Kitchen Gardening Jobs for Mid-Spring

The key words in mid-spring are speed and watchfulness. This is the time of the year when the days really begin to lengthen and the sap starts to rise with a vengeance, with the result that dormant seeds sprout and apparently dead plants leap to life with alarming speed, as do plant pests and fungus diseases. The quantity and quality of your harvest will be determined by the amount of seed you are able to sow now and the alacrity with which you spot and stop plant enemies.

The weather will be particularly fickle, perhaps warm during the day and frosty at night or cold and wet for a week at a time. It may blow a gale or it may snow. It is astonishing that Nature has arranged things so that seedlings have to survive such unsuitable growing conditions, but you can help them with protective cloches or tunnels and special soils or composts. Watching the weather in mid-spring is more important than in any other season – you need to be conscious of what is happening to it all the time and to make a mental record for future reference, when you have a bumper harvest or a famine.

Pests such as greenfly and caterpillars will be hatching; birds and mice will be hungry after the winter and the just as damaging but barely visible fungi will be infecting new leaves and stems with disastrous effects. For every one greenfly that is obvious there will be ten more hidden. Get into the habit of using finger and thumb early in the season and look underneath leaves for signs of infestation, not just on top.

When planting asparagus, make a rounded ridge down the centre of the trench, and put the crowns on top of it, with the roots spread down its sides.

Seed sowing outdoors is the major job in mid-spring; the majority of the vegetables can be sown, many of the herbs, and melons and alpine strawberries. You will be doing some more planting too: vegetables grown from crowns such as globe artichokes and asparagus; tomatoes and cucumbers under glass; transplanting the larger seedlings and pricking out the smaller ones.

Frost protection is vital; all sorts of young crops will be needing it, especially potatoes and seedlings which have just germinated. Five degrees below freezing is not very encouraging to a two-day-old seedling. A maximum and minimum thermometer is an exceedingly useful reminder that the night temperature, either outdoors or indoors, may have dropped too far for plant comfort.

Jobs to Do

Preparing the soil

As you will be sowing a great many vegetable seeds in mid-spring, seed-bed preparation will be one of the most important jobs and you will find the method for this detailed in Early Spring.

Sowing seed outdoors

Seeds to be sown outdoors include those listed in the sowing and planting chart; methods of sowing are listed in early spring. The seeds which were sown outdoors in early spring can still be sown now and they include broad bean, leek, onion, parsnip, summer spinach, spinach beet and Swiss chard (seakale beet). Their sowing requirements will be found in the Early Spring sowing and planting chart.

Sowing seed under glass (in heat)

You can also sow under glass in a gently heated propagator: aubergine, basil, celery, cucumber, marrow, melon, squash, pepper, pea, sweetcorn and tomato. Basil, marrow, pea and squash will germinate best in a temperature of about I6-18°C (60-65°F), basil in 14-21 days, pea in about 3 days, the other two in about 7-14. In warm, sheltered areas all these can be sown in containers in brick or wooden-sided frames outdoors. When the seeds have germinated, protect the seedlings from strong sunlight.

Planting outdoors

Crops which can be planted out this month include globe artichokes, asparagus, summer cauliflower (hardened off), garlic, peas (hardened off), onions from sets, second early and maincrop potatoes, rhubarb, strawberries and vines. Chives and mint, bought-in, can also be planted now, or your own plants can be divided, and the best pieces planted. Sweet bay is another herb which can be planted now, as can sorrel and tarragon from bought-in plants, or by dividing your own. About ten days before planting the globe artichokes, fork some compound fertilizer into the prepared site, at the rate of 90g per sq m (3oz per sq yd), and clear off any weeds. Plant the crowns so that the buds are just above soil level, with the roots well spread out, and water them in if rain is unlikely. Space them 90-120cm (36-48in) apart each way.

It is usually safe to plant onion sets this month; they do not do well if put into cold soil but, by mid-spring, conditions should be suitable. Sets are onions which have had their growth arrested the previous autumn by heat treatment during which the flower embryo is killed. This means that not only do they mature more quickly, but also that they cannot bolt to flower.

The sets are planted 15cm (6in) apart in the row, with 30cm (12in) between rows, and should be put in so that half the bulb is above ground. Cut off any papery brown leaves at the tips before planting. After a week or so, have a look at the sets; they have a habit of heaving themselves out of the ground, or the birds may have tweaked them right out, mistaking the tips for useful nesting material.

