Gardener's guide to growing your own: Fiona Sanderson
FICKLE weather is gracing the onset of March, and watching the green things in the garden get going is almost like watching a game of 'Grandmother's footsteps'; things move on a little, then stop, then move on again.
March usually feels like the transitional month between cold dormancy and the 'get up and go' of spring.
It's the time when the tree planting and pruning jobs finish, and give way to seed sowing, mulching and hoeing, a month in which the gardener can get going gently on the heavier jobs in the vegetable patch, taking regular breaks, just like those 'Grandmother's footsteps' again.
Big perennials, like rhubarb, globe artichokes, and comfrey are well into growth.
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I moved a lot of our rhubarb a couple of years ago, and have left them to find their feet in their new ground, without too much harvesting going on.
But this year, I'm expecting a bit more from them again, and have chosen a crown to cover up for early production.
This is known as 'forcing', but really, it is the most gentle of persuasions.
I use a couple of old beehive boxes, and a lid; smart gardens have chimney pots, but in practice, anything that excludes light, so that the rhubarb spears grow up thin and tall, will do the job.
This kind of growth on any other plant would be called something pejorative, like 'straggly'.
With crops like rhubarb, that are tough enough to make into gardening boots, this encouragement of fast growth towards the light keeps the stems tender and juicy.
It also brings out the most luscious palette of colours the vegetable garden ever sees.
From powder pink, to lemony yellows, lime green and crimson, a stick of forced rhubarb is the plant version of a tube of 'Refreshers'.
Made into a rhubarb fool, or just cooked and served with cream or custard, it is one of the best flavour moments of the year.
Common sense will tell you when to stop picking these early sticks, and give that crown a rest.
Let the other rhubarb take over the job of giving you the deeper red and thicker sticks that are so good for crumbles and jam.
Another good 'early persuasion' technique is to cover up some strawberries with a polythene cloche.
It needs to be high enough off the plants to allow air to circulate freely, and you'll want to open it up a bit for insects to pollinate the flowers as they grow.
This means you will be eating fruit earlier, and for a longer season, even if you only have a single variety of strawberry plant in your fruit bed.
â Sarah, of the Talbot Road allotment shop,Knowle/Brislington, has asked me to say that all the seed potatoes have now arrived, so please come and collect your orders, or just pop in if you want to buy your stock at very good prices. The shop is on the Talbot Road allotment site, and is open at weekends, between 10.30 and 12.