Flowers, Gardening, Gardening Year, Grow Your Own, Guest Posts, Mice & Rats, Paul Peacock - Mr Digwell, Pest Control, Slugs & Snails

They say March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb, and it is this change from winter to spring that sets the human heart on a course for growing. Indeed, any warmish day (should one appear) gets us all talking about spring and itching to get out there in the garden. But don’t be fooled into starting too soon – It is always true that what you can sow in early March will be just as good started out in late March.

Snowdrops coming up in the garden
The snowdrops look lovely this year in the garden, growing everywhere they shouldn’t. It’s a joy to see these little beauties popping up all over the place.

March for me is a “just about” month. You can just about still prune your roses, you can just about plant bare rooted trees, you can just about get away with sowing salads, carrots, and parsnips, so long as the ground is warm. But really, March is a month for preparation.
First crocus blooms of spring
I don’t mind admitting it – the first crocus of the year move me to tears – just don’t tell anyone!

A fine tilth

The biggest preparation for me is that of the seed bed. Now this year I am building raised beds and what with everything else, all the piled-up work and myriad tasks I have to sort around the house, it looks as though I am going to be a little late. But no matter, it’s best to get things right than to try to rush them.

Seed beds need to provide the young plants with all they need for growth. These are:

  • Moisture
  • Warmth
  • Oxygen
  • Protection from cold – which is different from warmth (I’ll explain later)
  • Protection from hungry animals
  • Ventilation
  • Nutrients
  • An easy passage for roots to grow

Moisture

All living things need water to grow and this is provided by the moisture between the particles of soil. It is increased by the addition of rotted plant material which acts as a sponge, holding moisture until it is forcibly taken in by growing roots.

I always make sure that my beds are enriched with compost for this reason – water retention. However, too much water can be a bad thing. You can check how much water your soil has quite easily by the way it responds to squeezing.

Take a handful of soil and squeeze it in your hands. If it forms a tight ball, there is too much water in it. If it just starts to fall apart when released, it is just right. If there is too much water in your seedbed, add some sand – this will open the structure.
If your ball simply refuses to stick, even a little, your soil is too dry and you need to add more organic material – compost.

Warmth

In the first week of March I cover the soil with black plastic where possible. This is to warm the soil, the black plastic acting as a blanket to keep the day’s warmth in. By the end of the month the soil is ready for sowing direct. Even a couple of degrees is all you need for a growing seedling to get established.

For this reason also, I tend to put a plastic cloche on my tender plants, to keep the heat in. But you don’t want it so hot that the seedlings grow too quickly. I have found over the years that seedlings that grow too fast don’t store well when picked. Take onions for example: if you grow them too quickly they will produce onions that rot more easily than the ones that were a little cooler and slower growing. I am not sure, but I believe this is because of fungal infections that might get in the seedling and lie dormant.

Another thing to look out for is the amount of water in it that causes it to be cold. Clay soils are cold, and seeds don’t germinate too well in them. Adding compost, sand, and lime to clay soils, over a number of years, can improve it tremendously.

Oxygen

Almost all living things need oxygen for growth. This comes dissolved in the water between the soil particles. If your soil is too wet, if there is a lot of clay, it is likely that the oxygen in the soil will be largely used up.

The way to improve this is to add sand and organic matter. A fluffy soil is an airy soil.

Protection from Cold

This is different from keeping them warm. There is a phenomenon called ‘cold air drainage’ that basically says as wind blows over the land, it gets cooler. This is pronounced if you live on a hill. Cold air is heavy, and it rolls down the hill, getting colder all the time. This is responsible for frost pockets, which you almost always see at the bottom of a hill, or on your lawn if you live in the valley.

This is the reason for lining beds with box plants to keep the plants out of the chilling breeze. An old allotment trick is to plant in pyramids of soil, which bring them higher than they would have been sown flat.

Sedum plants in the garden
Sedum is as tough as old boots. Simply cut away the old stems when they die and you will get a crowd of new ones as a replacement

Protection from hungry animals

There is nothing more annoying than getting your cabbages ready and growing only to see them become breakfast for a flock of pigeons, or your peas to be pulled out of the ground by hungry mice, or worse still (I say worse – I love to watch them invent ways of getting to your plants), slugs and snails hang off branches to get to your lettuces.