That delectable crop, asparagus, can also be planted now. If your soil is on the acid side, dress it early in the season with sufficient lime to produce a neutral reaction on the pH scale, and fork the lime well in. A week or two later, dig out trenches 30cm (12in) deep and 38cm (15m) wide and then form a rounded ridge about 20cm (8in) high down the centre of each trench with some of the dug-out soil. Put the asparagus crowns 30-45cm (12-18in) apart, on the ridges, so that the roots are spread evenly down the sides, and cover them and the crowns with crumbled soil until the trench is filled in and the crowns are about 10cm (4cm) below the soil surface. Firm the soil and water in if no rain is expected.

Make sure there are no weeds whatsoever at this stage, because this is your last chance for getting adequate control over them. After this, any perennial weeds which remain cannot be eradicated completely; chemical weedkillers are likely to damage the asparagus, and hand weeding can never get the roots from under the crowns.

Summer cauliflower is planted out, either from the pricked-out crop if sown very early in the month, or from that sown in frames last month, into soil prepared early in the winter. For success with cauliflowers in summer, they should be planted as early in mid-spring as possible, putting cloches over them if the weather is really bad. Hardening off before planting will be.

Planting under glass

The remaining planting job to do is that of tomatoes in the greenhouse. This will probably not be necessary until the last week of mid-spring; it is no good planting tomatoes in cold soil, as the roots simply stand still; moreover, they are much more likely to become infected with fungus diseases from the soil.

The greenhouse border soil should by now be in good condition after your winter preparation and all that remains to be done is to make sure there are no weeds, large lumps of soil or stones, and water the surface thoroughly if it has become dry. For supporting the tomatoes, stretch a wire along the row 7.5cm (3m) above the soil, fasten securely at each end to the greenhouse wood or metal framework and run another above it, about 15cm (6in) below the glass of the roof.

The tomatoes are planted so that they are spaced along the bottom wire at 38-45cm (15-18in) intervals, with about 45cm (18in) between rows. Water the root-ball thoroughly, put it into a hole which will take it comfortably and fill in firmly with crumbled soil. Do not water in; then roots will be encouraged to grow and extend in a search for water, but make sure the surrounding soil does not become dry. As the plants grow they can be strung for support.

Thinning

The seeds which were sown outdoors or in frames in early spring will probably need thinning some time during mid-spring; they include beetroot, carrot, leek, lettuce, onion, parsnip, radish, summer spinach, spinach beet and Swiss chard (seakale beet). Any Brussels sprouts, summer cabbage and summer cauliflower which were also sown in early spring, either in containers or in the ground, can also be thinned. Thinning is a delicate job, and it is important to do it carefully and at the right stage. When the seedlings have one or two true leaves and it is possible to see which are the strongest, thin the rows to leave 2cm (1in) or so between the seedlings and then do it again when the leaves of the young plants are touching so that they are thinned to their recommended final spacing. Try not to disturb the retained seedlings when you are pulling out the unwanted ones and try to leave only those with sturdy upright stems, undamaged by pests.

Pricking out

This is done with seedlings started in seed boxes, rather than grown singly in small pots. Crops to be treated like this can include any of those sown last month: aubergine, Brussels sprouts, summer cabbage, summer cauliflower (the last three where sown in containers, after thinning), celeriac, celery, pepper, alpine strawberries and tomatoes.

Pricking out should be done when the seedlings have one or both seed leaves, depending on the species, and the first fully true leaf formed. They can be put singly into 5cm (2in) pots or into seed trays 7.5cm (3in) deep, spaced 5cm (2in) apart each way. Fill the container with a good standard potting compost, firm it down and level the surface, so that a 2cm (3/4in) space is left at the top. Use only well-coloured and well-formed seedlings and lift them with the roots as intact as possible, using a metal widger. Make a suitably sized hole in the compost, lower the roots and firm the compost over them. The stem of the seedling should be buried almost up to the seed leaves. When the tray is full, water the seedlings with a fine-rosed spray and put them in a sheltered, shaded place for a day or two, while they establish.

The remaining seeds sown in containers last month include cucumber and pea. The cucumbers can be potted on again, if not already done.. Space out all the plants in containers, keep them well watered.

27. August 2011 by admin
Categories: Kitchen Garden, Organics | Tags: , | Comments Off on Kitchen Gardening Jobs for Mid-Spring

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