We have three seasons in one weekend, as spring becomes summer becomes winter and then back to spring. March and April are so elemental – any hint of new life is pounced upon with rejoicing (a bee! bud break! bird song!) but the wise know that winter’s cold fingers still have stretch in them. Last week we had sunshine and ice creams, but today there is snow. Still, with Easter, I can feel the sap rising.
It’s a slow start to the spring produce season, perhaps due to lockdown, or maybe it’s Brexit. There is purple sprouting if you know where to look, and very early English strawberries, but the tomatoes are still rubbish (I’d hope for some decent European ones by now). My annual early April pilgrimage to asparagus country – Evesham – did pay dividends however, and as usual, the clutch of suggestive green stems set me back a small fortune.
I’ve spent the last month or so getting back into the horticultural swing of things. Not on the allotment – still too cold – but rather in my ‘potting shed’, the sun room at the back of our house. Over the four springs we have been here I have learnt to refine my system to make the most efficient use of space, heat and light. Instead of sowing everything at once I now move slowly, gradually, starting with the hardiest varieties and responding to what the temperamental spring throws at us.
When I first started the allotment the phrases ‘HA’ and ‘HHA’ on seed packets were just another thing to ignore, but having lost too many French beans to a surprise late frost on our exposed plot, I have finally learnt to pay attention. So I start the sowing season with the toughies such as broad beans and peas, and when they are ready to go into the cold-frame, I start the half-hardies off inside. Then when the hardy baby plants in the cold frame are ready to be planted out, the half-hardy seedlings goes under glass and we sow again with the real softies. And on it goes. At least – that is the plan.
Over time I have narrowed down the number of veg I sow, keeping it to the types I can either successfully grow, that we will actually eat or I would feel emotionally bereft without. In contrast the list of flowers for cutting expands and expands. They are a true joy of life that I can no longer do without, and growing them answers my need for nurture, colour, creativity, groundedness, wonder – not to mention the myriad affordability and sustainability issues associated with bought cut flowers. The allotment sowing timetable could, then, be called the Cutting Patch timetable. Which come to think of it means I need to rename the blog too – Notes from the Cutting Patch perhaps. In the meantime, here’s this sowing year’s plan:
The 2021 allotment sowing timetable:
March: Hardy veg and cut-flowers, including sweetpeas, cornflowers, broad beans, peas, kales & chard (plus tomatoes which stay under glass). Once germinated I can put these in the cold frame to make room for….
Early to mid April: Half-hardy annuals, including cosmos, strawflower, zinnia, amaranthus, ammi, cleome, plus courgette. I find that if I start them sooner they get all leggy in the fruitless search for light. I’ll also plant out the first lot of broad beans and peas at this time, which frees up pots for a repeat sowing. Once established the seedlings will go into the coldframe which then creates room for…
Late April to May: Sunflowers, climbing and dwarf beans, cabbages, squash, kohl rabi – the sunlovers and slow-growers, for later summer and autumn pickings. Also the biennials, such as sweet william, sweet rocket and honesty, which will be planted out in the autumn ready for early flowers next spring.
It’s a relief to not start everything at once, like giving oneself permission to take a day off. And in the meantime, there are other projects that are taking up my energies, such as finally sorting out the very back bed of our west-facing garden. Over Easter some bedraggled shrubs were removed, and there’s some remedial work to be done to the fence and retaining wall before I get on with planting. It’s a shady patch, and I’m drawn to the ideas of ever-green ferns and jurassic plants that can be fuel to a young pre-schooler’s dinosaur-loving imagination. Watch this space.
Also this week:
Sowing and planting: Hardy and half-hardy annuals, as outlined above. Replanted the herbery with new hyssop, mint, thyme, chervil and oregano. Currently planting up summer pots for front and back garden. There are broad beans and peas ready for planting out but the snowy weather will delay matters for a week or so. Garden is filled with narcissus and tulips on the tip of opening, and the forsythia is a golden joy.
Harvesting: Mustard, lettuce and rocket from the veg trug. Not much else.
Cooking and eating: First asparagus of the year, costing a king’s ransom, though purple sprouting is cheap as chips now. Easter biscuits, Easter chocolate cake and hot cross buns, obviously. Lamb kebabs with flatbreads. First bottle of rose wine of the year.
Reading: Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee, and I see for the first time how similar the life captured in this book (1920s rural Cotswolds) is to that of the 1950s Mediterranean peasantry that Patience Gray describes in Honey from a Weed. We’re all the same people, albeit divided by 20 degree celsius.