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Newsletter - March 2016

From the (new) Editor...

Hello, I am Anne Smith, and welcome to a new-look Newsletter! We owe a huge debt of thanks to Geoff who worked so hard to produce some magnificent Newsletters over the years but he has now decided to hang up his Editor’s hat and hand over the role ... which is where I come in, somewhat trepidatious but determined to give it a go.

I would like to produce some sort of a Newsletter every month, even if it’s only a couple of pages or so, with the aim of keeping subject matter topical and seasonal where possible. There will, of course, still be room for the longer articles we have enjoyed in earlier Newsletters, such as the A-Z of vegetables, so if you feel inspired to contribute, please get writing. However, I would also welcome smaller articles and recipes and snippets of news and I would love to hear from YOU!

Perhaps we could have a ‘meet a member’ section, so whether you are a new to the CSSG or have been a member for a while, please write something about yourself and tell us what attracted you to the Group. Please remember to include a photo!

Is there a question you would like answered? Post it one month and we can post responses the next.

Do you have a favourite recipe you return to time and again? Make it, bake it, take a picture and share it with us.

Whether you have a few acres of land or a few yards of garden or a few feet of window boxes, your experience counts and could help someone else.

Please email me your articles, ideas, news, recipes,

photos and anything you think might interest other

members to


Diary for MARCH – some facts, folklore and topical tips to see you through the month.

1. St David’s Day

There is a popular saying that March ‘comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb’ – possibly because the beginning of the month starts in the winter and ends in spring.

“On the first of March,

the crows begin to search;

By the first of April, they are sitting still.

By the first of May, they’ve all flown away,

Coming greedy back again with October’s wind and rain.”

2. March was the first month of the ancient Roman calendar and was named for Martius, well-known as the god of war, but who was also the guardian of agriculture.

Anglo-Saxons knew the month as Hlyd Monath, (boisterous month) or Hréth-Monath (rough month) or Length-Monath (referring to the lengthening hours of daylight during the month).

3. CSSG meeting: Richard Brown from Emorsgate Seeds, ‘Planting and maintaining a wild flower meadow’; 7.30pm; the King Edward’s Community Centre, Chatteris.

4. Weeds start growing apace this month – now is the time to start as you mean to go on and tackle them before they get out of hand!

5. Bulbs which have finished flowering indoors, such as hyacinths and daffodils, can be planted out in the garden. It’s a good time to plant snowdrops ‘in the green’ for flowering next winter.

6. Mothering Sunday

During the 16th century, people returned to the church in which they were baptised for a special service: they were said to have gone ‘a-mothering’. Over time Mothering Sunday became a day when domestic servants were given a day off to visit their ‘mother’ church, usually with their own mothers and other family members. Simnel cakes – a cake covered with a layer of marzipan and also with a layer of marzipan baked into the middle of the cake were traditionally made to be eaten on this day, although they are now more commonly associated with Easter Day.

7. Asparagus-growers should weed and mulch their asparagus beds and would-be asparagus growers can plant new crowns during March.

8. Chit the seed potatoes you bought at the CSSG’s successful Potato Day in February, remembering to label the different varieties! Early potatoes can be planted out later in the month.

9. Roses: plant bare root roses; prune existing roses, and feed them to encourage strong growth.

10. The gradually lengthening days of March mean that there is more opportunity for getting out into the garden, onto the allotment or for titivating your potted plants. Houseplants will benefit from being re-potted now before they start their new growth.

11. Once you have got your vegetable beds ready by weeding and adding compost, you could try covering the ground with sheets of black plastic. This is said to keep the ground warmer and drier until you are ready to plant.

12. Fruit trees will benefit from an application of well-rotted manure as a mulch.

13. New rhubarb crowns can be planted this month. Existing rhubarb should be mulched to help to keep it healthy, being careful not to cover the crown.

14. Cut back ornamental grasses to about 3 or 4 inches above the ground, but only if the leaves are brown and dead because if you cut into green leaves they will take the rest of the year to recover.

15. Today marks the start of the closed coarse fishing season in England and Wales.

16. “A wet March makes a sad harvest.... A dry and cold March never begs its bread.”

