Early Spring Jobs in the Kitchen Garden
This season is the most important one of the. It is the beginning of new growth and a fresh cycle of flowering and fruiting. You will be starting-plants off again – admittedly only a few in this early part of the growing season – but you can take advantage of the fact that you will be dealing with only half a dozen or so. Use the rest of your time to get ahead wherever possible before the real spring rush starts in a few weeks’ time.
Any gardener who wants to be successful must have the weather at the back of his or her mind the whole time, whether he or she lives in the country or the town. When early spring starts, it is especially important to keep an eye on the weather, as is can change radically in a few hours. This season can be treacherous, blowing-hot and cold, with a deceiving, warm, sunny period somewhere in it, during which novice gardeners dash out and sow and plant with great abandon, only to have the seedlings frozen as they germinate, and newly shooting plants blasted by fresh onslaughts of wind and snow.
The message is that the winter has by no means finished, except perhaps in gardens and areas known to be mild and sheltered. However, your main pre-occupation now will certainly be to get things off to a start, by preparing the ground in various ways, and by sowing or planting towards the end of early spring.
Other important jobs that will be necessary for the general run of plants are cleaning up and putting right the damage caused by winter storms, and weeding. This last is well worth doing thoroughly before the weeds start to grow again in earnest. You will save a great deal of time later by grubbing out now, docks, thistles, chickweed, grass and other weeds which established themselves late last autumn, and then sat it out through the winter.
Jobs to do
Preparing the soil for an outdoor seed bed
In order that the seeds you sow get the best start possible, the surface of the soil in which they are sown should be crumbly like breadcrumbs, moist, warm and level; it should contain plant food. You will have done the initial preparation of digging, and manuring where necessary, last autumn or early winter but now, if the weather is becoming less cold and less wet, you can finish off the soil preparation by making a seedbed for your seeds.
Choose a day when it seems likely that the weather is changing to mild and showery (probably towards the end of early spring in most gardens) and when the soil is moist but not soaking wet. Rake off sticks, leaves and large stones; break up large lumps of soil with the back of the rake, and weed if necessary by hand or hoe. If the soil surface has been packed down by heavy rain, you may have to lightly fork it first. When clear of rubbish, rake again, lengthwise and crossways until the soil is crumb-like, to a depth of about 2cm (3/4in). If you cannot sow at once, cover with polythene sheet overnight, so that unexpected rain does not destroy your work.
Preparing the soil for planting
At this time, the soil can be got ready for deep-rooting and heavy-feeding crops to be planted in mid- or late spring. This means vegetables like globe artichokes,, runner (pole) , , , , melons, , squashes, perpetual-fruiting and . For all except asparagus and runner (pole) beans, dig a trench one spade deep and wide, put in well-rotted manure, or a similar form of bulky organic matter in a layer 7.5cm (3m) thick, and mix it with the soil at the bottom of the trench, using a fork. Then return the topsoil, but mixed with more organic matter if it is inclined to be sandy and to become dry quickly. For asparagus and runner (pole) beans, dig the trench two spades deep, mix humus-providing material as before into the bottom, and also with the soil dug out at the depth of the second spade.
Never try to cultivate the soil when it is wet or cold. Trampling on it, as you will have to if you do any digging, forking, raking or weeding will only damage the structure and result in a bad harvest for one season at least.
The soil which you dug earlier, in winter or autumn, for, will now need loosening with the fork or rake, the rubbish taken off and V-shaped trenches made, 7-15cm (3-6in) deep and 50cm (20in) apart, to whatever length is required. The heavier and more clayey your soil, the shallower can be the trench: the lighter it is, the deeper. Line the trench with fresh grass mowings, if available, to reduce the possible infestation of superficial scab.
If you are going to try your hand at outdoor grape growing, early in mid-spring is not too late for planting, so you can still get the soil into condition any time in early spring, if it has not been done previously.
Another luscious and exotic fruit is the melon, which can perfectly well be grown in frames outdoors, as well as in an unhealed. Grow melons in frames, you should allow one or two plants to each frame. Dig a hole about one spade deep and 45cm (18in) square for each planting site, and mix one or two bucketfuls of rotted organic matter with the forked up soil at the bottom. Use the greater quantity if your soil is shallow or sandy. Return the remaining soil to the hole, but mound it up towards the centre, so that the plants will be growing on a little hump. This prevents water collecting round the base of the stem and rotting it.
If you are trying the mini-melons called Ogen, smaller planting holes only 30cm (12in) square will be needed, and you can fit at least two plants into a Dutch light frame or three into a standard English frame.
For melons to be grown in the greenhouse border, get the soil ready in the same way, allowing 60cm (24m) between each plant.
As the season after this is one of the busiest in the gardening calendar, it is a good idea to get ahead wherever possible, so you could complete the soil preparation for greenhousenow. Fork the soil over lightly, and at the same time mix in a slow-acting compound such as the J. I. Base, if you intend planting in the middle of mid-spring, do this preparation at the end of early spring, ie., two weeks before you intend planting. At the same time, put up the support system you intend to use .
Once you have got the soil ready, you can start the first crops off, either from seed or by using parts of mature plants.