March is here and there are definite signs of life on Sue Bradley’s wildlife-friendly allotment

(c) Zsuzsanna Bird

This time last year the allotment was shivering under a blanket of snow, with sowing and planting delayed until April.

It’s now March 2019 and the plot seems raring to go, with seedlings popping up all over the place and fruit bushes and canes bursting into leaf. I’m particularly glad that I managed to sort out the blackberries trained over the shed a few weeks ago, cutting them back to a strong framework, from which the fruiting shoots are already starting to appear. It was so warm that I was able to give them a good layer of mulch for good measure.
Achilleas

(c) Sue Bradley

Flower Power

Over in the flower patch the tête àtête daffodils are in bloom, with the tulips not far behind. This part of the allotment always looks pretty at this time of the year and over the coming months I hope to maintain the supply of nectar-rich flowers with a succession of perennials. This sunny spot is perfect for growing yarrow, also known as achillea, which produces flattened heads made up of numerous tiny flowers, and I’ve found a mullein, also known as verbascum, which will benefit insects over the summer. The lupins that I’ve been growing from seed are coming along slowly, not helped by being left out in the rain a couple of times, but I’m hoping that they’ll keep going so that I can re-create the lupin and red clover mix that I admired at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show last May.

Joining the sedum in early autumn will be aster and various other later perennials picked up from a plant sale. All that’s left to do now is to add some ornamental grasses, which can be left in situ over the winter months to provide food for birds and shelter for insects. Last month a visit to a snowdrop garden showed me just how attractive standing ornamental grasses can be within a winter garden.

Beanz Meanz Beez

In just a few weeks I’ll be seeing flowers on my broad beans, which have withstood the winter well. I prefer to sow my beans at the end of October as these seem to do much better against the blackfly.

Broad beans

Autumn sown broad beans are doing well (c) Sue Bradley

These blooms, which hum with the sound of bees in late spring, will be joined by purple heads of scorpion weed, Phacelia tanacetifolia, which appears to have self-seeded all over the plot. Those that are in the wrong place will get dug back into the soil over the coming weeks to add to the nutrients in the soil.

The vegetable growing season has got off to a good start, with two lines of potatoes and some peas already in the ground. Perhaps it’s a bit early, but my thinking is that the ground is certainly warmer than it was this time last year. Nevertheless I haven’t put all my eggs in one basket and have plenty of tubers left to plant in the coming weeks.

Lupin and red clover mix

Lupin and red clover mix (c) Sue Bradley

I’ve sown some radish and a few early carrots in some peat-free compost, made with wool and bracken. I used this compost for the first time last year and was really impressed with the large number of carrots I harvested, so I’ve got hold of some more of this mix to do the same this year. Before sowing I covered the compost with some horticultural fleece to encourage it to warm up a few degrees. Growing carrots in dustbins works well for me as they’re better protected against slugs and aren’t prone to visits from the carrot fly, which flies below a metre.

Growing carrots in dustbins works well for me as they’re better protected against slugs and aren’t prone to visits from the carrot fly, which flies below a metre.
The slug pub is open for business

The slug pub is open for business (c) Sue Bradley

Slug alert

The sight of seedlings emerging through the soil reminds me that slugs are more than likely about, so I’ve already started putting out pots of beer to entice them away from my spring cabbage, which is still netted to protect it from hungry pigeons.

The landlord at one of our local pubs kindly donates containers of slops for my beer traps, so no good ale is sacrificed in the pursuit of keeping marauding molluscs at bay. I prefer beer traps to slug pellets, especially with visiting hedgehogs around.

The landlord at the local pub kindly donates containers of slops for my beer traps. I prefer these to slug pellets, especially with visiting hedgehogs around.

I love the sense of anticipation of this time of the year, with a variety of worm-seeking birds adding to the life on the allotment.

I’m pleased with the amount of preparation I was able to do over the mild winter, which I’m sure will stand the allotment in good stead for great things in the weeks to come.