Timing sowing and planting for fickle weather, the joy of perennials, propagation and seed saving, biodynamics, courses and composting
The last week of April has been cold, its white outside as I write this and three frosts (-1C here) have damaged the leaves and stems of potato plants. They will grow again but have lost time and some yield potential. The frosts are a reminder that its still too early to plant (or sow outside) any of squash, courgette, climbing beans, tomatoes and sweetcorn, unless you are in a warmer conurbation perhaps.
I have found that covering with cardboard is effective but you cannot do it until dusk, when the wind drops. Fleece is less effective because its more for keeping wind off and warming by day in bright weather, than for holding warmth on a still night.
Flea beetles on brassica leaves are already endemic in many areas; here I have laid mesh over established plants of outdoor wild rocket to lessen damage (they were sown last July). Flea beetles prefer new, tender seedlings, hence my advice to wait until August before sowing salad rocket, mizuna, mustards etc, unless you don’t mind the holes and the fact that these plants flower in May, so they won’t produce new leaves for long from spring sowings. Currently its more productive to sow lettuce and peas for shoots, hopefully you have already sown some spinach, sorrel, dill, coriander etc.
Established brassica plants like purple sprouting and kale have tougher leaves which suffer little damage from flea beetles. I like wild rocket for salad because it crops during spring when salad rocket has long since flowered.
Perennial veg, fruit
Spring is when perennials come into their own, thanks to established root systems which fuel rapid growth. Mine are thriving and weed free, two years after planting into weedy soil, and the asparagus have impressed me no end just recently. I am not picking any this year, and may sample a few shoots next year! Soon the spears will turn into ferns and feed energy back to their developing root system.
For my fruit bushes, rather than a cage I shall lay bird netting over their bed in June.
I sowed early sweetcorn, squashes and courgettes on April 20th and they have germinated well over the hotbed, soon needing to be potted on, as does the basil. Tomatoes need less heat and are now in pots on an empty greenhouse bed, where overwintered mustard salads had started to flower.
I shall not sow climbing beans until May 10th at earliest, there is no rush, whatever the seed packets say! I felt sorry for a lady at my talk in Bristol who had followed the seed packet’s advice to sow in April. Even if its not frosty, bean plants hate cold and wind (except broad beans, they thrive on it!).
Homeacres garden is still less than half full: don’t worry if many beds are still empty. By June when all the tender plants are out, they should be full.
I am still planting lettuce for salad as we are selling a lot of leaves; Steph popped out to help and it went well in the spring sunshine. Earlier, outdoor plantings of lettuce, peas, sorrel, dill and spinach are now producing, slowly at first in the cool weather.
Depending how cold your nights are, it will soon be safe to plant tomatoes and other tender plants undercover. The frost of April 27th singed some yacon plants in my polytunnel (though not the greenhouse which is 1-2C warmer at night) but its unusual to have frosts like that in May.
I clear my overwintered salad plants when they start rising to flower, then spread the annual dose of 2-3 inches compost, which is the sole food for both summer and winter crops. I do not use liquid feeds on tomatoes for example.
Biodynamics and courses
Having keen gardeners here for the weekend course in late April was ideal for helping with the stirring of preparation 500, which invites good energies enter the soil. It was a wet evening, after a long dry spell, and the moist soil was in good condition for absorbing the drops of energised water, which we flicked out of buckets with paintbrushes.
We took it in turns to stir vigorously for an hour, making vortices and then remaking them the other way.
I am finding that courses are a great opportunity for people to chat with others and enjoy learning together. After the last course, I had a nice card from Simon, thanking us for the relaxed atmosphere, conducive to being informed and inspired. And Steph’s lunches and vegetable muffins are a great source of inspiration and learning.
This year I have planted some lovely onions to have them grow seed stems of seeds for harvesting in summer. Also I am letting a red mustard plant rise to flower, its seed should ripen in June. Last year’s leek seed is germinating well. Check www.realseeds.co.uk for advice on different vegetables.
Compost heaps fill fast at this time, especially if you have grass mowings, Also I trimmed some jasmine and forsythia after flowering, then collected the cuttings with a rotary lawnmower which did a good job of chopping them into 10-15cm lengths. They made a “brown” layer to balance the large input of green matter. Other brown ingredients are paper, cardboard and stems of older plants such as brassicas: I use an axe to chop and split them, its a job!
Even if you have a lot of woody ingredients, compost can be good eventually, it takes longer. Unlike the horse manure I used for last year’s hotbed which contained a lot of wood shavings from the bedding. Unfortunately the shavings are kiln-dried and break down very slowly, so my new plantings in the one year old manure are looking short of nitrogen.