April 2014


A look at Homeacres in April 2014.

Enduring winter harvests

Although the garden can look quite bare in early spring, you can still have plenty to eat. Leeks are still growing and give welcome greens until, from about mid April, they start to make a flowering stem. At first this is soft and edible but once you see the first one, it is worth harvesting remaining leeks within a week or so. You can spread compost between leeks at any time so the ground can just be tamped down and smoothed out after final harvests, for planting whatever comes next; or spread an inch or two of compost after  final harvest and removing all weeds.

Overwintered broccoli is abundant in April, stored onion and garlic are still good but starting to sprout, celeriac is eating well and winter squash are beginning to go mouldy so need eating soon.

Weather comparison….

March weather was amazingly mild compared to last year, and so much drier than the winter past. With a springlike month ahead I am feeling optimistic, especially compared to reflections on the weather of last April when there was a frost every night of the first week.

March

2013

2014

Max temp C

7.9 / 46F

12.3 / 54F

Min temp C

-0.1 / 32F

4.0 / 39F

Rainfall mm

47.1

45.2

Frosts

20

3

These pictures are three days apart, reflecting the warm last few days of March causing rapid growth, on left is after picking 16kg on March 28th and on right is March 31st. Also reflecting the winter warmth, and undug soil, are the delicious mushrooms which have been popping up among the salads – without spreading any mushroom compost.

Sowing in the first half of April

Now is good for undercover sowings of basil, melon and cucumber for indoor growing. If growing them outdoors, sow basil and melon in early May and cucumber in mid May.

They are heat-loving plants and need warmth to germinate, such as a windowsill, the airing cupboard or a heat mat. At Hoemacres I have topped up the hotbed with fresh manure and expect that to provide enough warmth, together with the higher ambient temperatures.

My greenhouse hotbed has maintained a core heat of 40C even eight weeks since being assembled, so rather then emptying it to make a fresh one, for more heat we put two barrowloads of fresh horse manure on top. After two days the core heat was 45C and it is now 60C in the top layer, good for tomatoes, basil, melon.

Courgettes can wait until mid month for sowing, as they grow so fast and large, with an annoying ability to shade other plants in the propagating space.

However do be careful of warm, sunny afternoons which tempt you to reach for seeds of runner and French bean, because it is too early to sow them. Wait until May: otherwise you can have nice plants ready to go out, which risk suffering in spring winds and cold nights.

Outside, onion sets and potatoes can still be sown, and make plantings of early of module plants as they come ready, for example lettuce, spinach, beetroot, onion, cabbage, calabrese, cauliflower.

Potting, watering

Seedlings of Sungold and Rosada were sown March 5th in a tray and pricked out ten days ago

Seedlings of Sungold and Rosada were sown March 5th in a tray and pricked out ten days ago

Tomatoes should have their first true leaves by now and need potting on when one of these happens:

  • Their roots have filled the compost with a hint of yellow on bottom leaves
  • They are shading each other in trays and becoming leggy.

You can bury their stems when potting on to make sturdier plants.

Be aware of weather changes when watering seedlings and young plants, to avoid overwatering in cloudy weather. Basil in particular does not like soggy compost.

There is little need for outdoor watering of undug soil in early April. just water in any new plantings, giving a little water to each one rather than the whole bed. Having a dry surface is good for discouraging slugs.

Compost for propagation

In early March I filled one tray with West Riding organic multipurpose compost, and another with sieved, two year old cow manure mixed with some rockdust, as in the photos. Resulting growth from the same sowings in each was interestingly different. There are plenty of nutrients in the old manure and drainage is good too, helped by its lumpiness I think.

In early March I mixed four handfuls of rockdust into two year old cow manure and sieved out the larger lumps, it was too wet to achieve fine compost. Sieved compost is in the yellow bucket.

Then I filled the right hand tray with this manure, the left hand tray with West Riding multipurpose compost. Sown March 4th with beets and spinach, both have grown well and the manure-filled tray has excelled with healthy and abundant growth.

Pests

After the mild, wet winter I am finding that slugs are interested in new plantings, especially the outer leaves of young cabbage and lettuce. Last night (March 31st) I did the season’s first slug hunt after dark and was not amused to be cutting so many. Winter slugs are especially slimy too.

