April 2011


Updates from April 2011.

April in the vegetable garden

Blossom on plum Lizzie

Blossom on plum Lizzie

March has been another growing month here with no major setbacks. During long spells of dry weather, the no dig approach really come into its own, with all moisture retained just below the surface. By comparison, my two dug beds in the experiment are dusty on top and when watering in some onion plants on March 23rd, the water smeared over the surface and ran downhill, whereas it simply soaked in around the plants of the undug bed.

Ready for planting: calabrese, cauliflower and lettuce

Ready for planting: calabrese, cauliflower and lettuce

Vagaries of weather make April one of the trickiest months to describe for gardening. In principle there is a lot of sowing and planting; but any cool, wet weather can allow slugs to gain the upper hand and slows everything down. Somehow we need to be prepared for both.

One thing is certain, the weeds will start growing now. By early April you will see the first crop of weed seedlings and that is a cue for decisive action. Either reach for a hoe and use it to mow them shallowly, or, in smaller areas, scuffle the surface with a trowel. In dry weather, dislodged small seedlings will wither quickly.

Do persevere, because if weeds are allowed to grow large enough to smother the soil and make lots of roots, it becomes an uphill struggle to remove them “en masse” with a simple hoeing. Start now, scuffle seedlings and stay on the downslope!

Peas for pea shoots, planted February and fleeced, they resist frost

Peas for pea shoots, planted February and fleeced, they resist frost

April and May in my garden are the weediest months, after winter has broken dormancy of many seeds. Two or three hoeings and hand weeding of grasses and perennials like bindweed, couch grass and dandelions is enough to keep the soil clean until June, by which time one is well on course for a lovely weed free summer. However, soil which has thick infestations of perennials needs mulching rather than hoeing.

A difficult skill to learn in April is avoiding the temptation of a few unusually warm afternoons to make outdoor sowings of summer beans, courgettes and sweetcorn. These vegetables need consistent warmth to grow well, and sowings in May often catch up. The only way to sow them in April is under cover, around mid month for early harvests.
Winter squashes such as Uchiki Kuri (a lovely small red squash) and Butternut, pumpkins too, are best sown around mid April, indoors, so as to have large plants by the end of May, giving them more time to grow and ripen their fruit before autumn. There is a three day spell this year from 13th -15th April, a ‘fruit’ moon during the waxing phase, which is good for sowing all these plants.

Trial of leeks, 2 rows each Musselburgh, Autumn Mammoth, Apollo

Trial of leeks, 2 rows each Musselburgh, Autumn Mammoth, Apollo

Cucumbers and melons may be coming up already, sow them soon if not, and tomatoes need potting on at some stage in April. Use pots that are only slightly larger, rather than ‘drowning’ small plants in large pots which can easily be over-watered, and which take up lots of precious indoor space, because propagating areas easily become overcrowded at this time of year.
In my greenhouse during April I have plants of celeriac, celery, tomato, basil, aubergine, pepper and all of the above mentioned vegetables, as well as annual flowers such as petunias, salvia patens, marigolds and geranium.

UPDATE 20 April, after a long run of dry weather, thank goodness for no dig and an organic mulch on top. But there is already insufficient moisture for fast growing salad plants and I am watering them outdoors, much earlier than usual. Although April 2007 was equally dry and then it rained a lot in summer….
It is still possible to have cold nights in May so I am not sowing french or runner beans before month’s end, strictly indoors.

The dig/no dig experiment is proving as interesting as usual, here are some photos of the first two beds where many of the vegetables are quite similar except for potatoes being a little ahead on the dug bed, and spinach being much stronger on the undug, with less slug damage. Also I have lost more carrots to slugs on the dug bed and have needed to re-sow.