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Top March Allotment Tips

Sowing seeds

February turned into a washout for many allotmenteers. In some flooded areas of the UK allotments were under water for a period of time. When the rain stopped, some plot holders with clay soils have been left with something resembling a sticky paste.

Sadly we’ve been here before. It is important to remain patient while the land starts to dry out and recover. Planting early potatoes too soon, in cold wet soil, risks the tubers rotting. Waiting a few more weeks, even into April if necessary, is the best option. Experience dictates that we have to be guided by the conditions rather than the calendar. Treading on saturated soil results in more harm than good being done.

It is a shame that rain doesn’t come consistently throughout the year rather than this all or nothing scenario. Nevertheless, allotment holders are nothing if not industrious!

At this time of year, encouraging the soil to warm up for spring sowings or transplants is important. Small portable polythene tunnels help with this by harnessing the warmth of the sun and by giving protection from the wind. Covering the soil with black sheeting helps too. The black absorbs the rays of the sun, whereas white reflects the sun.

The heavy rain has been an advert for the use of raised beds; they drain well and warm up quicker. There are various raised bed kits available and ‘Build a board’ kits, which mean you don’t have to be a whizz at DIY. It is a good idea to have a mix of raised beds and a non-raised bed area on your plot.

As ground conditions allow, the bare root tree planting season is still in full swing. The trees can be planted until the end of the month. Bare-rooted specimens give tremendously good value.

Good ground preparation is perhaps more important for tree planting than anything else. The aim is for a deep and well-drained planting hole.

It is important to break up any signs of a clay ‘pan’ to reduce the risk of any future root rot. Backfill the hole with humus-rich soil, adding a handful of bonemeal as you go. This will encourage healthy root development. If your soil is poor, try adding a tree soil improver such as Grochar.

My crop of overwintered swede is coming to an end now – a few of the last ones have been tunneled out by slugs. The mild wet winter has been perfect for them. With only minimal frosts so far this winter, the omens are for slugs to be prevalent this spring. Let’s hope not!

Nematodes are a natural solution for dealing with slugs and are effective when the soil temperature rises above 5C. Nematode slug killer works by killing the slug beneath the soil.

Despite the weather, my unheated greenhouse has been a pleasant sanctuary. I’ve got overwintered onion sets growing nicely in there, along with carrots sown quite thickly in autumn in a large pot. These will be harvested in April. The kids enjoy them dipped in houmous for a healthy snack.

This month. I’ll be planting a few spare garlic bulbs (I generally prefer to plant in autumn) using multi-purpose compost in deep seed trays. I’ll let these develop before hardening them off mid- late April. My summer onion sets will also be planted in the same way.

The heated propagator is still in demand. I’m currently giving brassicas the priority, with cabbage, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts in there. Seed labeling has never been more important!

All of this along with my early and second early potatoes, chitting on the windowsill promise better times ahead.

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Lee Senior

About Lee Senior

Lee Senior is an experienced horticultural writer, RHS Yorkshire in Bloom judge and horticultural consultant. He has also had an allotment for over 25 years. After initially spurning horticulture as a career option, to pursue his boyhood dream of becoming a train driver, Lee soon realised he couldn't resist getting his hands dirty to make a living. Horticultural College training led, to getting an allotment at the tender age of 18 (in the days when you could actually get a plot quickly). My gardening hero, is Geoff Hamilton" says Lee. "It was Geoff who convinced me that you didn't have to spray everything that moved in the garden. Watching him on Gardeners’ World in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s was a revelation. I was lucky enough to meet Geoff and I’ve also more recently had the pleasure of meeting Joe Swift. Now over two decades of practical experience has taught me to work with mother nature, not to fight against her and don't try to tame her, as so many gardeners seem to be on a mission to do. Small-scale food growing is my passion and I can't wait for my two daughters, one who is 8 years old and the other who is 5 to hopefully pick up the baton in the future. Nothing beats the flavour and satisfaction of growing your own food. You simply cannot buy the same quality and freshness. Everyone can have a go at growing something says Lee, no matter where they live. Lee has also written his two books; 'Pennine Way, The Highs and Lows' which is a humorous, personal account of walking this momentous iconic walk. His second book 'Walking in the Aire', features 14 short walks in Yorkshire.

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