Attracting birds

To attract birds into your garden so that they’ll feast on pests 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 for 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.

Growing sunflowers and allowing plants like parsley and Florence fennel to set seed after flowering provides a welcome boost for birds later on.

Plant care

In cooler areas use frost cloth, old carpet, sacks or straw mulch laid on your beds to warm soil before sowing and planting and keep frost cloth it handy if the temperature takes a dive for a day or two. Tender summer crops like zucchini, aubergine, sweetcorn and capsicum should be sown in punnets or trays and protected in a greenhouse, indoors on a sunny windowsill or in a cold frame until temperatures warm and late frosts are no longer a threat. Take seedlings outside on warmer days or open the lid of your cold frame an inch or two to let them get used to the outdoor temperatures. Be ready to take them in again and close the cold frame lid at the end of the day – especially if weather takes a turn for the worst.

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





Plant Protection

Spring weather can be a little unsettled and tender seedlings can get cut down by a late frost, washed away in heavy downpours or shredded by strong winds. It pays to protect your spring sowing and plantings and to keep an eye on the weather forecast. Cloches come in handy – either as small poly tunnels that can be stretched along rows or recycled juice bottles with their bottom cut off and lid removed. Frost cloth can be stretched over beds as long as it is supported on stakes above the plants and is well anchored around the edges.

Protect oung 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 (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.

Wear a head torch after dark and patrol your garden with a pair of tweezers – an easy way to pick slugs off your plants and seedlings. Do this at least once a week to keep numbers down. If you are unlikely to persevere with this then try slug pubs and barrier methods.
Stake plants such as runner beans and tomatoes when you plant or sow them. This reduces the chance of damaging roots by staking later as they start to grow. Tie in loose stems to prevent wind damage.

Wash aphids off plants with a spray of water from the hose.
Plant blocks of flowering mustard to draw shield bugs away from your food plants. These can then be easily rounded up and dispatched. Best to do so in the morning before the sun heats up and they become more active.



Plant Food and Drink

Now, it's a good time time to make some liquid comfrey as fresh foliage starts to appear on comfrey plants that have been dormant through winter. This will nourish your tomatoes as fruit starts to form in the coming months. WATCH POD TV: How to make liquid comfrey

Water beds during dry spells – seedlings are very sensitive to drying out. Using a sprinkler attachment on your hose or a rose at the end of your watering can to prevent seedlings from being washed away.

Bottle up worm juice and liquid seaweed (if you haven’t made any get some underway now) 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

Remember to keep loading up compost bins with garden and kitchen waste so you have some much needed compost and mulch for reinvigorating tired beds in late summer and autumn. 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 ready for seeds and seedlings. Feed soil in beds with a scattering sprinkling of blood and bone meal or a scattering of sheep pellets - you can also apply either to soil give soil a dusting in between rows of seedlings and maturing plants. Once you’ve applied the bonemeal simply rake into the top layer of soil and cover with a layer of mulch. Sheep pellets act as a mulch themselves and can be left on the surface or turned into the soil – its up to you.

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

Hens 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.
You may get the odd broody hen wanting to stay put on the nest as warm weather stimulates a desire to rear chicks. If you take eggs from under a broody hen and leave her to sit on nothing she may become frustrated and even depressed. Usually a hen will sit on eggs for three weeks until they hatch and a broody hen will often stay on the nest for this length – sometimes longer. The problem is that broody hens seldom leave the nest and so they often miss out on food and water. Even if you take the eggs from under them, they often still stay put. To break a broody hen you can keep interrupting her and taking her off the nest – put her by the feed tray and at least she’ll get a snack. Where possible, you might remove bedding from nest and allow in more light and a draught so she doesn’t want to sit. You can even try removing eggs and replacing them with ice cubes.

WATCH POD TV: CHICKENS

Bees

If you haven’t treated hives for varroa mite then now is the time to put strips between your brood frames. Remember not to repeat the same treatment twice – this can build resistance in mite populations. Inspect hives for swarm cells every 7 to 10 days. Hive populations should be on the increase as weather warms. Check your colony has enough honey for all those developing larvae. If it looks like a hive is running low pop a sugar-feeder on top. Even if you do end up feeding it shouldn’t be for too long. As trees and shrubs start to flower there should be plenty of nectar around soon and you’ll then be able to remove any sugar feeders that you’ve set up.

WATCH POD TV: BEES