bean plants being planted

Famously, the default conversational setting of the British is discussion of the weather. Personally, I think the topic’s fascinating – our weather is endlessly changeable and surprising – but I suspect the national obsession may have more to do with inherent social awkwardness. In our defence, however, it must be said that we are also a nation of gardeners and our success or otherwise is very much linked to the vagaries of the weather.

March is usually a fickle month – winter one minute, spring the next – but I hadn’t anticipated quite how cold it would actually be all month when the Met Office said early on that the wind would swing round to the east. Jamie’s garden lies on a hill close to the highest point in Essex. It’s been impressive to watch the approaching snow squalls race across the landscape before blasting me as I mulch the vegetable beds.

The practical upshot of this long winter is continuing low soil temperatures. In short, don’t worry too much if you’ve yet to sow broad beans, peas or parsnips, the traditional crops to sow in early spring. They won’t germinate very quickly at the moment. If you can, warm up the appropriate bits of your garden in preparation by covering the soil with black polythene or with cloches then sow as soon as it gets a bit milder. You could also try sowing beans and peas in modules indoors for planting out later on.

For the next round of sowing – early carrots, beetroot and lettuce – look to weeds as an indicator of soil conditions. Once you spot them starting to germinate, you know the soil is warming up.

As it happens, I did sow some broad beans at start of March, fooled as I was by two days of mild weather. As seeds go, they’re tough and will germinate in pretty cold soil but three weeks have passed and they’re still not poking through. Once they are up I shall sow another row and so on every ten days to two weeks till early May. This will provide beans from mid-June to late July.

An earlier crop can be had by sowing a hardy over-wintering variety such as ‘Super Aquadulce’ or ‘The Sutton’ in November, which I did. They’ll be ready at the very end of May or start of June. I inspected these (having covered them over with fleece to keep the pigeons off) at the same time as making my first spring sowing. About 30% had failed to germinate, due most likely to the cold, the wet and the predations of hungry rodents. I resowed to fill the gaps. Whilst I like the relative calm of the garden in winter, I’m really ready for spring now.

About the author

Pete Wrapson

Pete has looked after Jamie’s garden in Essex for the last six years, growing organic fruit and vegetables for both the Oliver family and Fifteen Restaurant. A traineeship at Cambridge University Botanic Garden was followed by a stint in the organic kitchen garden at Audley End House before he landed the post at Jamie’s.

Pete Wrapson