March is the month for mulch. Pine needles (my mulch of choice) go thickly around the Asian vegetables sown in February. They suppress weed growth and protect roots from the heavy showers of rain that winter will soon bring. The last of the tomato vines will be disentangled from their supports and disposed of. A patch or two of mizuna will be sown in the glass house, along with a row of spring onion seed.
My heavy salvaged plastic will be hauled out of the garden shed and thrown over hoops of polythene pipe, the ends of which have been pressed into the ground. These makeshift cloches will extend the life of the few courgette plants that have not quite given up the ghost and which, with a little coaxing, might yield up a small supply of fruit in the coming weeks. Cloches will also cover lettuces and dill, extending their life well into early winter.
Shallots need to be pulled up in March and laid on wire netting frames to dry in the last remaining heat. A tarpaulin is kept close by, ready to cove them in case of rain. Garlics, too, are ready for harvest, and receive the same treatment. Once tops are thoroughly dry and cloves and bulbs selected for resowing next season, the remainder of the harvest is plaited into strings which are hung about the house where they can be quickly snipped off for use in the kitchen and monitored throughout the winter for signs of decay.
Liquid feeding of brassicas including kales, cabbages, cauliflowers and Japanese radishes is a must at this time of year in order to keep the plants strong through the winter months. Flower of spring cabbages are especially important to feed as, along with broad bean tops, they will provide the first greens of the hungry months of early spring.
With the garden in order, it’s time to turn my attention to the compost. A late autumn clean-up of the flower garden provides much needed greenery to add to the pile along with grass clippings from the last lawn mow of the season. A thick pile of cardboard and newspapers goes on top of the compost pile to seal in heat, and a tarpaulin or sheet of black plastic is placed on top of that to shut out nutrient-leaching rains.
Inside the house, seeds of coriander, carrot, dill, bean and a variety of peas are drying in the sun. As they become hard and brittle, they are cleaned, sifted free of debris and packed into tin foil parcels before being sealed in air tight jars. Cherry tomato seedlings are potted up ready for indoor growing and seeds of basil are sown in trays on the window ledge.
There is a feeling of winding down, a moment to pause and say goodbye to the rhubarb about to hibernate, to watch the leaves dropping from the gooseberry bushes, to observe the naked raspberry canes and the autumn-red leaves of the strawberry plants. Before long, the heavy winter tasks of manure and seaweed gathering will be upon us but for now, the garden is sleepy in the thin warmth of an autumn sun and, from my labours, so am I.