The murmurings of Spring can be felt, and the transition from the depths of winter are beginning to take place. It is a time of year that can bring hope as the first seeds of the year are being sown and the sap is rising. With all of this happening, I usually feel much more motivated by the beginning of the month to get out and get on with everything that needs doing. There is also the fact that Spring and Summer are looming, and knowing that they are just around the corner piles on a bit of pressure to start getting on top of jobs and preparing as much as possible for the season ahead.
With this in mind, try to make the most of this month to get ready for the work to come—whether that is mulching beds with compost, mowing off green manures and covering with plastic to kill them off before planting in the next month or two, sowing seeds for the first plantings, making sure you have a clear plan to make the most of the space that you have and most importantly deciding what it is that you want to grow—not only what makes most sense on a small garden scale, but also what you really like to grow.
Something that has taken us years to come to is the fact that we shouldn’t feel as though we need to grow absolutely everything. We have, for 15 seasons, fairly unsuccessfully grown peppers, but continued to try, and continued to be frustrated by the time and effort that has gone into growing them, with very disappointing results. This year, we have decided to just grow a few for ourselves, but none commercially. It is ok to accept that some crops just won’t grow particularly well in your soil or location, and that’s where we are at with the peppers. Diversity of crops is really important to us and I think that’s a reason that we have held onto certain crops for years even though they have not grown well for us. However, by cutting out just a couple of crops that are a perennial headache it allows space to experiment with others, or fine tune those that you enjoy growing.
Outside, it is too early to plant anything, but we like to get the beds that need to be ready for planting in mid March prepared now. Our usual approach is simply to mow down any of the previous crop, weeds or green manure that is in the bed and then cover with double thickness silage plastic held down with plenty of sandbags. This “occultation” kills all of the plant life, whilst not disturbing the soil, and creating perfect conditions for worms and other soil life to thrive. The crop and plant residue is taken down to the lower profiles of the soil, and as the soil starts to warm a little more in March this process is sped up. Then, when the beds are ready to be planted, the plastic can be rolled up or moved onto another bed that needs preparing, and then the soil is just raked and planted into. This approach is particularly good for us on our slow draining soil, as we do not need to wait for it to dry enough for machinery to be used on it. We are continually striving to do as much as we can to minimise our impact on the soil and environment, and ideally build soil health and habitat. There are always compromises, and although we are limiting our cultivations as much as we can, we do rely on the use of plastic. Hopefully we can find techniques that will not rely on the plastic so much, but at the moment it works well for us and we have been using the same pieces of plastic for over 10 years. As growers, we feel as though we have two main roles—firstly to produce as much healthy produce as we possibly can and secondly to do this in a way that adds to the environment rather than sticking to the capitalist mentality of continually taking, using and polluting. We are not there yet, but we will keep working towards this.
WHAT TO SOW THIS MONTH: If you have a heated propagator in a naturally well lit place: peppers, tomatoes (although we now sow these in mid March and it doesn’t make much of a difference in terms of first harvests), lettuce, beetroot, shallots, spring onions, spring cabbage, salad leaves (see above). If you do not have a heated propagator, best leave sowing until March.
WHAT TO PLANT THIS MONTH:
OUTSIDE: Wait until next month!
INSIDE: Most of the indoor space should have been planted up with overwintering leaves, herbs, and early crops like spring onions, early garlic and peas.
OTHER IMPORTANT TASKS THIS MONTH: If the weather dries, continue preparing beds for the spring by mulching with a little compost and covering with black plastic if you are planning on planting them in early Spring. Wash any polytunnel or glasshouse to make sure maximum levels of light are getting through to the crops. Try to finish off any “winter jobs’’ this month before sowing, bed preparation, planting and weeding begins to take over!