Two years ago, March began in the midst of the Beast for the East. Bitterly cold weather, heavy snow and blizzards combined with Storm Emma and created some of the most difficult weather the UK had experienced for years.
As a gardener, spending much of the winter months longing for the spring to begin, this weather event can be a big kick in the guts. But should we really be surprised that March isn’t always the gate opening month to go crazy with seeds and plants in our gardens? Statistically speaking, we are more likely to see snow at Easter than Christmas.
Knowing your last frost date is important. Keen gardeners have lost many a tender plant from a sudden frost in the spring. And being someone who has twice had the foliage of his early potatoes burned by frost in early May, I think we sow and plant with caution.
What I’m sowing this month.
With all of that in mind, March is still a month that offers a lot more potential in the crops to sow.
I have a number of Charles Dowding’s books and for practical sowing advice, I find they are wonderful used in combination. My current seed sowing decisions are from ‘Organic Gardening: The Natural No-dig Way’.
This year I’ve made a commitment to what I call conscious consumption. I’m incredibly frustrated by our consumerist ways and the negative effect it has on our environment. Conscious consumption is for everyday life and in the garden.
In practice it means I will use what I already have, I will buy only when I genuinely need something and when I decide I need to buy something it will, where possible, come from an ethically sourced local company.
In terms of gardening, it means I am trying to use up the seeds that are overflowing the tin in my kitchen. Seeds that I have bought, been given or have arrived as freebies attached to magazines. All seeds have a cost attached and as my wonderful friend Sara Venn recently suggested in an Instagram video, seeds are a resource and not a commodity.
I know many people sow their tomatoes as early as January, but I just don’t think it’s necessary. I’m sowing my tomatoes this week as I did last year. I had an incredible crop of tomatoes from the polytunnel. Sowing later makes it much easier to manage seedlings too as the light levels are stronger and the last frost is much closer. Seriously, don’t make work for yourself.
Red Pear: A small, pear shaped tomato with plenty of flesh.
Darby Stripe: Last year I grew Tigerella, an incredibly productive striped tomato. It was developed by Dr Lewis Darby of the Glasshouse Crops Research Institute in Littlehampton in the 1950s. Thanks to the Heritage Seed Library, the Darby Stripe is a non-commercially available variety bred by the same Dr Darby in the 1960s.
Moneymaker: Many will know this tomato. It’s an old British variety dating back to 1913 and has had incredible popularity over the years as it’s reliable and produces a heavy crop of medium size fruit.
Yellow Submarine: This I grew last year and it’s a fantastic yellow, pear shaped variety. It’s early to crop, prolific and deliciously sweet (Not quite as good as Sungold but very close!) The seeds were gifted to me from the lovely Vital Seeds.
Marmande: Again, many will know the name. A French Heirloom Beefsteak variety with few seeds and firm flesh.
San Marzano: Probably the most famous plum tomato to come out of Italy. Grown in the rich volcanic soil at the base of Mount Vesuvius. I am looking forward to turning my crop into canned sauce.
Onion seed was something I needed to buy and I chose Yellow Rynsburger from the West Wales based Real Seeds.
I sowed a few seeds in February as a bit of an experiment. I’m not one who looks to grow prize winning onions but wanted to get some seed sown fairly early to see how they fare. I multi-sowed 5 seeds in 2 inch soil blocks. I’ll sow more this month in the same way.
Initially I planned to grow all the onions from seed this year but it’s actually the first time I have grown from seed and as they can be a little bit tricky, I’m planting some sets this month too. I’m following Charles’ advice on this and will restrain from planting the sets until after the equinox on the 21st. I’ll plant the shallot sets the same time.
I’m direct sowing carrot and parsnip seeds this month. I’ll then cover the bed with fleece for a few weeks to give some warmth and help the seed germinate.
I’m going with Amsterdam forcing as an early carrot that should produce an early harvest. I’ll sow a main crop variety in April.
Parsnip is a very slow seed to germinate so I don’t worry if seedlings fail to appear for at least four weeks. If that happens (and I’ve not faced that yet), there is still time to sow again. I usually grow Gladiator as I find in incredibly reliable.
I had intended to sow radishes a couple of weeks ago but it slipped my mind. I’ll sow this week. They can be multi-sown in modules if you like and harvested in clusters.
Radishes are such a fantastic crop to grow, not just because they taste incredible (dipped in butter if you please) but because they grow super-fast. Like three to four weeks fast. This is ideal for little helpers who need to see quick results to hold attention and also new growers who want to sow something and get bitten by the gardening bug. Some varieties I like include French breakfast, Sparkler, and Giant butter.
Back in 2008, sales of turnips rocketed with some supermarkets reporting an increase of 75% in 12 months. As household incomes shrunk as the consequence of economic collapse, people clearly rediscovered the benefit of this old vegetable in their soups and stews.
I’m multi-sowing four or five Purple Top Milan seeds into modules this month. I’ll plant the turnip seedlings out in clumps and harvest them as they get to golf ball size.
I’m making the first sowing of beetroot this month too. A firm favourite is Boltardy.
One of the great benefits of no-dig gardening is how quickly the bed preparation is. I used to spend long days, dodging the winter rains to break my back turning over the soil. Now I spend a fraction of that time simply covering the beds with compost. Most of the beds are now ready to grow the seedlings that will, in the next few weeks, begin to be transplanted out.
I’m still preparing the polytunnel. One bed that was used for tomatoes last summer and then for bowlfuls of salad leaves over the winter needs a covering of compost. I have another bed to fill from scratch along the other side of the tunnel where I plan to grow the aubergines, chillies and melons.
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