Working outdoors at last, but don't overdo it

Easter gardening is here again!

Saturday, 31st March 2018, 12:58 pm
Heathers have been toughing it out through the wintry weather, ready for the visits of hive bees. Picture by Tom Pattinson.

For many, this long weekend, beginning with Good Friday tomorrow, will be the first outdoor action of the year. It therefore must be approached with caution.

Don’t attempt to catch up with the backlog of jobs created by recent weather, set limited targets initially to build muscle tone and avoid backache. In the vernacular, Gan canny!

Given good weather, you can predict that the buzz of lawn-mowers will fill the air, there will be action on vegetable plots and in greenhouses, and hive bees will home-in to the heathers and any suitable flowers in sight.

Mowing the lawn over Easter weekend is such an uplifting thing. It marks the end of winter confinement indoors and transforms the garden appearance at a stroke. Such activities are to be both savoured and approached with caution.

There’s the personal safety angle if the electric or petrol-driven machine is being used after months of storage. Walking over the area to be mown to remove any winter debris is essential. Raise the cutting level initially, then gradually lower it as the weeks progress.

This is a reasonable time to create a lawn from seed or turf, green areas being much more cheerful than bare earth, but adequate drainage is important.

Fork over the area and rake to remove any stones. Follow this with systematic treading, a dressing of phosphate-based fertiliser, then rake again. Now broadcast and rake in seed or lay turf.

Tradition dictates that Good Friday is the time to plant first early potatoes, and weather permitting, the reasoning behind the action is sound enough. They need a minimum 10 weeks of growing time from planting to harvesting, but I prefer to give them 12, which takes us to late June and coincides nicely with Newcastle Race Week.

The taste of real, home-grown new potatoes is something to be savoured after a winter of tubers from store, even the welcome change of Jersey Royals.

And you don’t need a garden or allotment to cultivate them. Half-fill a tub, large pot or grow-bag with compost, plant three to five seed potatoes just below the surface and top up with compost as the shoots grow. Last year we used two 70-litre bags that had held potting compost.

Ensuring good drainage and a constant supply of water are the key to growing any vegetables in containers.

I’ll be planting out the broad beans, peas and shallots, each having been started in pots on the unheated greenhouse bench, and now well rooted. If you still have these three in unopened packets they can be sown outdoors now.