Venturing into the garden on a sunny March afternoon fills us with thoughts of sowing our first outdoor crops, such as broad beans, peas and early potatoes.
These crops all have large ‘seeds’ with stored energy to get them going. Small seeds such as salads and carrots struggle in cold soil – later in the month you can have a go if you enjoy living dangerously. My best friend at this time of year is fleece, which goes over all early sowings to keep the soil warm and moist.
A compost mulch on the surface last year has created an ideal medium for sowing small seeds, with fine crumby texture and rich feed just where small seeds need it. There is an endlessly repeated myth that carrots and parsnips fang in compost, but year after year I find this not to be the case. The main cause of fanging for me is tiny shards of stone, which always end up in the soil somehow.
Weed free status is important, especially at times of slow germination and crops like carrots and parsnips. Weeds keep slugs economically active and hungry for green shoots.
Indoor sowing in modules over a soil warming cable is perfect for a strong, early start to most crops. My lettuce and true spinach have all come up within a week in mid February without being attacked by wildlife, and will be ready for transplant by the end of the month. Transplanting salads in the polytunnel will provide rich pickings by mid April for my Farmers Market, whereas outdoor transplants, kept under fleece at first, should be ready to pick by late April.
Tomatoes and peppers have also germinated in this warmth, the early start will give a longer picking season. They will be transplanted twice into bigger pots, each time sinking the little plants as deep as I dare to make a stronger plant. Even on their ‘hot bed’, these will still get fleeced on frosty nights, so there is definitely extra work with early sowings.
And what do you call a camel with three humps? Humphrey.
What to sow this month
Broad beans, early potatoes, peas. It is better to wait for warmth later on to plant onion sets, as a cold snap will induce flowering later, especially red onions. Carrots, spinach, lettuce, beetroot and radish can be worth a go under fleece, but are quicker and easier to establish in April.