There are clearly millions of chemicals you can use against nature, but in the end I prefer simple netting. My garden looks like a bedroom, by the end of March, with all the plants tucked under horticultural fleece. They get all the light they need, you can water through it and you can buy it so even the smallest insects can’t gain access.

Ventilation

One of the problems with keeping plants warm is this: warm and wet makes fungi grow. If you are using a cloche, keep at least one side open to get a bit of ventilation to shift the fungal infections. I’m not talking cold wind – just a good waft of air.

Nutrients

Not all plants need the same amount of nutrients. I work it like this: Potatoes need a lot, root crops next, then brassicas, then beans, then salads. But for now, seedlings don’t really need any nutrients at all, just enough water to make them explode into life, so if you are using a seed bed you don’t need to manure it too much.

Delphinium growing in garden
The tender growth of delphinium heralds Spring around the corner. I am going to fleece these to give them a little extra protection until April.

An easy passage for roots to grow

This comes by working the soil. It used to be a joke in our family. Granddad never really got on with grandma, so he was always to be found hoeing the carrot bed. It was said that his prize carrots were a barometer for how often they had argued that spring. The hoe is the best tool you have in the garden.

Mr Digwell gardening cartoon logo

Paul Peacock studied botany at Leeds University, has been the editor of Home Farmer magazine, and now hosts the City Cottage online magazine. An experienced gardener himself, his expertise lies in the world of the edible garden. If it clucks, quacks or buzzes, Paul is keenly interested.

He is perhaps best known as Mr Digwell, the cartoon gardener featured in The Daily Mirror since the 1950s. As Mr Digwell he has just published his book, A Year in The Garden. You can also see more about him on our Mr Digwell information page.

Gardening, Grow Your Own, Guest Posts

The benefits of eating fresh fruit and vegetables are something that we are all well aware of. Eating our “five a day” has become a great benchmark for us all to adhere to as we try to stay fit and healthy.

Boost Your Fruit Intake

Eating vegetables is the easy part, as we can simply eat our greens with a tasty steak or chicken breast – but remembering to eat enough fruit is something many of us neglect.
Patio Fruit Trees
Often this will not be intentional, but will simply be because we are too busy to nip to the greengrocers or the supermarket to pick up a bag of apples or oranges. One way we can help to boost our intake of fresh fruit is to invest in a patio fruit tree. These can be placed in even the smallest of gardens or patios and produce fruit that is much fresher and better value for money than supermarket fruit.

Midget Fruit Trees

These are often referred to as dwarf or midget fruit trees and can be obtained from a number of garden centres and online suppliers. They are usually grafted on to a dwarfing rootstock – This stops them from getting too large but does not compromise the size of the fruit whatsoever.

Positioning and Care

In order to give your patio fruit tree the best potential for growth possible, it is prudent to adopt a south facing aspect. This has been known to produce the most abundant crops and should have your plant bearing fantastic fruit in no time at all. Plums, nectarines and peaches all flower at the start of spring so it is also a good idea to protect them from any lingering frost in the early months by covering them with a protective fleece or even storing them under cover. That said, pollinating insects should also be able to roam freely so allow access to your patio fruit trees from the garden.

Maintenance

If growing your patio fruit trees in garden pots, it is a good idea to use a good quality fertiliser during the spring and summer months.  This will ensure that any nutrients used up are replaced and that your tree will maintain its foliage and fruit. Also keep an eye on the compost during hot weather and make sure this does not completely dry out, as this could be detrimental to the amount of fruit that your midget fruit tree will produce.

Written by Alan Hamilton on behalf of Mirror Reader offers – the Daily & Sunday Mirror’s reader offers shop. Alan is a keen gardener who finds it hard to stay indoors, even in the harshest of winter weather.

Cat, Gardening, Grow Your Own, Water Features

london eye

Last week we asked you for your new year’s resolutions on Facebook and love the responses we got:

Cat:

Finally finish writing something!

