Growing a Greener Henley – Looking at the Things We are Growing and Eating in March

 

Signs of Spring in our gardens and hedgerows, and amazing hot cross buns at Bosley Patch. https://bosleypatch.co.uk/   What more could we possibly need to help us through a pandemic?  How about a bit of early seed sowing!

Those of us who grow food in small spaces often use no more than a few seeds from a packet.  In pre-Covid days, the Greener Henley Seed Swap was a great place to share leftovers.  This year, I’ll be sowing seed left from last year and some I’ve bought on-line from Seed Cooperative.  Their seed is open-pollinated and organic and most of it is grown in the UK – some near Henley, at Tolhurst Organic and Waltham Place Farm.  If you are interested in the role of seeds in building a resilient food system, have a look at their website.  https://seedcooperative.org.uk/pages/diversity

A few of the things we can sow this month

Outside                                                                  Outside and under cover                                                    Inside

Broad beans                                                                Beetroot                                                                                           Aubergines

Leeks                                                                            Carrots                                                                                              Kohlrabi

Parsnips                                                                       Lettuce                                                                                             Chillies

Peas                                                                               Turnips                                                                                            Peppers

 

Friend Jean, has a small garden, among the seeds she is sowing for her garden this month is ‘Red Drumhead’ cabbage – a compact variety that works well in small gardens.  She’s also sowing lettuce – ‘Little Gem’ and ‘Marvel of 4 Seasons’.  My household is smaller than Jean’s so I always grow lettuces that can be picked a few leaves at a time.  Two of my favourites are ‘Skilton’ and ‘Salad Bowl’.

Jean’s also sowing beetroot, leeks, turnips and butternut squash in pots.  She’ll then stand the pots in repurposed fish boxes in her cold greenhouse to germinate.  What a great idea to use those insulated white fishmonger boxes to protect seedlings.

Trying new things

It’s lucky we’re not dependent on the food we grow for survival.  Thanks to the expert food producers around us, we can experiment and learn without fear of going hungry.  Jean will be sowing cauliflowers for the first time.  She says, “I’m a little apprehensive as I’m told they’re difficult to grow but the seed was given to me so I thought I’d give it a go”.

Later this month, I’ll be sowing a few kohlrabi seeds.  I’d never eaten it until one turned up last year in a very welcome lockdown veg box from Bosley Patch.  What a joy those boxes were during long weeks of isolation with that wretched cough to end all coughs!

Peas

Down on the allotment, Dave is sowing peas.  He says they’re more trouble than broad beans but worth it because they are so wonderful eaten raw or cooked soon after picking. He has a tried and tested method for sowing:

“Make a flat drill about 15cm wide – the width of a spade – and 5 cm deep.  Sow 3 rows of peas, 1 row on each side of the drill, 5 cm apart, and 1 row offset down the middle.  Rake the soil back over them.  Their tendrils like to cling on to something, such as pea sticks or netting for support.  On Greencroft allotment, the pheasants, pigeons and rabbits enjoy young pea plants so we wrap chicken wire around the row and support it with canes threaded through the mesh”.

I’ve stopped growing peas on my plot.  I don’t mind sharing some of my harvest with the local wildlife – just not all of it!  Now, I sow a couple of short rows in a small raised bed at home and eat them straight from the pods.  They never get as far as the kitchen.

Sowing inside

The intrepid Jean has already sown chillies, luffa (loofah), watermelon, aubergines and  peppers.  They all need a lot of heat so she’s growing them on a windowsill inside.  If you feel equally intrepid, there’s still time to have a try.  Dave’s advice is to sow aubergines by mid-March and sweet peppers (Capiscum) by late March.  They grow more slowly than tomatoes so need to get going now.  Jean has tried to grow luffa before. “To grow one for the bathroom would be a dream come true ….totally natural.  I tried last year.  They germinated but were eaten by something in the veg patch”.

Which tomatoes should we grow?

It’s Dave to the rescue again as there are a surprising number of decisions to make when we’re choosing tomatoes.  He explains some of the terminology we’re likely to see on seed packets.

Indeterminate – These grow up a stake and need side shoots taking out as they grow.

Determinate – These are bush varieties and don’t need side shoots removing.

Cherry, medium or beefsteak – Refers to the size of the fruit.

F1 hybrid – Seeds are more expensive and the plants tend to be more vigorous.  Don’t buy these if you want to save the seeds for another year.

When we’ve decided which tomatoes to grow, when do we sow them?  Dave says that if we have a greenhouse, tunnel or cloche, we can sow in March.  Otherwise, wait for April.

To dig or not to dig

Jean has a ‘no dig’ garden.  Leaving the soil in peace saves her time, keeps the carbon locked in the soil and retains water.  She’ll be filling the beds with mushroom and homemade compost ready for plaint out from her greenhouse or sowing into the beds.  To learn more about ‘no dig’ and to see whether it would work for you, take a look at https://charlesdowding.co.uk/

Andrew’s tips from the allotment

  • Dig out the compost heap.  Put it where you plan to plant potatoes or around raspberries, blackcurrants and on the asparagus bed.
  • Hoe the strawberry bed and add mulch
  • Don’t forget to dig or pick crops.  Andrew is digging carrots, leeks and parsnips and picking Savoy cabbage.  He’s looking forward to picking purple sprouting.

There’s something panic-making about writing a blog listing other people’s seed sowings and general busyness.  It’s only early March but I’m already feeling left behind.  See you in April, when I might have caught up a bit!

Liz Ware

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