Still a risk of frost

Well, well, well… who would have thought? A couple of weekends ago, we were treated to a lovely sunny spell and the promise of spring. This weekend it looked as though spring had well and truly scarpered, and we had snow!

It just goes to show how changeable the weather can be at this time of year: one warm weekend doesn’t mean a heat wave is on its way – we are in England, after all. Which is why if you do get any tender plants from the garden centre early in the year, remember they still need to be protected from frost if the temperature drops.

I am the most impatient person I know, and many a time I’ve dashed off to the nursery at the first sign of sun, returning laden with hanging basket plants and the like, only for the temperature to plummet and then lose the lot.

I was hoping to get some of my spuds planted out last weekend, but that plan was scuppered: the soil would have been too hard and cold for planting.

However, there are still a few jobs I can be getting on with this month:

Firstly I plan to have a good old tidy up and clear any leaves, early weeds and debris from the borders to make space for any spring bulbs and new growth that may be appearing. I’m also going to start my war on slugs early this year, and set beer traps near any emerging shoots that might take their fancy.

Some seeds can be sown direct in the ground during March – I may well cover the planting areas with a cloche or some polythene a week or so before planting, to warm the soil up before they go in.

Vegetables I can sow this month are beetroot, broad beans, early peas, Brussels sprouts, leeks, lettuce, radish, parsnips and early turnips.

My early peas were sown in an old grow bag and have been in the greenhouse over winter. I’m delighted to say that they have survived very well, the mice and slugs haven’t found them, and they will be transplanted to the garden in a couple of weeks’ time.

Douce Provence peas waiting to go into the garden

Douce Provence peas waiting to go into the garden

Tomatoes, pepper

s, courgettes, aubergines and cucumbers can be started off in the greenhouse or a warm windowsill.

I sowed some cauliflowers, leeks and onions a while back in the greenhouse and these are steadily popping up through the soil. I’ll space out the seedlings when they get big enough to handle, then when they are more manageable small plants they will go out into the veg patch. Anything that’s going from the greenhouse to outside will need to be hardened off. This just means I’ll acclimatise them to the outdoor temperature gradually by putting the pots outside during the day, and inside at night for a week or so before they go out.

Broccoli and cauliflower

Broccoli and cauliflower seedlings

Leek seedlings

Leek seedlings

I’m making the most of this ‘pottering’ time. Before long, spring will definitely have sprung and the real gardening work will begin.

The Hinckley Times – 13 March 2013

The Hinckley Times 14 March 2013

The Hinckley Times 14 March 2013

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Cauliflower

For me, there’s not much that can rival a good cauliflower cheese. A healthy vegetable, dripping with a sauce so calorific it could power your street lights: what’s not to like?

So this year, I decided to have a go at growing some. Back in March, a tray of ‘Organic Goodman’ was sowed, and the seedlings appeared in no time at all. Out into the big wide garden they went, and I had a little bit of a smug moment as I surveyed my brassica patch. Oh yes indeedy, Brussels, purple sprouting broccolli, not one but three types of cabbage, and the piece de resistance… a row of caulis. I chucked in some fish and bone meal whilst planting, and was careful to firm them all in well: apparently brassicas don’t like to be blown about too much. It makes them insecure and upset.

A couple of weeks ago, I was in the patch on my regular slug and caterpillar hunt, when my attention was drawn to the cauliflowers. Blow me down… they were only producing white heads. Amazed that I had some vegetables actually behaving and doing what it said in the book, I investigated further to see how best to tend to them.

Out came the gardening book, and I read to keep the heads white, they shouldn’t be exposed to sunlight.  I dutifully pulled up all the leaves to the top of the crown and secured them with string. Quite excited now, I looked forward to the day when the family asked eagerly, “What’s for dinner?” and I could nod sagely towards the garden, answering, “Cauliflower. Not cabbage”.

Leaving the trussed up caulis to do their stuff, I left them well alone. Imagine my surprise when I gently peeled back a couple of the leaves for a sneak peek last week.

diseased cauliflower

Something’s definitely ‘up’ with my caulis

Either something was eating them, or they had some sort of disease. Either way, they weren’t the firm, white heads I was anticipating. They were moth-bitten and scrawny; some no more than wizened black stumps –  and no amount of cheese sauce was going to magic them into a tasty side dish. Disappointed, I rootled round on the t’interweb, but drew a blank. Plenty of guesswork going on, but no definitive answer – I’m still none the wiser as to what killed them. The Mystery of the Cadaverous Cauli: that’s one in the eye for the Famous Five!

There was nothing for it – the whole row had to go. Not wanting to risk putting something disease-ridden in the compost bin, I gave them a decent send off in the household rubbish. I can’t bring myself to tell the family just yet…

cauliflower

I love the headlines the people at The Hinckley Times make up