Oh March, so full of promise, so full of false starts. The minute John Humphrys says ‘Good morning it’s the 1st of March’ it’s all I can do to restrain myself from leaping out of bed and into the garden with an armful of seed packets and broadcasting them beardy parable-like into the wind.
This would be silly. Most of them would sulk and rot in the cold soil. For spring is a temperamental animal. We want it so badly we conveniently forget it happens slowly, not overnight. One day it might be all sun, buzzy bees and blossom, the next you’d swear it was mid winter with a Tupperware sky, relentless drizzle and a night frost. So I hide the back door key and, instead, settle for indoors sowing in plug trays on the kitchen windowsill – aubergines, sweet peppers, tomatoes, basil.
Once the apricot blossom has come and gone, I deem it’s safe to sow direct into garden soil. The traditional maxim is, if you can sit on the ground in your pants (for which, American readers, read underpants) without leaping up in shock then it’s warm enough to sow into. I have no intention of sitting on my garden soil in salopettes let alone pants so the apricot blossom test works for me.
So what can you sow direct into the soil outside in March?
Radishes, spinach, chard, peas, beetroot, carrots, broad beans, lettuce, wild rocket, spring onions. And don’t forget you can now plant your potatoes too.
And what could you be sowing inside in a heated greenhouse or sunny windowsill?
Tomatoes, sweet peppers, chillis, aubergines, basil
And now for some things about sowing I wish someone had told me when I started so I wouldn’t have made so many mistakes…
1. Tomato, chillis, aubergine and pepper seedlings need to be in a really warm place while they’re germinating (inside the house works best), but once they’re up they’re surprisingly happy in an unheated greenhouse as long as they have some bottom heat. A heated mat is a great investment – I set it to about 15-18 degrees C and all my seedlings seem fine (as long as I remember to check the compost doesn’t dry out). Outside they get plenty of light so won’t get all weedy like the ones you raise inside the house. And the added bonus is they won’t take up every available surface and window of your house turning it into a dimly-lit horticultural Miss Havisham’s.
2. Hotel shower caps make great mini propagators (above). Pop one over a plug tray of germinating seeds. And it’s recycling, people. Note the comma there – I wouldn’t recommend actually recycling people.
3. Most germinating vegetable seeds – with the exception of parsley and lettuce –don’t need light to germinate. But the minute they’re up, take off any propagator lid and get them into the lightest spot you can find.
3. A fleece tunnel is another useful bit of spring kit – pop it over rows germinating seeds outside to keep the soil a bit warmer and the neighbourhood cats off.
4. Growing Success Advanced Organic Slug Killer. Changed my life.