Early April means that you can really get going with seed sowing in the veg plot. Soil temperatures are starting to rise, as you can tell by all the weed seedlings germinating. I find this a good indication that the ground is warming up. It’s still too soon to sow frost-tender veg outdoors (things like courgettes, French beans and sweetcorn), but there’s still plenty you can start growing now, including:
- The cabbage family, including broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts and other cabbages
- Broad beans – last chance now as they grow best during spring rains and dislike the heat of summer
- Spinach, rocket and parsley
- Peas and mangetout
- Lettuces – I always start these off in trays or pots to keep the seedlings safe from slugs, then transplant into the ground when they are growing on strongly.
- Spring onions
If frost or snow returns, which it can do in our climate in April, and your crops have germinated, protect the seedlings with a cover – fleece is good, but some clear plastic packaging material, bubble wrap or other transparent plastic sheeting will do the trick.
Here is a more detailed read of what you can be getting on with this month in the veg plot:
Peas and radishes:
I hosted the first gardening workshop of the year on 18 March. We sowed peas in this no-dig bed and intercropped with radishes. The radishes will be ready for harvesting before the pea plants get too big, so this is a great way to make the most of the space you have. The sticks are simply cut offs from a dead rosemary bush, and will support the climbing peas as they grow. Even dwarf varieties of peas benefit from a bit of support to keep the pods clear of the ground.
I have been learning more about no-dig methods and the benefits for the soil food web, and if you’re interested in this, the guru of no-dig veg growing is Charles Dowding. I follow his Instagram account, and in a recent post on broad beans he commented that I still had time to get them in the ground. Broad beans can germinate even in relatively cold soil, and are usually sown early in the year, or even the previous autumn. So I grabbed my dibber and got them in the ground:
I find that a dibber makes the perfect planting hole for broad bean seeds. I sow mine in double rows. When they grow into bigger plants, it’s a good idea to give them some support. You can use wooden sticks with garden twine to create an enclosure around the beans and prevent them from toppling over. If you have ever grown broad beans, you’ll know that they are a favourite with black aphids, who congregate in great numbers on the growing tips and can weaken the plants as they suck the sap. You can simply pinch off the infested tops and dispose of them, the plants will go on to produce a good harvest.
At the allotment, the growers are all out tidying up their plots and getting the ground ready for growing. I have been laying some paths, using Miscanthus as a material. This grass, chopped into small bits, is easy and light to handle, and has a coarse texture which slugs are said to dislike. I am removing some of the wooden boards around the beds as these, I have discovered, are a hiding place for our sluggy friends.
By the way this is what the same space looked like in March last year, when I first got this plot:
The weather was better then, but not the growing space, which was completely abandoned. Nice to see progress, still a way to go but it feels more manageable this year. I was able to control the worst of the weeds by laying cardboard on the ground, which blocks the light and kills a lot of the weeds – although not the toughest ones like couch grass and horsetail. I will persist with more cardboard and/or permeable weed-suppressing membrane where these weeds are still a problem.
Next on my planting list are onions. I have some red onion sets (these are baby onions which will grow into large ones by this summer). The trick is to plant these after the vernal equinox but by mid April. If you plant them too soon, and we have very cold weather, the onions are tricked into thinking winter is coming and will bolt (put their energy into making seeds not bulbs). This will spoil them. But if you plant too late, the onions won’t have time to mature into nice big bulbs by mid summer. So now’s the moment!
I was delighted to see my rhubarb pushing through the ground in its weird and wonderful way. It looks quite alien! Now is a good time to plant crowns or divisions. Give them a generous mulch of compost as they are hungry feeders.
You can also get some potatoes in the ground this month – Easter is the traditional planting time. First earlies are the first to go in – these mature sooner and make great salad potatoes. I have had a lot of success with the variety ‘Charlotte’ in the past, and this year am trying ‘Swift’.
As one crop comes to an end, another one hopefully takes its place. My winter salads in the greenhouse will be finishing soon, so I was happy to find this pot of self-sown winter purslane. Also known as miner’s lettuce, this modest and mild-tasting leaf saved many a miner in the Californian gold rush from getting scurvy! It loves cool weather, so plan to sow it in September for a crop next winter/early spring – it does not do well as a summer crop in my experience.
That’s your veg sowing, planting and harvesting roundup for April.
If you’re local to me (Brussels) and want to learn more about vegetable growing, why not come along to one of my veg growing workshops? They are usually great fun, and I can promise you that you’ll learn something useful!