March in the Garden

This surely must be the autumn break. Maybe it’s early, but I’m not complaining. The soil is warm, weeds will germinate rapidly, and so will food crops. Do some digging, feed the soil, allow the weeds to sprout and show themselves, and then dig them under. The food crops you put in will be so much better off…

Think about putting in a green manure crop, especially if you have been planting
repeatedly in the same patch. Adding compost and rotating crops and mixing root, leaf, fruit and families (eg solanacae – tomatoes, spuds, eggplant, etc/brassicacae – broccoli, kale, mustard, cabbage, etc) is one thing but you really should give your patch a rest and rejuvenation every few years.

Green manures are called such because the idea is to grow a vital, healthy, leafy nutrient-laden crop and then dig it back into the soil without harvesting and eating all the goodness. It’s very tempting, but let the soil have it first. The ideal time, when both nutrient values and carbon/organic matter peak, is just before the plant puts energies and resources into flowering and forming fruit. You can tell with cereals by the change in growth – a bulge in the stem and their ‘pointy’ appearance, and other plants will be just starting to form flowers. Farmers usuallty cut hay when 10% of the crop is flowering as a rule of thumb and it is a good guide to digging in green manures as well. Better to go earlier than later though. And add some lime to enhance organic breakdown when you dig it in.

A good green manure can be a nitrogen fixing (and releasing) plant, legumes such as peas, broad beans, lentils, vetch, chickpeas, clover, lucerne, though lucerne is better planted in the warmer seasons. You can grow it alone or add a cereal like wheat, spelt, barley or oats for bulk and organic matter/carbon. Mustard is also a good addition because it has fumigating properties and can break certain disease cycles. A diverse mix is better than a monocrop, but it means flowering times will vary amongst the species. You will need to judge when to dig it in for best results.

Go to the Garden Notes for March and happy manuring!

** A week or so til our fundraising Dinner with Charlotte Duckett, some tickets are still available from Liz at the Red Store. We also have places available for Penny Woodward’s Workshop the following Sunday.

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