Updates from April 2010.
Vegetable growing in April 2010
April is the most stop-start month of the year. Deciding what to sow or plant can be tricky and it is most helpful to respect the calendar of best sowing dates, especially on a warm day which invites you to imagine sowing all those summer vegetables. In fact, the continuing likelihood of occasional frosts in April means there is no point in sowing warmth-loving summer vegetables such as courgettes, sweetcorn, runner beans and basil, except indoors, in which case they can be set going in small pots after about mid month.
But I recommend keeping your runner bean, french bean and outdoor cucumber seeds dry for another month at least.
Here in late March, we have been planting out a large number of lettuce, pea (for salad shoots), broad bean, beetroot and spinach seedlings, all under fleece and looking happy enough, as well as sowing parsnips and planting onion sets, shallots and potatoes.
There is still time to plant all of these in April, the sooner the better. They all tolerate some cold and resist slugs to a point, although lettuce plants do need to be well grown and hardened off before planting.
This is also a good time for outdoor sowings of early carrots, beetroot, spinach, lettuce, peas and most herbs, except chervil and coriander which flower quite quickly from spring sowings and grow more prolifically when sown in late summer.
If you have space under cover, many other sowings can now be made – any of the above, as well as parsley, celery, early cabbage, calabrese, cauliflower, celeriac and tomatoes. The last two need sowing straightaway if they are to have sufficient time to be worthwhile. Ideally your celeriac will be ready to prick out by now.
Instead of growing your own tomatoes, you could look to buy plants in early May for indoor growing, or early June for outdoors – but you will have less choice of varieties – try Delfland Nurseries at www.organicplants.co.uk, for a more interesting range of varieties than is offered elsewhere, and the plants are of good quality.
Covering new plantings and sowings with horticultural fleece makes a significant difference to all vegetables: it is most beneficial in spring, when soil and air are cold but the sun’s rays have lots of warmth. In April for example, by month’s end there is as much sunlight as in late August. Laying fleece on top of plants helps to conserve this solar warmth and to protect plants from cold winds. Lay fleece tight across beds of newly set out plants then their growing leaves will gradually push it up like a bubble. Or it can be laid on top of cloche hoops. Fleece lets rain through, unlike cloche plastic, which necessitates watering the protected plants after a while.
Keep an eye out for new weed seedlings which are suddenly coming alive at this time. In dry soil it is easy to quickly hoe them off when small: the secret is not to let them grow big at all, aiming to hoe them, just below the soil surface( a skilled job!) when they have just two tiny leaves. Otherwise you have some extra work ahead of pulling them out.
In my garden the winter ended well. A mild second half of March thankfully encouraged some growth, after a lean winter. Few people hereabouts had seen the grass grow so slowly in March, at least until the equinox. The National Trust gardener at Barrington Court says his forced seakale is later than he has known in 33 years (global cooling?).
In complete contrast, I found salad plants in the polytunnels to be almost as productive as in 2009, when March was a whole degree warmer and quite a bit sunnier. The salads all survived a great deal of frost, down to -10C inside the tunnels, yet they switched quickly from the semi-dormancy of winter to an extremely productive state, where frequent picking was needed to keep leaves small.