If you haven't already started sowing tomatoes, now is the time! Whether you want sweet cherries or big beefsteak, they can all be sown now on a kitchen windowsill or in a propagator. A few of my favourites include 'Crimson Cocktail' for growing outside as it's Blight Resistant, plus 'Honeycomb' which is a delicious orange cherry which is less likely to crack compared to 'Sungold', and in my opinion is a better tomato. If you want a larger tomato for cooking, try 'Buffalosteak' or 'Gourmandia' as they make a great sauce and soup.
When sowing cucumber seed only fill the pot half way up, then as the seedling grows you can top the compost up to the rim. By doing this you end up with a stocky seedling rather than a leggy one which can get damaged easily. The stem of the seedling will also produce more roots and grow better.
If you started garlic cloves off in pots due to frozen or waterlogged soil, now is the last chance to plant them out in the plot before they begin to form bulbs. You will find your plants have lots of roots, so make sure to try and tease these apart before transplanting to prevent them from forming stunted plants.
You can start peas in old toilet roll tubes, root trainers or pots; however I like to sow my spring sown varieties in a wide seed pan. By sowing them thickly like this, you not only get lots of plants in a small footprint (perfect if space is limited), but it also doesn't matter if all the seeds don't germinate. Once 10cm tall you can remove them from the pot, shake off the soil and plant as bare-root pea seedlings where they are to grow. I use this method every year and its never failed me yet!
Great climbing varieties are 'Blauwschokker' and 'Champion of England', while my favourite shorter varieties are 'Douce Provence' and 'Vivado'.
As you begin to plant out early sowings of brassicas, don't forget the tender young plants will be a tasty snack for more than one critter in the garden! While pigeons will happily make a meal of the plants from above, slugs will be attacking from the ground. Protection is key if planting out in March, so make sure you have netting, crop cages or cloches to cover plants and protect them from birds and rabbits, while Slug Rings can help to protect delicate seedlings from munching molluscs!
The cloches and crop cages you'll see in my Kitchen Garden are bought from Harrod Horticultural and Crocus.
You can start planting early potato varieties in the garden from mid-late March, but if you want a head start you can plant a few in large pots and keep them in the greenhouse until April, then move them outside as long as you protect the growth from frost with some fleece.
When planting in pots, fill around a quarter full of soil/compost, then add your seed potatoes with the eyes facing upwards. If there are more than 3 eyes growing, rub the excess off with your thumb. Cover with 5-10cm of compost/soil and keep earthing them up with more compost as the shoots break through the surface. By doing this you will protect shoots from the frost and also force the plant to produce more tubers. My favourite potato to start early is 'Charlotte'.
If you've forced your rhubarb plants its time to make the most of your tender pink harvest. The act of forcing your plant will drain it of energy quickly, so keep picking the forced stalks when they are 30-40cm long, stewing and freezing any excess you can't use fresh. Once we get into April it's best to uncover the plant and leave it to grow for the rest of the year without harvesting from it, this gives it time to recover from forcing. Don't force the same plant the next year as it will be too weak.
It's time to remove all the winter leaves and mustards that have been growing in the greenhouse over the winter. Plants will start to flower and become tough now that the sunlight in increasing in strength, so make sure to make one final cut (and add the yellow flowers to salads) before you consign your plants to the compost bin. If you have chickens, they will appreciate the plants to pick over and have a munch on.
If you started any lettuce off as cut-and-come-again back in January, you can plant a few out in an unheated greenhouse for a quick crop after your winter leaves and before you need the space for tomatoes and hot crops in late April/May. Lettuce plants will grow quickly in the increasing sunlight, giving you lots of fresh leaves to harvest from each plant, or alternatively let the plants heart up and harvest as a whole head in early April.
Early sowings of beetroots outside will benefit from cloche protection, not just because of the weather, but because birds can flick the seeds around the garden as they hunt for worms in the newly disturbed soil. Sowing a few rows of seed now will allow you to either transplant thinned seedlings next month, or use them as tasty salad leaves. There are many varieties of beetroot you can grow, with golden and white varieties being less "earthy" tasting; plus they don't stain your hands and make you look like an axe murderer! 'Golden Eye' is a really good variety.
There are plenty of places where you can forage for wild garlic in the UK, however its an easy plant to grow in a shady spot in the garden. I grow mine behind the compost bins in the shade, as the rest of the garden is South facing, meaning the plants just won't grow. Wild garlic likes to be damp, shaded and richly fed just like you find it when walking through a dappled woodland. Leaves make a lovely pesto, plus they can be added to salads and stir-fry, even soups.
A word of warning, wild garlic can become invasive if you give it the right conditions, so consider growing it in large pots sunken into the ground to keep it confined.
Autumn sown broad beans will have survived snow, ice and frost so far; now is the time to give them a helping hand.
Adding a couple of pea gates or a few canes with string between them, will allow plants to stay upright in spring winds. You can also put strong sticks in the outside corners and create a boxing ring around them with rope, keeping them nice and upright. By doing this you have less chance of beans forming and touching the soil, as this will result in slug damage.
Sowing a pinch of lettuce seed every two weeks will keep you in salad staples all year. By sowing in modules in the greenhouse or cold frame, it allows you to get your plants going before they are transplanted outside. Dotting plants around the garden and in between other plants is a great way of getting two crops from one bed. 'Bronze Beauty' and 'Speckled Trout' work well for taste and colour.
If you grow kale through the winter months you could be ready to dig the plants up and compost them, BUT WAIT! Cavolo Nero kales will start to produce flower spikes which are like mini sprouting broccoli spears, but kale flavoured! This bonus crop is simply delicious and only produced once a year by flowering kale plants, so don't be too eager to dispose of them. The kale shoots can be used like broccoli and are great cooked in a little butter and garlic.
Who doesn't love the fragrance and look of sweet peas as they twine their way up obelisks or cover a wig wam of canes! If you started the seed back in autumn, your plants will be ready to go out this month. Make sure supports are added before the plants as you can easily damage their roots by pushing in canes to close. If your plants look a little spindly and tall, just snip the tip off them to force the plant to bush out a little and produce more blooms.
Personally I prefer to grow celeriac in my garden, simply because I love the roots roasted like parsnip and they make a delicious soup. Either way, seedlings of both can be sown now if you haven't already started them. I grow mine in modules to start and always put them on a piece of HortiWool to stop the small cells from drying out. The secret to good celery/celeriac plants is to keep them moist and never let them dry out, otherwise you'll get stringy celery and small celeriac roots.
If you over winter any of your chilli plants like I do, now is the time to give them a top dressing of new compost and start to water them more, while also increasing the temperature. These three things will force your plants into growth at a rate of knots, meaning they should be producing flowers within a matter of weeks, closely followed by fruit. By growing chillies like this you can get ripe fruit several months before those sown from seed this year.
Note: Certain species of chilli are easier to over winter; I find capsicum pubescens the easiest.
When it comes to potting on your tomato seedlings later in the month, make sure to do it deeply! Tomatoes have small "hairs" on the stem which will turn into roots if covered in soil/compost, therefore if you bury them up to the first set of true leaves, or beyond, your plants will have more roots and growing better and producing more fruit. Make sure to remove any leaves that will be below ground level before planting. Plants grown like this will not only crop more, but fruit is produced lower on the plant because more of the stem is in the ground.
This is also a great way to grow leggy tomatoes you buy cheap at the garden centre; in fact, you can even lay the seedling down in a trench to reduce the amount of stem above the ground.