Itching doesn’t cover it. I am positively desperate to get going in the veg patch this year. This Easter weekend is traditionally the time when I blitz the first round of real seed planting, but in the run up to that heavenly weekend of gorging on seed packets I’ve been preparing the earth and having a tidy up. As you can see…

Yes, I’ll admit it doesn’t look that exciting, but it’s enormously satisfying to see tidy soil – all that potential.

Tidying up is not just a matter of clearing the ground of spent plants and weeds, of which there are, as ever, many. It’s most importantly about feeding the soil in readiness for the bounteous harvest it is expected to produce. Of all the things I’ve learnt about growing veg, the single most critical is this – if you haven’t got good soil, you haven’t got anything.

I’ll confess my soil hasn’t had a terrific start this season as I never got round to covering it over winter (mostly because there were crops dotted about which never made for easy sheet-laying). This means it will mostly likely have had nutrients washed away by the wind and rain and need some serious help in the next few weeks. I begin with a lot of organic manure. And I mean A LOT. About 50 litres per 2m². Peat free, well-rotted horse manure, council compost or bags of soil conditioner is fine. (Pleasingly I was able to use a lot of my own garden compost this year.) It’s a workout. I just apply it on top of the weeded ground and leave it. Don’t dig. Never dig. It just wrecks the structure of the soil. And rotavators. Don’t even start me on those. Surely invented by people who think a worm chopped in half becomes two worms.

Anyway, apply compost in early spring then as you plant seedlings in the ground I like to fork in handfuls of chicken manure pellets which act as a slow release organic fertiliser. No point adding them now or they’ll release their nutrients into empty soil – pointless.

But don’t imagine this time of year is only about the soil. There’s still plenty to plant and to harvest. I’ve had my first ever successful crop of purple sprouting broccoli which made for a triumphant supper. Just the one mind. Not a huge crop, but at least it sprouted which is more than previous years. The chard is a bit nibbled, but it’s perfectly good to eat. The last of the savoy cabbage was harvested this week, but the leeks are still going strong. And the celeriac just keeps on coming – maybe I won’t plant quite so much next year. All in all, I’m pretty pleased with this little crate for a March picking.

So, then. Here’s my plan for what to do in the next week or two:

  • Plant broad beans directly into soil (really this should have been done a fortnight ago, but hey ho)
  • Plant tomato and cucumber seeds under cover (again, bit late with this)
  • Jet wash the greenhouse (boring but very necessary if we’re to avoid tomato ebola)
  • Don’t dig up spent kale plants (I’m leaving them to flower as they make great fodder for the bees in April and the flowering stems taste amazing – a sort of poor man’s asparagus)
  • Don’t plant garlic sets (last year’s, which withered and vanished in the wet, have reappeared, routing  exactly where I planted them almost a year ago, so I’m going to leave them and see what happens)
  • Contain the chooks (picturesque as they are – see below – they make a real mess of baby plants with their pecking and newly weeded soil is a perfect dust bath for them)

If you’re out in the patch this Easter weekend, have a wonderful time. And remember to pause between the hard graft to sit down with a cuppa and a rich tea biscuit and watch the world of the veg patch go by for a bit.