Caption: Steph Hafferty
Caption: Rosemary Vinegar
Caption: Herbal Cleaners
Award winning garden writer and grow your own expert Stephanie Hafferty gives her top ten tips to get growing-ready for the new season...
Spring will soon be here, a very busy time in the gardening year. Looking from my window here in rural West Wales there are the first buds swelling on the bushes, daffodils and snowdrops flowering underneath trees, sparrows falling in love in the hedgerows and lambs forming leaping gangs in the fields. Spring is on the way and soon it will be all systems go in the garden.
It is easy to feel overwhelmed by everything at this time of year, so here’s a list of ten top things to prepare the garden for the growing year ahead.
1. Check your compost supplies
Make sure that you have plenty of peat free compost, such as Dalefoot, for sowing, pricking out, potting on and planting in pots. It is surprising how quickly supplies can run low, and it is so frustrating to run short when enjoying a seed sowing session on a sunny spring afternoon.
Do you need any specialist compost, for example ericaceous for acid loving plants such as blueberries, or compost specifically blended for bulbs?
2. Pots, modules and seed trays
Gathering all of your propagation equipment together will make life much more enjoyable when spring is in full swing. Stack similar items together, so you know where everything is and can see if you need more of anything.
Collect pre-used clean plastic food containers including yogurt pots and clear plastic vegetable packaging (ask the neighbours for their’s!) The clear packaging makes superb mini propagators and cloche covers. Coloured packaging is ideal for using as seed trays, and yogurt pots can be cut up to make labels, or used as pots.
If you make your own paper pots, now is a good time to spend a few hours in the evening getting them ready. Store in a dry place.
3. Heat and light
Plants need moisture, heat and light to thrive. Many seeds require gentle warmth to germinate, and non-hardy varieties need protection from frost.
If you use electric heated propagators, make sure that they are working and check them over for any damage which could make them dangerous. Water and electricity is not a good combination!
Alternatively, make your own off grid heated propagators using household equipment, find out how in this video:
4. Prepare the ground
It’s surprising how quickly weeds can grow, and a weedy plot soon becomes overwhelming. Regular hoeing and trowelling out of deeper rooting weeds helps to keep the veg beds clean of weeds, ready for sowing and planting.
To help create a weed free bed for sowing (ideal for parsnips, carrots and radish), spread a clear sheet of plastic over the ground (such as the wrapping from a mattress) which will encourage weed seeds to germinate. Once they have all sprouted, hoe them off and replace the clear plastic. Repeat with the second flush of weed seeds, and then the bed should be pretty weed free for sowing parsnips and carrots.
Late winter is a great time for mulching any beds which haven’t been done yet, with a layer of compost. This helps to feed the soil and soil life, creating excellent growing conditions for your plants to thrive and for abundant harvests.
You don’t need a lot of compost. Just 1-2cm will make a real difference.
Any compost is fine to use, including your own homemade compost. If you’re using Dalefoot, I find the green “Veg and Salads” the best for mulching veg beds and Lakeland Gold great for fruit trees and bushes.
6. Cut pea sticks
If you have access to coppiced hazel, cut now to make beautiful rustic bean poles and pea sticks.
7. Plant perennials
Get any bare rooted or potted trees and bushes in the ground whilst they are still dormant. Dig a hole the size of the root ball or pot, place the plant in the hole, back fill with soil and mulch with compost. Water in, remembering to keep the plant well watered if the spring is dry.
If we have another hot, dry summer this year, water any new trees, shrubs and bushes. They won’t have an established root system yet, and drought can kill them.
8. Crop protection
Encouraging and increasing biodiversity in your garden is the best way to create a balance between predators and prey. Even aphids have their role to play, as a crucial food source for many species of birds and their hatchlings.
Sometimes extra protection is needed, especially when setting up a new garden when the biodiversity will not yet be established, or if there are a lot of large pesky visitors, such as pigeons. Good quality butterfly netting, fastened over cloche hoops, will last for years (mine is over a decade old) and protects brassicas from caterpillars, pigeons, deer and (usually!) rabbits too.
Always secure any netting firmly in the garden so that no creatures can become tangled up in it.
9. Seed supplies
Go through your stash of seeds to ensure that you have everything that you wish to grow. To save money, check out local seed swaps where you may be able to find just what you need, as well as connecting with other local gardeners and finding out about gardening projects in your area.
These are usually a great place to get cuttings and plants, too. Many also have guest speakers and cafes selling homemade goodies.
10. Make a herbal cleaner
Deliciously fragrant, frugal and free from nasties, homemade herbal cleaner is easy to make and lasts for months. Mine changes with the seasons. During the wintertime I use woody herbs such as thyme and rosemary, in the summer lemon verbena and parsley, and if I am using a lot of citrus in my cooking, the peel is added to the mix.
This non toxic vinegar based cleaner is fabulous for cleaning all around the home, for sparkling kitchens and bathrooms. It is especially good for cleaning limescale off taps.
Naturally antiseptic and antiviral, it is ideal for cleaning garden tools too and for carefully wiping greenhouse glass.
As it is vinegar based it is, like all vinegars, harmful to soil life and wildlife - so I make sure none goes on the ground.
You will need:
white vinegar - any kind
herbs and citrus peel (optional - if you have any left over from cooking)
A large glass container with a lid
Clean bottles for storing - I use screw top wine or soda bottles
1/4 fill the jar with your choice of herbs and citrus peel (if using). Top up with the vinegar and replace the lid.
Put the jar in a cool place out of direct sunlight for 2-3 weeks. The longer it infuses, the stronger the fragrance will be.
Strain through a sieve lined with muslin or a clean tea towel into a clean jug, and pour into labelled bottles.
Mix 50/50 with water in a spray bottle to use as an all purpose cleaning spray.
Add a cup-full or two to a bucket of warm water for cleaning floors.
Use neat to clean limescale from taps.
lemon balm, lemon verbena, basil flowers, parsley, bay, rosemary, thyme, sage
nb: always spot check surfaces before using. Do not use on carpets or soft furnishings.
Grow your own expert Stephanie Hafferty lives on a half acre homestead in West Wales, where she grows as much as possible year round using no dig methods. In 2023 she will be hosting courses at her home garden, find out more on her website: https://nodighome.com/talks-workshops/grow-year-round-no-dig-gardening-courses/
You Tube: https://www.youtube.com/@stephaniehaffertyhomesteading