Mid April 2015
New growth! weeds included, more on sowing dates, spring harvests and using fleece, and beware frosts imminent
The season is well underway and already some summery jobs such as watering are becoming necessary. Also its time to sow summer-fruiting cucurbits such as courgette, squash and melon, if you haven’t already. I am sowing my winter squash on April 20th, and some early sweetcorn too. But undercover only – there are frosts (!) forecast during the coming week, at least in rural areas.
Another key job is hoeing new, tiny weed seedlings. Be proactive, go out looking for signs of new weeds and find a moment in dry weather to run a hoe lightly through the surface of beds and paths wherever you see unwanted green leaves appearing. Compost is mostly easy to run a hoe through, or to disturb with a rake which also serves to dislodge and dry weed seedlings.
Perennial weeds need their new shoots removing regularly with a trowel. I am already doing this for bindweed in the polytunnel.
Onions and leeks
There is still time to plant onion sets and modules of sown onions. Leeks are less urgent, I sow mine now for planting in May and June. I find that Autumn Mammoth varieties such as Hannibal grow well here and stand through most winters, giving long-stemmed leeks of good weight. In colder regions, harvests between January and April are more assured with varieties such as Bandit, Husky and Musselburgh. All of them can either be sown in drills outside, or in trays undercover with 3 to 4 seeds per module.
My Bleu de Solaise leeks are cropping nicely now but are on the short side, and already a few are starting to make seedbeds inside their stems, so they shall all need eating by the end of April.
Early or later sowing
The rising energy in spring creates a desire to be out sowing and generally getting on with the garden. Just be wary of sowing some vegetables too early, for example runner and French beans and cucumbers for growing outside. They need warmth (over 20C most of the time), both to germinate and to keep growing healthily, otherwise they ‘catch a cold’ and become weak. Sow them in May.
A golden rule is that spring sowings catch up. So if your allotment neighbour is telling you that they have sown everything, don’t worry, your later sowings of warmth-loving plants may do better in the end.
Earlier veg sowings
On the other hand, cold-tolerant vegetables such as beetroot, lettuce, spinach, spring onion, shallot, cabbage, broad bean, parsnip and carrot can all be growing strongly by now from earlier sowings. The photos show my dig/no dig experiment where most of the vegetables were sown mid-February in the greenhouse, planted in March without hardening off and covered with fleece since then. Carrot and parsnip were sown mid March. My plan is to harvest everything except the parsnips in spring and early summer, then make second plantings, see how this unfolds in the experiment page.
Most harvests at the moment are from overwintered plants, such as spinach, purple sprouting broccoli, spring cabbage, leeks, spring onions, parsley as well as perennial plants such as kale, sorrel, wild rocket, chives and the first spears of asparagus. It will be a while before spring sown vegetables are ready, although spinach, lettuce leaves and radish are almost ready here.
Warmth loving vegetables
Its time to be sowing basil, and potting on peppers, aubergines and chillies if they are outgrowing their starting-off pots or cells. Tomatoes will definitely need potting on at some point because they grow fast from now on and planting time is approaching, for undercover tomatoes. I put mine out in early May as soon as winter salads have finished, and after spreading compost. At the moment, my greenhouse and tunnel are full of highly productive salad plants, with outdoor lettuce starting to grow strongly, after watering.
I recommend laying fleece over new plantings to keep animals, insects and wind off tender seedlings. Then, vegetables which tolerate some cold can have fleece covers removed after two to four weeks, depending on conditions and how they are growing.