The first downpour arriving in the last week of March made little impact on a soil that was dust dry. Luckily the showers continued throughout the week and soil moisture increased for the first few centimetres.
The storm that brought the rain also littered the beach with seaweed, and along with the goat and sheep manure and the fish frames that I dug in, I had the makings of a nutrient rich soil that would support the range of winter vegetables that I wanted to plant out.
Seeds sown a month earlier were ready. Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, bok choy, Chinese cabbage, kohlrabi, beetroot and swedes were first to go into the newly refreshed soil. I used the cover of the early evening clouds and occasional showers to make sure the transplants would survive.
Once planted, the soil was mulched with compost and dried grass clippings to keep moisture in. As the daytime temperatures were far too fierce for the seedlings, I used a green shade cloth to protect them, which I removed every evening.
In areas where I only added well-decomposed compost, I sowed seeds of carrots, parsnips, lettuce, daikon radish, beetroot and spring onions. Again, the use of shade cloth was necessary until the first signs of germination. Carrots can take up to two weeks to germinate.
This season I grew my peas in trays and only transplanted them when they were well established. Peas are dependent on soil temperature, depth and moisture – all of which I could control and I didn’t lose any to slugs and snails. This method also allowed me to leave the eggplants in the ground a little longer, though the low night-time temperatures soon stopped their productivity.
Seedlings started in poor soil begin life stressed, so as well as using a good seed-sowing mix, I used liquid manures for watering, including a mix of seaweed, nettles and comfrey.
When watering seedlings use a watering can with a large rose for a gentle spray. Apparently watering cans have been in use since 79AD so they must have passed the ‘fit for purpose’ test!
I refreshed the herb garden with some useful winter herbs including mint, thyme, oregano, chives, and parsley. Coriander, dill and calendulas had self-seeded and were popping up everywhere, and the profusion of basil was picked and frozen for winter use.
The warm weather and soil temperature will continue for the rest of the month, so although I got a jump on winter planting, all gardeners should continue with sowing seeds of root vegetables and peas.
For certainty of winter crops, it will be better to buy seedlings, although I am still growing my own seedlings, taking the chance that this weather will continue into May.