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There’s a month to go before spring, which means it’s time to prepare beds, wash seed trays, turn the compost and sow seed in trays for an early start.
The get ready for spring checklist:
Make your own germination mix
Make a 50/50 mix of sifted garden soil and fine compost. The finer the soil texture the better the contact between the seed and the sowing medium. If it is too coarse, air pockets form around the seed that traps water and the seeds rot.
10 minutes to spare
Wash and sterilise seed trays and pots. Use water and Jik or vinegar, with a little liquid soap.
Get beds ready
Diminishing yields, disease, compacted or heavy soils and poor drainage are indicators that the soil needs regenerating. Vegetables do best in fertile, friable soil that allows the roots to draw up oxygen and water, and the best way to achieve this is by double digging. Double digging aerates the soil to a depth of 60cm and incorporates compost, but doesn’t affect the soil life or displace the topsoil. It is only necessary to double dig beds every 4-5 years. In between, beds just need to be topped up with compost and topsoil, which is lightly forked in.
How to double dig
Water the bed well a day or two beforehand. This helps with measuring and marking out the beds using sticks and twine, and also helps with the digging. Dig the bed in sections, about 1m² at a time. Remove the top 30cm of soil of the first square and put it to one side. Loosen the second layer of soil to a depth of 30cm but do not remove the soil. Fork in the compost. One bucket of compost (10 litres) is used per 1m² for enriching both the topsoil and subsoil. Dig the next 1m² section, but put this topsoil, mixed with compost, into the first section. Keep turning the topsoil from one section into the previous section until you reach the end of the bed. At the end of the bed, you will take the topsoil from the first section and mix it into the last section. The result will be a bed that is about 15cm higher than the surrounding soil. Rake it level, removing clumps and stones. Water the bed and cover it with mulch. It is now ready for sowing or planting.
5 minutes to spare
Vegetable seed is generally viable for 2-3 years if stored correctly. Once a packet has been opened, fold over the top and secure it with a clothes peg and store it in a sealed container in a cool place.
Can’t wait to get going?
If the soil is still too cold for sowing in situ, sow in seed trays, cover them with cling wrap and keep them on a hot tray turned as low as it can go, or on a heating pad. This will warm up the soil enough for the seeds to germinate. Keep in a warm, sheltered place.
Garden task list:
- Feed winter veggies with a seaweed-based plant tonic. If applied as a drench it will also stimulate microorganisms in the soil.
- Harvest regularly. Removing the main broccoli head allows side shoots with smaller heads that can also be harvested.
- If rain has compacted the soil, lightly loosen it, being careful not to damage the roots.
- Water in the morning and increase watering as temperatures start to rise.
- Put down snail bait (Ferramol is organic) and control aphids with an organic insecticide.
by Alice Spenser-Higgs