Siren sounds of spring

THERE are tempting sounds in our gardens which can delude and confuse since their positive note is at odds with our present experiences.

On Sunday, March 13, the first bumble bee was heard and on the same day the urgent note of a motor-mower added its own refrain – siren sounds if ever there were.

Surveying the damage wrought by a most severe winter, stretching back to mid-November, and at present seeing the thermometer plunging to -5C inside a cold green-house, most seeds are best left in the packet until the nights turn much warmer.

This advice does not apply if you have the facilities available to media-man Monty Don, and follow his advice to sow beetroot into pots, which can be later planted out, as grown, and gain an early salad vegetable.

However, potatoes should be set up in a frost-proof place and at the same time broad-beans can be sprouted in a shallow tray of gritty compost, ready for setting out into the garden. My potatoes of last season were almost wholly lost as frost penetrated a brick-built garage and a stout cardboard box. The garden-bench thermometer registered -16C.

The past six months have taught many lessons. My camellia has only three very tired looking half-open blooms, the north-wall of my garage displays no life in the montana grandiflora clematis, the Rosemary shrub is dead, whilst euonymous emerald and gold, treated as a topiary specimen, is a mass of new bright green shoots. All the pot-grown lilies, left on their sides unprotected are throwing new shoots. A very mixed and revealing sight.

It seems that the case for organic methods hardly needs proposing. All media comment suggests that the case is made.

Those who place compost making as a major priority will be heartened by an article from Kew about the results of soil analysis which read: “Most garden samples have had too many chemicals applied since the reserves of nitrogen and phosphates are there within the soil.”

Potash is the additive most often required, and this can be satisfied with seaweed in various forms or wood ash from the bonfire.

The analysts stated that compost or manure is sufficient to top up soil nutrients and retain moisture, and added that the benefits can be felt for up to four years.

Underlying all theories of organic growing is the fact that compost supplies the optimum conditions for soil bacteria to flourish and combine with plants in the transfer of nutrients via the root hairs.

Enough of theory and turn to rotation. In the October article, and repeated now, there is still time to carefully survey your plot and settle for this season’s crop positioning.

Grow a crop of early potatoes and follow it with next year’s spring cabbage.

When the broadbeans have been pulled up can they be followed with the newly rooted strawberry runners? As the potato main crop is taken there may still be time to broadcast phacelia as a winter green crop. If so, look for the seed on your travels.

Could you keep a site clear for the introduction of a new autumn fruiting raspberry called polka – much better it is said than the variety autumn bliss.

And so it goes on. Narrow paths between beds can be important since they give access to larger plots where you may have to walk on the soil too often.

If compacted soil from last season remains untouched it is essential that digging is started with the incorporation of whatever bulky compost or manures are available, remembering that the top soil should be left clear for a fertile tilth to accept the seeds, and improved with soft or sharp sand, or even the remains from last year’s planters.

by James Bantoft