Rich pickings at Sissinghurst Castle Garden

Sissinghurst veg garden team Sissinghurst veg garden team
Timperley Early Rhubarb on the veg plot

Is there any time of year more exciting, or so full of anticipation, than the turn of spring in March?

In the vegetable garden, the moment to lift the rhubarb forcers has arrived, revealing the neon pink stems that have creaked their way towards the light during the cold winter months. Last week at Sissinghurst, the first harvest of the rhubarb season turned three fully-grown gardeners into gleeful children ‘whooping’ our way from plant to plant. This year, we have used recycled metal dustbins to force some of the crowns that have become too big for conventional terracotta forcers.

In the greenhouse, a green haze of developing seedlings- tomatoes, peppers, basil and aubergines, offer up the promise of a bountiful growing season in the months to come. Whilst outside, the beds are rich with mulch, the soil is warming, and the first brave radish and broad beans are just beginning to break their way out of the dark earth. We will now be able to sow out here in abundance- beetroot, chard, carrots and fennel to name but a few.

In 2020 we are attempting to increase the proportion of seed we sow directly. This may be tricky in a heavy clay soil, as it takes a long time to warm up in spring, but we can mitigate against this by sowing a few weeks later. It is definitely worth a try since it saves time and is more sustainable, reducing our reliance on potting compost and plastic pots. It can also be better for the plants, which won’t have to undergo the root disturbance and acclimatisation involved with transplanting.

Inside the veg garden polytunnels
Inside the veg garden polytunnels
Inside the veg garden polytunnels

Sowing

  • Root vegetables: carrots, parsnips, turnips, beetroot, celeriac. Sowing directly in drills. This year we are trying Carrot ‘Harlequin F1’ as an early sowing of mixed coloured carrots and will be companion planting with spring onions to help reduce the risk of carrot fly

  • The no-dig method is slightly different to usual, with potatoes planted into holes in the mulch, only about a trowel’s depth. For earthing up, mulch (rather than soil) will be mounded up 2-3 times over the growing season to encourage longer stems and more potatoes. We are planting seed potatoes ‘Swift’ and ‘Charlotte’, which were left to chit in January.

    Sweetcorn: as sweetcorn is a tropical grass, it has to be sown in the greenhouse, ideally in a propagator or on a heated bench at approximately 18- 21°C. We are sowing an early variety ‘Earlybird’ at the end of March, ready to transplant outside in May.

  • Other direct sowing outside: broad beans, radish, chard, cabbage, kale and fennel

Planting out

  • Onion: sown in modules in February

Harvesting

  • Both forced and unforced rhubarb should now be ready. Stems are simply pulled.

    Salad- mustard greens and salad which have been growing in the polytunnels overwinter, make a very useful crop at this time of the year. At home you could grow winter salad in pots in a greenhouse or under fleece outside.

  • Pea shoots- beautifully fresh and deliciously sweet, they can be used in salads or as a garnish. We grow them in the greenhouse in succession as they will be ready in just 4-5 weeks. You could try these at home in a tray on the windowsill or greenhouse.

Produce in the shop

  • Rhubarb- delicious for a crumble. If you want to grow this at home, we have plants and forcers available to buy at the shop.