Barry:

Carry out orders of Head Gardener less painful that way.

Jacqui:

To laugh more!

Jackie:

Stop my dog digging my lovely garden.

Captain:

Tonnes of them.

Judi:

More reading, more learning and more development for 2013.

Jennifer:

Yes I did make one…’I will not be sucked into bargain corners of DIY sheds’…. One tiny little trip this morning to B&Q for paint = No paint and 3 ragged Dicksonias later..

Liz:

NEVER.

Sheila:

Do more in garden if can . . don’t spend enough time on it.

Shirley:

Yea I did new diet lol cause I haven’t got a garden lol

Tracy:

Well I did a silly one. Mine was to stop telling everyone (who didn’t care) when my favourite footballer scores a goal. Worked well up to yesterday (New Years’ Day) when he decided to score 2 in the same match lol

Gabrielle:

This year I’m setting myself a little goal and planting a little veg garden and planting a few fruit trees.

Barry:

Add more plant to garage roof, snowdrops in flower, even have self-seeded verbena.

Jim:

Stay living in an attic flat…no digging…

Laura:

I have major plans to transform our garden into a fab sensory one for my son – just got to wait for the builders to stop churning it up first! I also have a very happy boy with his new bubble wall from Primrose – he is full of the horrible cold, but as soon as the runny nose goes I’ll get a photo for you.

Maggie:

To get the garden shed re-felted asap.

 

 

We wish you all good luck!

wedding-meCat works in the marketing team and is responsible for online marketing, social media and the newsletter.

She spends most of her time reading about a variety of interesting facts, such as oddly named Canadian towns, obscure holidays and unusual gardening.

She mostly writes about Primrose news and current events.

See all of Cat’s posts.

Celebrations And Holidays, Grow Your Own, Paul Peacock - Mr Digwell

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When I was a small child I always thought the plants, the birds and wildlife in the garden were all celebrating Christmas just like the rest of us. The sprouts were just waiting to be picked, knowing they were special; the new potatoes in the bucket were honoured by being pampered in the greenhouse just for this special day. As if they were all a little like the Magi, journeying through the months ready to worship the New Born King on our Christmas dinner plates.

If you have sprouts in the garden, take a bowl out with some ice in it, and cut the buds off into this. They will remain tight and unblown. Sometimes we forget, pick enough for a few days of feasting, and by Christmas morning, their leaflets have loosened.

1 sprouts

Parsnips, our longest growing vegetable in the garden, are at their best following a frost, and this year we have had a week or so of cold – they should be really fine. Collect them on Christmas morning, top and tail them and give them a jolly good wash. Microwave and then add butter – I could eat just them alone!

I always try to grow some baby carrots in sandy tubs for Christmas, and, if you have some, just run them under the tap to get rid of the grit – it is amazing how grit gets everywhere, and you don’t want it in your gravy! I always add the carrot water to the gravy – especially since I give them an extra knob of butter to boil in – you get an ever so rich gravy that way.

2 carrots

Traditionally, Christmas is a time for sowing onions, so if you want a couple of hours away from the madness of Boxing Day, pop off to the shed and sow your next year’s stock. I always sow them in a large wooden box of compost, (far too many according to the books, but they tease apart really easily) and transplant in the late Spring.

I do hope you get something ‘gardening’ for Christmas. Last year someone bought me a kneeler – and boy, is it useful. I can now get down to basics on my hands and knees without messing my trousers and I don’t get so tired.

3 snips

One last thing for the kids is to grow your pineapple tops. If you have a fresh pineapple this Christmas, tease back the leaves to find some buds. Carefully pull them out and plant them in small pots of compost and keep them warm. Of the ten buds you find, five will grow, and then next year you will have some pineapple plants to give to a favourite aunt for Christmas. They are handsome and unusual little house plants.

Do have a wonderful holiday and don’t forget, when you are eating your Christmas Dinner – are the birds topped up with wild bird food? After all, it’s their Christmas too.

Merry Christmas from me and all of the team at Primrose!

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