Many seeds are now in the ground, under fleece of course this early in the spring; broad beans, carrots, leeks, lettuces, parsnips, peas, radish, rocket, salad onions, spinach and turnips. Most of the onion sets and all the shallots are planted.
Gardeners with wet clay soils might have to wait a few weeks before sowing, perhaps until mid-April, but on light sandy soils in the south germination is underway and emergence should happen this weekend for peas and beans sown two weeks ago.
Subsequent, follow on sowings appear to be on course to be made in mid-April. Some seeds, leeks and parsnips for example, are embarking on a 12 month 'grow', and this time next year, all being well, they will be coming to an end. Before then much will have to be done:
• The dry soil is very easily raked into seedbeds when dry in March. Getting this done now means the seedbeds are ready to go in April whatever the weather (almost).
• Carrots and leek supplies are just about to run out, but there is surplus of parsnips and celeriac, so frequent vegetable curries can be expected.
• Purple Cape cauliflowers are ready to cut, but purple sprouting broccoli is not yet sprouted. A very few cabbage and sprouts remain, but with the warmer weather they will soon go over unless rapidly consumed.
• Brussels sprouts are being cleared and the roots burnt in case they harbour clubroot disease- hygeine measures like these can greatly reduce the infection pressure in allotments.
• Early potatoes chitting on top of the wardrobe can now go out - their proposed site is currently under clear polythene to warm up.
• As areas become clear of crops they can be dug. Digging light dry soil is very easy at this season, but in April for clay soil when it turns from sticky to rock hard, with a brief interval when it is workable. After leaving strips for paths, there is not in fact a great deal to turn over now. I like to dig from day, through dusk into dark, with the bird song to accompany the labour. To save time a mattock is used where there is no crop debris to bury.
• For my back's sake digging is done in 45 minute bursts with a 15 minute break doing other things. Otherwise I end up walking home bent almost double prompting ribaldry from youth hanging round the kebab shop. This weekend the other thing is setting up and stringing stakes to support the nets over the peas and beans - once the fleece is off these will be very vulnerable to birds, unless netted.
• The first batch of hardy plants are out of the propagator and in the cold frame. They should be ready to pot up in about 15 days.
• Now tender plants can now be sown and placed in the propagator to germinate, starting with aubergines and tomatoes. Within a month every available space in frame, greenhouse and patio will be full of young plants to be set out by the second week in June.
• The first tour of local nurseries to buy early hardy plants is now due - I will be shopping for big bold lettuce, cabbage and cauliflower plants. Sadly, local nurseries are rather unenterprising and seldom offer good calabrese plants. These plants will be set out under fleece with slug protection.
• Slugs will be on the move soon, but stirring the dry soil with the rake will expose many to the weather and reduce their numbers.
• Asparagus can be planted now. Their beds was cultivated level last weekend ready to receive them.
• It is just about time to lift a few clumps of globe artichokes and divide them and replant. It is pity not to do this while the soil is so dry, even if it is a couple of weeks early.
• I have some strawberry plants to set out as well. These are always planted through black plastic to minimise weeding.