Spring is, believe it or not, upon us and it can be tempting to begin filling up your often shiny, newly bought seed trays with fresh fine, seed grade compost with gusto,but my advice to you is to be patient! If you jump the gun and decide to sow your half hardy annuals now, the chances are that you’ll end up with lots of very leggy, desperate for light, seedlings by the start of April with nowhere to put them! It’s far better to wait until mid March for most things, then the end of March and beginning of April for everything else. This ensures that you have a quick turn over of seeds from your propagators onto your windowsills, then out onto your patios and porches for hardening off. The seedlings will be good and strong with firm little stems, not collapsing onto one another due to the heat from being inside for too long.
Dahlia tubers don’t need not be potted up until mid March either and then need to be watered just slightly to encourage them to sprout. Broad beans and peas can however be sown now into gutter pipes, under cover for peas, or directly in the case of broad beans. I like the heritage crimson flowering variety of broad bean but they almost always get black bean aphid. To avoid this pest, companion plant them with the modest looking herb summer savoury which has a peppery flavour.
If not sown back in December, sweet peas need to be sown now too. The earlier sweet peas are sown the stronger the resulting plants will be, more resistant to mildew and will flower harder. Pinch out their tips once they get four pairs of leaves to make them stocky and plant them out in April in a rich soil.
In the hen house at this time of year the hens will be fully fed up of the damp, unsurprisingly. Hens hate the wet and mud. The first chicks of this year have hatched at the factory and are about to be moved into their big brooder in the decorating studio. The little fluff balls are a mixture of Buff Orpingtons, Cream Legbars and Wyandotte Bantams. It’s early to be hatching chicks. Eggs at this time of year can often prove to be infertile but to ensure that we have Easter chicks the incubators have been on since mid February. Trying to hatch earlier in the year means that by May when the weather should be sunny and warm, young chickens can enjoy free ranging happily in the sun and those that are hens of the fast maturing breeds may even come into lay for August.
Broody hens are by far an easier way of hatching your own replacements however and a good sitter will win an incubator over hands down every time. By April hens such as Light Sussex, Silkies and Pekin bantams will begin to go broody and will relish being able to hatch eggs and raise a brood of the resulting chicks.
Happy gardening – Arthur
(Arthur Parkinson is the gardener at the Emma Bridgewater Factory and creates the floral displays in our shops and cafe).