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Spring is here and the first seeds are in the ground

Salad crops, courgettes and pumpkins are now germinating in the greenhouse. Potatoes, parsnips and celeriac are already under the soil in the garden. The busy little field voles are doing their tricky best to eat my seeds in the greenhouse, but, as you can see, the mouse traps are ready and waiting for them!

Out in the garden the soil is still cold but in the last week of March it's good to get the potatoes into the ground. My method is simply to rotavate the dormant garden (after digging out any perennial weeds by hand) and then use a straight edge roofing batten and bulb planter to pop each seed potatoe into a 4 inch deep hole about one foot apart in the recently rotavated earth. The loose earth is then pulled over to cover each one. It's a quick and easy job if you don't mind bending over 100 times. This only works if your soil has good condition and is dry enough to avoid being sticky. By planting “on the flat” like this you avoid the trouble of digging a trench. In 2 or 3 weeks the first potatoe shoots will begin to appear and, at this point, the potatoes can be “earthed up” by pulling ridges over them with a strong hoe. This way you will destroy any weeds which are growihg between the rows. From then on until you harvest in summer, there should be no need to weed as the vigorous potatoe plants will comfortably dominate anything else that tries to grow between them. The parsnips are seeds you need to sow early – first in, last out – is what the old gardeners say about parsnips. This year I'm trying to use the new fangled seed tapes where single seeds are glued every 2 or 3 inches along a paper tape. The tape is laid into a shallow trench and covered with a thin layer of soil before being firmed down. With luck this should make the thinning process much easier when the tiny seedlings begin to appear in about 3 weeks time. Like carrots, parsnips are very slow to germinate – you must try to plant them in a very “clean” (weed-free) seedbed. Like beetroot, parsnips do produce a great weight of produce when they finally mature – and they are pretty free from damage by pests. And what better food than deliciously roasted parsnips! Being successful with all this does depend on having humus-rich friable soil which is free of any significant weeds. We use a rotavator (on a windy dry morning) as our primary tool for giving the weeds a hard time – we can do this at the end of the growing season in September/October. We can do it again now in the spring – first when we rotavate in the freshly spread compost and at least once more on the morning before we plant our seeds. As always we are careful to look for, and remove, any perennial weeds BEFORE we rotavate – chopping up the roots of perennial weeds is not a clever thing to do!

A before and after rotavating picture

There's not much else to report in the garden yet. The rhubarb is making a slow start now and the blackcurrant cuttings, which I rooted over the winter, are now potted up to be donated to the church's plant sale in May.

I shall wait for warm weather in April now before setting the rest of the garden – by then the courgettes and pumpkins may be ready to plant out.

Next week I shall be sowing my sweet corn – grain by grain in individual pots in the greenhouse, so it will be ready to plant out at the end of April.


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