Planning your planting

If you haven’t done so already, take time to plan what you will grow and where you will grow it in the coming spring and summer season. It helps to sit down with pen and paper, if you don’t get it all right first time round its easier to rub things out rather than having to dig them up! Sort out the tall growers like climbing beans and sunflowers from the shorter sun-lovers like bush beans, carrots and beetroot. Plan your planting structure so that it works for both the heavy producing slow growers like tomatoes and aubergines as well speedy catch crops such as lettuce, radish, rocket and basil that can grow and mature quickly around them.

Remember to group your plants into their relevant families if you are doing a crop rotation scheme.

Differing plant groups attract specific pests and are susceptible to certain diseases, they also utilize specific nutrients and benefit from the right soil conditions.  If crops are grown in the same place year after year then the nutrients required by those plants can be used up – leaving soil spent - and the pests and diseases that attack them can start to find a permanent home. As a result, plants become weaker and yields drop until crops ultimately fail altogether.

The idea behind rotating crops is to prevent this build up of pests and diseases in any given part of your garden and to make sustainable use of nutrients in the soil. Crops are grouped together according to preferred soil type, required nutrients and the types of pests and diseases that threaten them. These groups are kept together and
moved to a different bed or planting area with each new season which helps to keep the garden productive.

Encourage birds

Native birds as well as thrushes, blackbirds, sparrows, finches etc are an important part of any garden’s diverse and sustainable ecosystem. We should encourage them because they need good habitat and they enrich our lives with song, display and company. Birds are also a key part of keeping a food garden healthy and productive. They prey on slugs, snails, caterpillars, aphids – generally without trashing crops - and this relieves pressure on plants.

To attract birds into your garden put out the odd apple, handful of grains or oats on a table to encourage rather than fully feed them. Their appetites are what you want so they’ll go hunt for slugs and snails. Bird baths are also a great bird attraction, keep them filled with fresh water in dry spells. Thrushes in particular love to bash snails on hard surfaces so place a few flat rocks around and they will reward you with smashed and empty snail shells. Grow sunflowers and allow plants like parsley to set seed – this will be an important autumnal boost.

It’s true that birds will sometimes uproot pea seedlings, pull up newly-planted garlic cloves and they do sometimes have a bit of a ‘root around’ in soil – though they are probably after slug eggs, small snails and caterpillars. Try and see this as behaviour that can be tolerated - after all they do a huge amount for us. If anything gets too destructive you can use mesh and cloches to protect vulnerable plants and succulent fruits. If you do cover crops with mesh, leave some produce for the birds when you have satisfied yourself with your own harvest.

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Plant Protection

Seedlings in trays and punnets should be protected from the worst of the late winter weather in a cold frame, on a greenhouse shelf or a sunny windowsill. Its not just frosts but heavy showers can also decimate a tray of young plants.

Thin out bed-sown seedlings such as carrots, beetroot, radish and lettuce as necessary. Protect with well-secured cloches if weather is wild, wet and windy.

Protect young seedlings from wind and dehydration – as well as slugs and snails – with plastic juice bottle cloches. A covering of shade cloth on wire hoops helps seedlings of peas, carrots, beetroot and other direct sown vegetables with shallow roots to stay hydrated on hot sunny days in warmer areas (the harshest effects of the sun are kept out and any rain or hand watering is let in)– simply remove covering once plants have produced three or more sets of leaves.

In cooler areas use frost cloth, old carpet, empty compost sacks or layers of unfolded cardboard boxes laid on your beds to warm soil before sowing and planting. Keep frost cloth handy and drape across wire hoops or sticks over seedlings if the temperature takes a dive for a day or two.

Wash any early aphids off plants with your thumb or a spray of water from the hose.


Digging over beds before planting often unearths clusters of pin head-sized white slug eggs which will be scoffed in no time by resident birds. To encourage birds into your garden put out the odd apple, handful of grains or oats to encourage rather than fully feed them. Their appetites are what you want so they’ll go hunt for slugs and snails. Bird baths are also a great bird attraction.



Plant Food and Drink

Now, it's a good time is a good time to make some liquid seaweed that should be ready for use on hungry tomatoes and capsicums in a few months’ time. WATCH POD TV: How to make liquid seaweed

Mulch soil between plants to suppress weeds and retain moisture. Spread a layer of mulch on any bare soil alongside rows or in between plants to about a finger’s depth. Use rotted manure, pea straw, straw, shredded newspaper lawn trimmings compost etc. This will feed the microbiology of the soil (worms, bugs, centipedes and smaller organisms) and help hold in moisture during the hotter parts of the day as warm weather approaches.

Bottle up worm juice and liquid seaweed ready for feeding hungry plants.

Place a half barrel or drum beneath your tap and keep it full of water - all you then have to do is dunk a watering can in it for a quick fill without having to wait for the hose.



Soil Care

On a dry day, dig over beds that have been composted during winter for spring planting – use a board if necessary to spread your load prevent soil from becoming compacted as you work it. Remove all weeds and rake to a nice even level.

Feed soil in beds with a scattering of blood and bone meal in between rows of plants. Rake into the top layer of soil.An alternative to blood and bonemeal is sheep pellets.

WATCH POD TV: ENRICH YOUR SOIL

Mulch soil between plants to suppress weeds and retain moisture. Spread a layer of mulch on any bare soil alongside rows or in between plants to about a finger’s depth. Use rotted manure, pea straw, straw, shredded newspaper lawn trimmings compost etc. This will feed the microbiology of the soil (worms, bugs, centipedes and smaller organisms) and help hold in moisture during the hotter parts of the day as warm weather approaches.

WATCH POD TV: MULCHING

Livestock

Chickens

Chickens should start to lay more as the days become longer. Keep the hen coup clean and egg boxes cosy so they lay where you want them to. When you clean out the coup add the fresh chicken poo and straw to your compost heap.

WATCH POD TV: CHICKENS

Bees

Inspect hives for swarm cells every 7 to 10 days. As trees and shrubs start to flower there should be plenty of nectar around so remove sugar feeders.

WATCH POD TV: BEES