17. St Patrick’s Day

This is the traditional day to plant sweet peas. Plant them outside in containers (long deep ones are best as sweet peas have long deep roots) in a sheltered spot or a cold frame or cold greenhouse.

18. The ‘madness’ of the March hare is not restricted just to this month. It is probably simply that because the crops are low in the field it is easier to observe them jumping and boxing.

19. If you grow plants in containers, now is a good time to top them up with fresh compost.

20. The vernal equinox happens today.

Do remember to keep feeding the birds.

21. Lift and divide summer flowering perennials. Pull them apart gently but firmly so that the plant divided at its weakest point/s, pull rather than cut.

25. Good Friday

“Hot cross buns! Hot cross buns!

One a-penny, two a-penny, Hot cross buns!”

“Hot cross buns! Hot cross buns!

If you have no daughters, give them to your sons!”

In her book, Cambridgeshire Customs and Folklore, Enid Porter relates that Good Friday was traditionally the day on which families used to gather on Parker’s Piece in Cambridge to skip; the men usually turned the ropes for the women to jump. The practice lasted until the outbreak of the Second World War.

Another Cambridgeshire belief was that bread baked on Good Friday would not go mouldy and that it would cure indigestion if grated and eaten. Some people marked a cross on the loaf which would then be kept in its tin in the belief that it would protect the family from want and hunger for the ensuing twelve months. The loaf would be moistened, re-baked and eaten on the following Easter Day.

I recall a family in Bottisham in the 1970s that had a carefully preserved loaf which had been baked on Good Friday some 80 or 90 years earlier.

26. You can plant fruit trees now in sunny, sheltered spots.

27. Easter Day

NB! The clocks GO FORWARD today.

According to the Venerable Bede, Eostre was the Saxon version of the goddess Ostara, whose feast day was held on the full moon following the equinox.

One legend associated with Eostre was that she found a wounded bird on the ground and to save its life she turned it into a hare. Unfortunately, the transformation was not complete and so although the bird took the appearance of a hare she retained the ability to lay eggs. The hare would then decorate the eggs as a gift for Eostre.

28. Now is a great time to build a compost bin so you are ready to fill it when the growing season really starts!

29, 30, 31. The last three days of March are known as the ‘Borrowing Days’. The story is that March took spite against an old woman and resolved to kill her cow. The task took longer than anticipated and, because he could not complete the killing within his own month, March ‘borrowed’ three days from April in order to finish the job.

“March borrowed from April Three days, and they were ill;

The first was frost, the second was snaw,

The third was cauld as ever't could blaw.”

The information in the ‘diary’ came from various sources – but if you have a question about when to plant your brassicas or how to take care of your tomatoes or if you need a recipe for anything from soup to salads and cakes to coleslaw, then ask a CSSG member! There is a wealth of years of experience in all sorts of matters amongst CSSG members – we are here to share our knowledge and to learn from each other. You can post your questions here, or why not check out our Facebook page (Cambridgeshire Self Sufficiency Group) and ask for members’ opinions?

Looking ahead to April ...

Thursday 7 April: Coppiced Products

Matthew Robinson, the Heritage Project Officer from the Forest for Peterborough group, will give us a talk about coppiced products and will also be demonstrating how to carve a wooden spoon or spatula.

Saturday 16 April: Emergency First Aid

A one day Emergency First Aid course leading to a nationally recognised certificate. Limited places available. Free to members, with small charge for the certificate.

Both of these events will be at the King Edward Community Centre, Chatteris PE16 6NG

Sunday 24 April: St George's Fayre at March

Once again we shall have a stall at the Fayre to promote the group and try and recruit new members.

More information will follow for all these events but if you’d like more details – and especially if you want to express an interest in a place on the First Aid course, or to come and help at the Fayre, then please contact Mick - 01487 710641/ 07733133285 or Angela 01353 774728/ 07786963025 or email

Have you looked at our website recently?

It’s a good place to find out about forthcoming events, read articles from previous Newsletters and find photos of past events.


This is YOUR Newsletter so please fill it with things that you would like to read about!

Long articles, short articles, poems, photos, recipes, comments, news, questions ...

Please let me have your items at any point in the month. My aim will be to have the next Newsletter ready in time for the April meeting on the 7th.

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