Her Outdoors: March round-up

Jane Merrick

Last weekend it was hard to believe it was still March, with the temperature as high as 18C (although it felt much warmer on the allotment site, as we are sheltered on one side by trees and the other by houses. The warmth has triggered an explosion of buds on the fruit trees and bushes, while the radishes I sowed just a couple of weeks ago are coming through. But just two days later, it is chilly and windy, much more appropriate for March – I only hope there isn’t frost to kill off the buds on the trees.

A round-up for the middle of March, then: on the doorstep, lettuce seedlings in crates are now in leaf (this picture is about 10 days old so they are a little larger than this). The carrots I optimistically sowed at the same time are non-existent. As I wrote earlier, carrots are a disaster area for me, and so this early failure is not surprising. I will leave it until it is much more consistently warm to re-sow.

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Lettuce seedlings growing under a cloche on the doorstep

The sweet peas I over-wintered in the cold frame were planted out last week and are growing well up these wigwams by the entrance to Plot 35a. Here you can see the path behind and in the foreground is the edge of the seating area. So, in summer, there will hopefully be a wall of scent and flowers near where we can sit and eat a picnic, under the shade of the grapevine.

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Sweet peas planted out and growing up wigwams

The early spring bulbs like crocus are nearly finished. I have dozens of tulip bulbs on the plot and also in my front garden – the difference in growth between the two sites is about six inches. In the garden, they look like they are about to flower, while on the plot it will take a few more weeks yet. I have some Dahlia tubers to plant when all risk of frost has passed – so right at the end of March or beginning of April to be safe.

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Early spring bulbs like this crocus are nearly finished flowering

There is one large bed of white and red onions and garlic and a separate smaller bed of shallots – all planted in the ground in October. I’ve been feeding them with a general organic liquid feed since early March because last year’s crop was rather small. Here are rows of Garlic ‘Tuscany Wight’ – they are a softneck variety and are supposed to be planted in spring, but I was too impatient when they arrived last October, in they went. I have also planted Garlic ‘Bella Italiano’, a hardneck type which is for autumn planting (phew!), Onion ‘Electric’, which is a red onion, and Onion ‘Radar’, a white variety, also planted in autumn. It’s essential to hand weed, or with a precise weeder like a razor hoe, because the allium family have shallow roots and can easily get swamped by weeds.

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Scapes of Garlic 'Tuscany Wight' are growing strongly

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The shoots of shallots look great against the soil

Here are some stalks and leaves developing on the rhubarb, which has been mulched with rotted manure (see previous blogpost). I’m not forcing the rhubarb this season because it is all newly planted and needs a year to grow without pressure or else it could become stressed and die.

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Tentative shoots of Rhubarb 'Timperley Early'

The winter brassica patch is peaking now – it hasn’t been overly generous, but this purple sprouting broccoli is on fine form. I harvested some for lunch on Monday and it was delicious. Once the patch is finished, around early April, I can sow some roots like beetroot and parsnips.

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Purple Sprouting Broccoli ready to harvest

The bed closest to the hedgerow and trees at the end of the plot is the shadiest – in the depths of winter it gets hardly any direct sun at all, and in spring it is in shade by about 3pm. In the summer it does get full sun until about 6pm. So here I have planted about 18 raspberry canes which don’t mind the shade and many of them are now in leaf.

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Raspberry canes already in leaf

Here are the broad beans – half of which were direct-sown in October, the other half grown in root-trainers and planted out in February, with cut water bottles around their stems to protect them. The burst of warmth has led some to flower now, which is earlier than it was last year (when there was snow at the mid-point in March).

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Broad beans are coming into flower which means pods are on their way

And here are the Pak Choi which were planted out last month after spending the winter in frappe latte mini-greenhouses – see my earlier blogpost. Their stems are getting nice and fat so they’ll be ready to cut soon.

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Pak Choi is nearly ready for harvesting

The spring cabbages which were grown the same way are not quite ready – the slugs have already had a few bites out of them and they are now covered with green mesh to stop the cabbage white butterflies attacking them as it gets warmer. I’ve been feeding these with a liquid fertiliser too.

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Spring Cabbage 'Sennan' not quite ready, but have been nibbled a bit

Finally, there is a row of Rainbow Chard that was sown in May last year and has kept going all winter – in January it was one of the only things to harvest. I have cut back all the old slightly eaten leaves to provoke new growth. Once it sets flower, however, it has gone to seed and the taste becomes bitter.

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This Rainbow Chard has been going strong all winter

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