Spring has sprung

primroses in springJust as I settled down to write this blog post, we had a sudden mini snowstorm. It was gone just as fast as it arrived and now the sun is breaking through the clouds and the birds are singing again. It’s definitely a March day in the UK.

Winter might be clinging on – the frosty chill in the mornings, the icy bite in the wind – but spring has definitely sprung here in Bedfordshire. For me, spring isn’t just another season, it’s a force of nature. The dull and dreary greys, browns and sleepy greens of late winter begin are giving way to small bright accents of colour – the purple of crocus, the delicate white of snowdrops, the warm pinks and blushes of cyclamen. Soon, the bold yellow trumpets of narcissi will litter the landscape. In spring you can almost feel that the Earth has shifted on its tilt, as the season brings with it all the promise and hope of the abundant, colourful, scent-filled seasons to come. It’s almost as if I’ve been in a deep sleep over winter and life is being breathed into me again.

Primroses and daffodils

The last few weeks have been a slog, but now that the evenings are getting lighter and brighter and the warmth of the sun is getting stronger, I’m beginning to wake up again and feel rejuvenated. I’ve felt so deprived of colour that at the first opportunity over the weekend, I went to my local plant nursery and got some primroses (cultivated and primula vulgaris, the common/wild “true” primrose) and daffodils for my back doorstep pots. They don’t exactly break the bank but they add an instant hit of spring colour and scent.

The winter pansies I’d put in last year had well and truly finished, so it was time to bring some spring cheer. The Smallest Smallholding is still looking rather drab and dreary (I’m chomping at the bit for some bulbs to come into flower), so at least when I look out of our stable door in the kitchen, there’s some bright colour and vitality.

Primroses and daffodils

I don’t usually go for cultivated varieties or bedding, but some of the primroses looked so pretty that I couldn’t resist. I also opted for some delicate but bold tete-a-tete daffodils and some paler counterparts, and once they and the primroses have finished they’ll go into the ground under the fruit trees for next year. The scent is amazing.

spring flowers

It’s a slow time of year in the veg plots, although later this month we’ll be kickstarting the growing season with lots of sowing. In the veg plots, the garlic – now safe from the naughty beaks of our crows – is growing well and the mulching that I did in preparation for a year of no dig is looking great.

New Garden Tools

In my week off, the weather was very kind. For the most part, there were long sunny intervals, and a few short but heavy shower bursts to keep the ground sufficiently moist. Great news for our crops but it also means that the weeds and grass need tending to much more regularly. At the moment we’re in a bit of a middle ground where we’re doing lots of shifting around, digging out and preparation, so there has been quite a lot of bare earth around. As many of you will no doubt already know, bare earth is a breeding ground for weeds. Whilst I don’t mind a few flowering weeds and we’re far from neat, tidy and sterile, we do need to keep on top of things. Lots of weeding, pruning and cutting back.

Recently Presentsformen.co.uk asked if I would like to sample a couple of their gardening products. Whilst I am clearly (I hope) not a man, there were plenty of gardening bits and pieces for me to try out (pretty much all of them, with anyone and everyone able to do gardening of one sort or another). With so many ‘maintenance’ type jobs to do around The Smallest Smallholding, I decided to put on my practical hat and try out a Burgon & Ball handheld razor hoe and a barrow bag.

Originally I thought the razor hoe was for cutting down small crops – much like a scythe – but actually, you can use it in a drawing motion under the soil to uproot and get rid of annuals and some perennial weeds really easily. We have a few problem spots with nettles – the ground is really hard and compacted and the nettle roots strong, so digging them out by hand is a nightmare. The razor hoe makes it much easier to get in and under the roots. And if left unchecked, even on an innocuous bit of open ground our sandy soil quickly forms a hard crust and becomes quickly colonised with weeds, so hoeing regularly is a must when the soil needs to be kept bare (not for long – polytunnel plans!). I find it very difficult to dig with a fork and use a long handled hoe because of my back problems, but surprisingly using a handheld razor hoe has been very easy! It makes short work of compacted soil and uproots annuals easily by loosening the soil quickly around the roots:

The sharp blade breaks up the soil as you drag it through. In stubborn areas like the nettle bed where the roots are virtually cemented into the hard soil, I use the razor hoe to firstly hook up the roots and then, if needed, cut through them to pull up the larger root systems in sections. I’ve already managed to keep a path into what will be my wildlife pond area mostly clear and – shock – because I’m making good progress on finally removing the roots, I think I may be actually clearing it once and for all. In the past I’ve only have the time and inclination to chop down the top growth, only for the new growth to come through only a matter of weeks later.


The second product I opted for was a barrow bag that increases the volume of the wheelbarrow. It unfolds and sits inside the barrow, making the sides taller so that you can transport more to the compost bins. This has been really handy as we have several hedges and large plots that have needed a bit overhaul (ie lots of green matter for the compost bins). The bag seems tough and durable, and folds down nicely afterwards so it’s easy to store, and great for lazy bums like me who don’t want to be wheeling back and forth to the compost bins all the time! It also has two handles so it can be easily lifted out of the barrow, into the boot of our car and taken to the green waste containers at the the tidy tip. It took me a couple of days to fill up the barrow bag, and I think it pretty much doubles the wheelbarrow’s capacity at least. Very handy and highly recommended!

Sowing, Growing, Mowing

Buds on the Lark Ascending Rose

Buds appearing on the Lark Ascending rose

The sun came out for the first time in what feels like an aeon. The last time it properly showed its face, I was in the office and effectively missed it. It seems though that we’ve finally got over that hump, and we’re well on our way to Spring. I can’t tell you how much happier it’s all making me feel.

I’m still not sure about whether I can kick start the growing properly; temperatures are down overnight, and I’m still having to break the ice in the bird baths in the morning, so I think the soil needs a good fortnight to start warming up properly before I start sowing directly. Having watched Gardener’s World on Friday night, I took Monty’s advice and instead of playing a waiting game and risking losing any more of my onion sets, I decided to plant them into seed modules with compost, and let them begin rooting. I shoved the garlic in too, for good measure. Until we get some mini polytunnels set up, I’m not playing poke-the-garlic-in-pull-it-out-again with the woodpigeons.

red baron onion sets in seed modules

I bought the Red Baron onion sets from my local Gardener’s Association back at the beginning of March (or was it late February?), but they’ve had to stay put in their paper bags. This means many of the sets have gone soft and are useless, but I managed to “sow” about 70% of them. There were a few which were on the verge, but I always seem to be championing the underdog, so I thought I’d at least give them a chance.

I also found a bag of alliums that I’d bought at the beginning of March too. I think at that point I was desperate to just buy something that would make me feel as though spring was upon us. But these little guys had already begun to sprout, so I popped them in the seed trays too until I’ve prepared the patch where they’re going to planted. To be honest, I don’t think the alliums need much – they prefer well-draining soil, and will even thrive in poor soil, but I think ours is virtually sand in some places and I wonder whether it’d be pushing it to expect them to do anything there. I have a couple of Purple Sensation alliums to go in too – can’t wait to see them flower and the bees and pollinators to come knocking.

close up of a dead seed head

So although I’ve been sowing in earnest, there’s still not a lot to show. Spring is more than fashionably late this year (we only did our first little bit of mowing yesterday), but it doesn’t mean that I can rest on my laurels. There is just so much to do – clearing, weeding, soil preparation, ripping up brambles and bindweed. Every year it’s like starting from scratch, but this year, it’s all about progress. I’m more determined than ever to make it work – even if that means just turning one corner into my self-sufficient, wildlife-friendly Smallest Smallholding vision – and for now I’m just sowing the seeds of what I hope will be a successful season of sowing, growing and mowing.