In March, gardeners spend time watching the weather. One day spring is here; only to be followed the next by a cold eastern blast and we appear to be back in winter. Our preparations usually revolve around the condition of the soil.
If we can walk on the plot without clumps sticking to our boots then the soil can be worked. This condition is often found after two or three days of drying wind. If the weather is kind then some primary digging can be completed to turn the soil over. If very good conditions and dry enough an attempt can be made at secondary digging which involves the further breaking down of the large clods produced from primary digging. This secondary digging will involve the use of a fork or even a rotavator. The intention at this stage is not yet to knock the soil down to a fine tilth for direct seed sowing but a soil structure where no clod is larger than an egg in size.
Now that the majority of the winter rain has passed it is also a time to apply a general fertiliser in powder or granular form. I use blood, fish and bone, which gives a good all round application that can break down in the soil over the coming months and be available to the plants as they exhaust their natural seed reserve or if pot ground the nutrients in the compost.
If the weather is bad, or the soil too wet, then it’s into the greenhouse and potting shed to prepare for seed sowing. It is important to use sterile equipment and materials. I spread any of last years’ remaining multipurpose compost around the garden and start afresh. New compost bags are brought into the shed or greenhouse. If left outside and a cold spell arrives then the compost can become too cold to use or even freeze. Inside, the bags will come up to a temperature around 5C or 6C.
There is a temptation on a warm day to sow readily but the weather of March can extend into April and you can be caught out having to give heat to your plants. However, this could mean they grow too early and have to stay in pots or trays for longer than they should. This can lead to exhaustion of the nutrients and check their progress. What we are looking to achieve is steady growth from seed germination through to harvest. In early March I sow broad beans and sweet peas in pots in the greenhouse. For me full seed sowing does not start until we start British summertime.
In bad weather take the opportunity to clean and tidy pots or seed trays; and clean and maintain tools. You need only use a household detergent, but I do miss the old tar-based detergents. Not only did they sterilise, but at the coming end of winter they cleared your nasal passages. Today we’re left with an unseasonal soft lemon scent.
Mike I’Anson March 2017