No apologies this week for focusing on getting some veg going! I do want to mention a few ‘flower-jobs’ as well, but mostly mid-March is all about the luscious new-season edibles. Growing your own vegetables and salads makes even more sense than ever now that the cost of transportation is rising so alarmingly……………
So here are some tips on how to start off your tomatoes, cucumbers etc. indoors as well as sowing peas and planting out veg plugs in the great outdoors………………..
Peas and broad beans
Unless you’ve warmed up the soil in your plot with cloches etc., it’s still a bit touch-and-go for most crops that are usually direct-sown, even down here in the balmy south of the UK. I’m referring to things like beetroot, Brussel sprouts, spinach, parsley, radishes, rocket, parsnips and so on – you may be lucky and get some good germination of these seeds, but the soil temperature is unlikely to be high enough yet for them to shoot up wildly all over the place.
You’re probably better-advised to leave sowing them 2-3 weeks longer really. If you feel you MUST try an early row or two, then make sure you leave plenty in the packet to sow later on, when conditions might be more to their taste.
But there are a couple of crops that are fine to sow outdoors now, because they are TOUGH. One is peas, which really aren’t that bothered with wall-to-wall sunshine, and the other is broad beans, so utterly delicious when picked fresh but difficult to buy in the shops.
For the peas, make a flat trench about the width of your hoe and 2 inches (5cm) deep, in the soil, then sow your seed evenly along it about 3 inches (7-8 cm) apart. Cover them with soil and firm them in. If birds are a nuisance where you live, put some netting up to protect the seedlings. Water the line, and your baby pea plants should appear in a couple of weeks.
There is another WONDERFUL thing you can do with peas.Sprinkle some on a tray of compost (just make sure it’s got drainage holes) and place on a windowsill indoors – as I say, it doesn’t even have to be a particularly sunny one. Cover and water them – you will be picking gorgeously fresh (and pretty!) pea shoots for your spring salads well before Easter! Honestly, how easy is that – EVERYONE should do it! Make a note to sow a few more every fortnight, and you’ll have delectable pea shoots to last you all summer long.
With the broad beans, again they are agreeably hardy and will put up with cold and rough weather with equanimity. These days, I like to germinate their big seeds in paper pots, loo roll holders or root trainers, and then plant them out as ‘plugs’. I just think that it gives them a bit more resilience against rot and predators.
I do the same with other kinds of beans, lettuces and brassicas too. The great advantage (apart from NOT using plastic) of using paper or card pots is that there is absolutely no root disturbance at all – you plant the whole thing and the card or paper will just disintegrate in the soil – perfect! We have a brilliant paper-pot maker in our online shop – just saying………
Tomatoes and cucumbers
These must definitely be started indoors – they will not take any frost at all, and germination is hugely impeded by cold temperatures. I cheat a little with these seeds because I use my heated propagator to give them a little more comfort but it’s not strictly necessary – you can achieve very good results using pots on a sunny windowsill.
For tomatoes, scatter seeds VERY thinly on to pots or trays of fine compost which you have already firmed and watered. Cover them with a thin layer of compost or better still, vermiculite or fine grit. You should see your seedlings start to come up in about a fortnight.
With the cucumber seeds, I prefer to put only one or two into each pot. Turning the large-ish flattened seed edgeways into the compost prevents the water from sitting on top of it (which runs the risk of it rotting). On a personal note, by the way, I have for some years grown ‘Beth Alpha’ cucumbers in a cold greenhouse, and have yet to have a duff year with them. They are much smaller than usual, very tasty, prolific – and a huge hit with the grandchildren!
- I love the outrageous colours of gladioli among my sunny flower borders. In fact, I’ve got a new shipment of them arriving soon from Sarah Raven – a birthday gift from Caroline. If you love them too, you can plant them outside now, about 4 inches (10 cm) deep and the same distance apart, with the pointy end upwards. If your soil is heavy or wet, a layer of gravel underneath them will reduce the danger of them rotting. You can also start them off in pots, as well as lilies, begonias and Eucomis (pineapple lilies).
- Did you get a poinsettia at Christmas? If you did, and you want to keep it going, shorten all its stems down to 6 inches (15 cm) and hopefully, new stems will be encouraged to grow that will produce those beautiful bracts in time for next Christmas.
- I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I would be dividing some winter aconites to share with my friends – I made a short video of me doing it – as usual, Lulu our young cat does her best to steal the show! Link is at the bottom.
- This is the perfect time to divide hostas – dig up a large clump and divide it into small sections with a garden knife. Pot up the sections to grow on ready for planting out into their permanent positions later in the year.
- Apropos of all the veg talk this week, you can find a thousand more tips in our handy guide to easy vegetable growing ‘Beginner’s Veg’ – it’s in our online shop and we’ve reduced the price for the big spring push! There is also a handy offer if you buy it together with the perfect little garden notebook.
Here is the link to the ‘Lulu and the Aconites’ show.
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