All that remains of a lettuce bed, two weeks after planting, some slugs, but most damage caused by leatherjackets as on left and below: they eat both roots and leaves, but mostly the roots so you see severed leaves lying on top

I have been horrified to see such major damage to a whole bed of two hundred recently planted lettuce, from leatherjackets eating roots, stems and leaves, with three quarters of the plants now gone. I thought that craneflies (daddy long legs) laid their autumn eggs only in pasture and lawns, not among vegetables, and wonder if this is the only such bed in my garden, for whatever reason, or whether some others have leatherjackets waiting for food. If so, with many beds still bare, I am puzzled as to what the larvae are currently eating. Normally it would be grass roots and the grass goes yellow or dies.

Last spring I suffered most damage to lettuce, spinach and beetroot, but young beetroot this year is fine, so far. Yesterday I was pulling some under-performing outdoor mustard and found … a leatherjacket, so am feeling apprehensive and have ordered some expensive nematodes, the only solution I know, and not viable for large areas.

Hotbeds

On March 27th I had a day’s help from Mick, who also helped on the hotbeds in January, and as well as topping up the greenhouse hotbed with two barrowloads of fresh horse manure, as above, we worked on the asparagus bed, see below.

In the outdoor hotbeds I have had this unexpected problem of too much warmth in the bed filled on February 22nd and planted on February 24th (see posting of early March). Seedlings in the middle are barely growing because, it appears, there is too much heat on their roots, and they have many yellow and smaller leaves. By comparison, all the beetroot, coriander, dill, carrots and radish around the cooler edges are larger and stronger. Last year this did not happen, because (I now realise) of the much colder March. So my heap is too deep and next February I shall fill with about 30in (75cm) of manure rather than the 40in (1m+) I used for this heap in the last two years.

Asparagus

Mick spreading some well rotted cow manure, then we topped with green waste compost, creating two mounded beds where previously I had one flatter one. This turns out to be a soggy part of the garden and asparagus does not like that, so I am looking to raise their roots. I also have new plants, raised from seed last year, to fill gaps where some of the first crowns have died.

Mick has now moved to pastures new, landing an exciting job at a new hotel near Stroud, The Convent, where he is tending the garden and growing for the kitchen.

April 16th update

It has been a treat to enjoy sunshine and the healthy growth it has encouraged. Everything is so early, I need to remind myself this is still April and the weather can be occasionally wintry. For example it is only just time to sow courgettes and squash, and wait another three weeks before sowing runner beans – both undercover. Add three weeks for outdoor sowing.

apr142 16 days after, leatherjackets!I have watered the bed with some nematodes from Nemasys which cost £7 for that area. The instructions say to keep soil moist for at least two weeks – another job, and tending to encourage slugs!  One encouraging discovery is that batavian lettuce appear less susceptible and nine lettuce of a variety Relay from CN seed are the main survivosr out of 140 plants in this bed. All of the 50 spinach plants are gone, within a week, and all but one of 60 beetroot modules too!

Edging is important, to prevent grasses invading, especially couch grass – below I am using cardboard, and I can mow right up to it, so nothing sets seed and grass vigour near the edge is reduced.

apr142 from l compost, no compost, dug no compostThe Shumei experiment of three beds continues to be interesting, this is the final leek harvest on April 10th, variety Bandit. On left, leeks from from undug bed with compost on top; in middle from undug bed with no compost; on right from dug bed with no compost. Four module plants in each bucket, average two leeks per module.

Total harvests since last August are 62.33kg, 40.25kg and 41.04kg respectively. The main difference was extra squashes, leeks, beetroot and celeriac from adding compost. The undug bed caught up the dug bed after a slow start. This year I have already sown or planted broad beans, beetroot, carrot, cabbage and potato.

Finally I have noticed an intriguing difference of lettuce growth between greenhouse and polytunnel, I think because of the wooden rafters reducing light levels in the greenhouse (photo above) – do you see the extra colour in polytunnel lettuce below? They are all Grenoble Red which were sown last September and have been picked regularly since November. In a similar vein I notice that outdoor lettuce have darker, richer colour again – and that it is paler on leaves under fleece.