patch of ground for sowing and planting, I simply sprinkle and dig in a few handfuls of this traditional organic fertiliser that will last throughout the season.
As the days lengthen and the soil warms up, we welcome March full of optimism. Let us hope we have not had a false dawn and that the real spring, when it comes does not disappoint!