March

March is the last month before we can officially say its spring. It surprises us with cold days and the occasional frost but delights us with warm sunny days too. It’s a time to keep an eye on our crops, not forgetting that nights can still be cold, particularly on exposed sites.

It’s the very last opportunity to get our growing spaces ready and well fed before we start sowing. It’s when we see our overwintering crops come back to life and enjoy a taste of what’s to come; it also marks the start of our yearly battle with weeds, snails and slugs – let’s remember what went well last year and make an action plan.

Sow, plant, propagate

  • It should now be warm enough to sow a few seeds directly into the ground or in a prepared seedbed without needing to protect them. Sow: broad beans, spinach, cabbages, calabrese, peas, lettuces. Should the ground be wet, wait until it dries up a bit – this will pay off as your seeds will have a good start in life instead of struggling.
  • It’s your last chance to sow parsnips. Alternate rows of lettuce and/or radishes with your parsnips – they will germinate much faster than your parsnips and prevent you from weeding them out.
  • Harden off your leek and onion seedlings by putting them into a cold frame and getting them gradually used to the outside temperatures before planting them into the ground. If you haven’t had time to even think about this, sow onions and shallot sets about 5 to 10cm apart – as they start to grow into large onions you can pull some out, use them as salad onions and give the ones remaining in the ground more room to grow to full size.
  • This is your very last chance to plant garlic cloves (see December tips for details).
  • Pot on aubergines, peppers, chillies, tomatoes and cucumbers, or hurry up and sow them. Stake the cucumbers if you’re planning to grow them in a protected environment, otherwise wait until you plant them outdoors. Plant your tomatoes directly into the ground towards the end of the month if the weather is particularly warm. You might still need some form of protection, as the risk of frost is not over yet.
  • Plant out early potatoes. If your space is limited you could try growing them in tyres. The Brighton Permaculture Trust has done some interesting research into pros and cons.
  • Towards the end of the month sow carrots and globe beetroots directly in the ground, ground should be prepared carefully and raked to a very fine tilth; remove any stones and break up large clumps of soil. Don’t use manure as it promotes leafy growth.
  • Propagate your herbs by division – dig up herbs like mint, lemon balm, oregano, marjoram and chives, divide them into smaller clumps and re-plant them. If you don’t want mint to take over your plot but still want to enjoy the benefits of growing them amongst your crops plant them into large pots, make a large enough hole and sink them into the ground.
  • Plant horseradish by cutting their roots into 7-8cm sections and placing them in an upright position with their top slightly covered. Horseradish is quite a fast growing plant and can do well in a large container. Don’t plant it amongst your other crops as it has the tendency to take over.

Harvest

  • Many plants that were sown last autumn and have overwintered should now be ready: harvest leeks, early purple sprouting broccoli, kales, winter salad leaves, Jerusalem artichokes, parsnips and scorzonera. Swiss chard should be providing us with its first leaves this year and Brussel sprouts with their last sprouts – use their tops as spring greens which have a delightful flavour.

Fruit jobs

Although too late for bare root plants, you’re still on time to plant containerised fruit trees and bushes. Be mindful that the weather is changing and their watering requirements will be higher than plants that have been in the ground since the autumn.

  • Tie your berries as they start growing and will need support.
  • If you’re growing fruit trees check stakes and ties as March can be a rather windy month.
  • Mulch your fruit trees, bushes and/or canes with well rotten manure and/or compost – the way you look after them in the spring is very important as it helps improve fruit set and initial growth of fruit and leaves.
  • Very last chance to prune gooseberries, blueberries, blackcurrants and autumn fruiting raspberries – prune the latter down to the ground and do this at the beginning of the month if you can, before it gets warm and plants enter their active growth.
  • If you’re growing fruit in containers keep an eye on the weather and increase your watering according to the temperature.

Jobs to do

  • If for whatever reason you’ve decided not to raise your plants from seed, buy or order young seedlings now. Have a look at the Care Co-ops ‘Plug the Gap’ scheme. This is a very interesting initiative that is the equivalent of a veggie box but has plug plants instead of fresh produce.
  • If you still have crops in your beds, clear them to get the space ready for new crops. If you still have many leeks you could harvest them and heel them in together until you’re ready to eat them.
  • Make a trench for peas, beans and celery – dig trenches between and 60 and 90 cm wide, fill them with well-rotted compost and leave them to rot down until it’s sowing time from May onwards.
  • Feed any overwintering veg that are still in the ground, such as leeks, kales and winter leaves, as by now they’ll be running out of steam and need something to boost their growth. Use comfrey juice, seaweed extract or blood, fish and bone.
  • If you have enough space why not start an asparagus bed? This will be part of your permanent crops and will potentially provide you with fresh produce for up to 25 years, so it’s worth it. Check the BBC’s website for detailed guidance on how to do it.
  • Start weeding as a bit of warmth gives our friends the green light. Pay particular attention to perennial weeds such as bindweed and couch grass.
  • Protect your brassicas by using fine netting. Aphids are starting to be active and are in need of precious food – mend an old cage or build one. Have a look at these pictures of different models, according to what time, effort and money you want to put into this.
  • Put pea support in place. Twigs fit the purpose really well and add interest to your garden
  • Fertilize the soil – this involves feeding your soil according to what you intend to plant. Very simply, don’t feed your carrots and root vegetables but feed your tomato and potato beds. if you have a bare patch which won’t be sown until May, you can sow green manure.
  • Prepare containers – fill them with compost and get them ready for sowing
  • Plan your herb garden – if you have a patch that is not very fertile yet free draining and sunny, that’s the perfect spot for growing herbs! Think of which herbs you like. Have a look at the herb-spiral idea typical of permaculture gardens.

Wildlife gardening

  • Make sure you have a small nettle patch somewhere in your growing area or that you grow some in a large container as they are one of the most precious plants in terms of wildlife. Young nettle leaves are packed with Nitrogen (which helps leafy growth) and make the most amazing plant tonic and liquid feed. See this factsheet for info on how to make your own liquid feeds with nettle and/or comfrey.

Top Tips

  • Make your own seedbed – this is an area that we dedicate to raising young plants without using precious growing space. Have a look here for practical information on how to make one.
  • Watch out for slugs and snails – Garden Organic has a very useful page that helps us to identify them and provides an endless list of organic methods to deal with tem – use them all if necessary and start growing sacrificial plants such as marigolds.
  • Mulch mulch mulch – Cover the surface of your soil with cardboard, landscape fabric, soil, manure or organic hay to retain moisture. We have had some wet growing seasons but things might be different this year.
  • Flower Power – If you haven’t managed to harvest all your winter vegetables leave a few in the ground to flower. The flowers will attract beneficial insects which will help keep pests away from your other crops. Parsnips produce stunning lime green flowers which are a magnet for hoverflies, while flowering leeks will be covered with bees and butterflies.
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