Early spring is an exciting time for us here in the kitchen garden. It’s the moment when we properly leap into action to get everything prepped, primed and ready for a healthy growing season ahead.
We start by having a tidy-up, repainting any woodwork and repairing garden structures. An essential job is topping up all the beds with fresh, peat-free compost. We use the no-dig method to maintain the delicate ecosystems within the soil, so it’s literally a case of spreading a thick layer of compost on our vegetable beds and leaving it to break down naturally and work its magic.
Not only does this method save us a lot of back-breaking work, but it also seems to reduce weed growth in the beds; it really is a win-win all round! We also cover some of the beds with fleece for a couple of weeks to help warm the soil. This gives us a head start with the crops we’ll be sowing in late March, such as carrots and beetroot.
Then, we head into the greenhouse to sow tomato seeds – summer here we come! We started our veg-growing journey with just a few tomatoes in a greenhouse 12 years ago, and never would have believed such a simple act could lead to a complete lifestyle overhaul!
In recent years, we’ve experimented with various tomato cultivars, trying out different shapes, colours and sizes, and attempting to make our growing season last as long as possible. We’ve noticed that the smaller cultivars grow particularly well in our greenhouse; we’re usually still harvesting them in November.
Having said that, last year’s damp and humid summer meant we were hit by blight for the first time, which shortened our season. We’re proceeding with a bit more caution this year. We won’t cram quite so many tomato plants into our greenhouse (it was like a jungle in there) and we’re trying out a few blight-resistant cultivars such as ‘Crimson Crush’ and ‘Mountain Magic’.
Some gardeners sow their tomatoes as early as January, but we wait until March when the plants get a little extra daylight, which means they’re less likely to become leggy. Sowing tomatoes couldn’t be easier. We fill a small pot with peat-free compost and tamp it down. We sow several seeds of the same cultivars a few millimetres apart. It doesn’t matter if they end up growing bunched together because we separate them out and re-pot them individually, once they have their true leaves.
We then cover the seeds lightly with compost and sit them in a tray of water because watering from above can disturb the seeds. Then they’re moved into the house where it’s nice and toasty. Each spring, our windowsills are crammed with tomato plants! In late April or early May, when the weather is warmer, we’ll move them back into the greenhouse, where they’ll grow happily alongside the aubergines, peppers and chillies.
We let nothing go to waste in the kitchen garden, and that includes space. When we can no longer grow out, we grow up. Because our greenhouse is full of cordon/indeterminate tomatoes, we plant out bush/determinate tomatoes into hanging baskets and suspend them from the shed and surrounding fence.
In spring, we also start thinking about the wildlife-friendly corner of the kitchen garden that we’ve named Bugmetropolis. As well as filling this area with flowers that pollinators love, there’s a hedgehog house and a bug hotel that Ade built from an old wooden pallet. The deal is we give our garden wildlife free bed and board and they, in return, pollinate our crops and eat our pests! So we’ll be sowing calendula and borage that we’ll later plant out in this area to attract pollinators. We’ll also sow nasturtiums, which we grow as a sacrificial crop; once planted out, they lure cabbage white butterflies away from our brassica bed, leaving our cabbages to grow in peace.
It’s not just the bugs that benefit from this part of the garden either. Sophie will be harvesting the stinging nettles growing here to use in the kitchen (they make a delicious pesto and now’s the time to eat them while they’re still young and tender). Later in the season, she’ll use the calendula in healing balms and oils (it’s great for the skin), and the borage usually features in glasses of Pimm’s and summer salads.
Aside from the stinging nettles, the only crop we’re harvesting this month is purple sprouting broccoli. It’s beautiful to see on the veg patch at this time of year when there’s not much else to look at and it’s so prolific. We blanch and freeze what we don’t eat immediately, to use later in the year.
Early spring is one of our favourite times in the kitchen garden, but with sunnier days, warmer temperatures and the welcome sight of bees buzzing among the crocuses, it’s easy to be lulled into a false sense of security. If there’s anything we’ve learned, it’s to proceed with caution. Don’t sow too soon and keep fleece handy because there might yet be another severe frost