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This month in the garden - 2018

March

It's officially spring! The days are getting longer and warmer and there is lots to do in the garden. All those seeds that were planted in February will be little seedlings by now. Pot them on as soon as they are big enough to handle. Don't wait for them to get bigger. They will use up all the nutrients in the compost quite quickly and growth will slow down. Encourage strong healthy plants by giving them more food and more space as soon as they need it. If you didn't quite mange to sow all the tomato, pepper and chilli seeds you planned to in February, continue with this in March. They will catch up. French beans and runner beans can be direct sown from now until July. Make sure you give climbing beans good strong supports. Get the poles as deep into the ground as you can. There's nothing worse than the sight of those lovely beans blown over into a big heap on a windy day. Pumpkins and courgettes can be direct sown too, but in colder areas you might be wise to protect them from unexpected cold spells by covering them with a cloche. You can make your own inexpensive cloches by cutting a plastic water bottle in half and sitting it on top of the seedling, like a mini greenhouse. Okra and corn can also be direct sown now until May or, if you prefer, plant in seed trays first and then transplant a little later. As the potatoes you planted in February start to grow, earth them up regularly. Cover as much of the plant as you can with earth or a thick mulch of straw. Just leave a little bit of leaf sticking out the top and all the covered-over stem will revert to a root and put out more potatoes. This really increases your yield. Now that the soil is warming up and the soil microfauna is coming to life, it's a good time to feed those creatures. Add your soil amendments now. This could be compost, compost tea, liquid comfrey feed, nettle feed, seaweed, whey, worm compost...

Tip: When harvesting lettuces, cut the head off with a knife leaving the roots in the ground and a bit of stem. Soon the stump will start to sprout new leaves giving you a second harvest from your lettuce.

Reader's question: I have recently moved to Spain and am finding my gardening books a little bit incompatible with my new environment. Can you recommend any gardening books for Spain in English? Growing Healthy Vegetables in Spain by Clodagh and Dick Handscombe is written in English for growers in Spain. It offers a wealth of tips and knowledge for gardens of all sizes from growing veggies in pots on a terrace to a full size finca. It has a very useful vocabulary section that translates all your favourite gardening words into Spanish. Mediterranean Kitchen Garden by Mariano Bueno, is a beautiful book, written by Spain's top organic gardener. There is an English translation. Broken down into sections on vegetables, herbs and the orchard, it is full of very useful and well laid out information.

Both of these inspiring books provide a great guide, but there is no right and wrong in gardening. Only what works and what doesn't work for you. What works for you is defined by your micro climate, your preferences, the time you have available to dedicate to your garden, your own health and fitness and the specific conditions of your site, aspect, available water, etc. Observation and commitment are your two most useful skills. It's a good idea to keep a journal. You might think you will remember everything but, you won't. It doesn't have to be hugely detailed or complicated, just jot down a few notes about your planting times, where and when compost was added, when the crop was harvested, insect damage, good harvests and bad harvests. When you go back and read it over again next year, you will start to build a picture of your garden and what works for you. It's invaluable and better than any book on gardening that you can buy. In a few years you'll have all the notes you need to write your own book!

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