Sparrowhawk in front of green manure
Sparrowhawk sitting on post

To feed or not to feed?

So, a little biology first. Plants love food – nutrients and water, without exception. The reason some people think wild flowers prefer less nutrition is because the widespread amenity grasses that they often have to compete with thrive on extra nitrogen and other nutrients therefore vigerously out-competing other plants. Grass can even kill young trees. So, unless you’re trying to grow wild flowers amongst grass, feed them and they will grow stronger and more beautiful. Only large established wild flowers can withstand grass, and of course it takes its toll on even them.
If you’re stuck with grass you could sow a grass parasite, for example yellow rattle in with your wild flowers, and this gradually weakens the grasses to a level where other plants can get a look in.

When to sow?

It’s a bit late in the year now for sowing in trays. I’d wait now until end Feb, unless you have a heated bench and lighting.
If you’re sowing annuals and already have a well prepared (free of weed plants and seeds) seed bed outside, now is the time to sow and roll in, and if not, wait until spring to sow. For an outside area, a good way to clear one over winter, especially if you’re trying to kill off grass, is cover it with black plastic or tarps and secure down tight with lots of heavy things/or dig in the edges, so the light and wind don’t get under it. In spring you can lift the cover, allow the first flush of weeds to appear and dig them in, this is called a stale seed bed. You can do this more than once if there’s a lot of seeds in the soil, leaving a couple of weeks between diggings.

Field size

Behind the lovely sparrowhawk sitting on the post, is our field ready for sowing next year. Cleared by solely mechanical means since ploughing in April and sown up recently with organic Rye grass, the Rye will protect the soil from erosion over winter, crowd out weeds and once turned in, in spring it adds humus to the soil.

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