What a difference a month makes.
I wrote my March allotment jobs on the cusp of the Coronavirus Crisis. In the space of four weeks, the world has become a different place.
The UK is one of many countries in lockdown as we desperately try to prevent the virus from spreading to our vulnerable members of society and stop the NHS from becoming overwhelmed. We all have a part to play to achieve this and it includes us, allotment gardeners.
Although there is conflicting advice on the use of allotments during this period, I think it is only fair and responsible for us to use them once a day for an hour and to ensure we social distance on the sites.
The sowing possibilities really open up this month and despite the world around us in quite a desperate state, I think the sheer benefit gained from the sowing of a seed and watching it grow is something I wish everyone could do.
Some propose that the Romans gave this month the Latin name Aprilis, derived from the verb aperire, “to open”. The flowers and the trees are indeed bursting into life. April is an exciting time for us gardeners. There is much that can be sown now and there are signs of life from the seeds and bulbs planted earlier in the year.
The temperature is rising and the risk of frost becomes less as we progress through the month. This will vary depending on your location across the country, of course, so be aware of your own climate and last frosts. I’ve been caught more than once by a frost in early May here in Cardiff.
Some of the things I’m sowing this month
As I write, the sun is shining and there is a slight breeze. It has in fact been glorious weather for nearly two weeks which is considerably annoying as it began when we isolated ourselves indoors and restricted the time we spend outside. The garden is now a luxury space and I feel very fortunate that I have a small garden in the city – I know many do not.
I’m not sure why, but I haven’t always had the best luck with sunflowers. This is strange as they are not known to be a difficult plant to grow. Usually what happens is they get snipped off by some sneaky creature when I plant them in the bed.
One success came in 2018 when I grew the stunning, multi-head Solar power. I still have some seeds left-over and so I’m growing it again this year. I’m determined to grow some giants too so I’m growing Russian Giant which can grow up to 10ft!
The benefit of having a polytunnel is both early crops, longer growing seasons and also the ability to grow a wider selection of crops which might be difficult with the climate gained under plastic or glass. This is the first time I’m growing melons and I’m excited.
I’ve chosen the variety Minnesota Midget from Real Seeds as it sounds perfect for conditions here in the UK. It’s bred for short summers and provides smaller fruit to allow early ripening. The vines will grow around 4ft and provide several cricket ball size, super sweet, orange-fleshed cantaloupe melons.
I’m sowing in pots and these will stay indoors on my sunny windowsill until germination. They will not germinate in cold soil so this gives them a much better chance to get going.
I want to grow more perennials on the allotment. They are incredibly efficient crops to grow and there are many delicious ones that service our bellies year on year with very little intervention.
Globe Artichoke is not something I eat regularly but that’s because it’s very difficult to buy in the supermarket. When was the last time you bought one? Exactly. However, a little fiddly but worth it just for the luxury and the simplicity. The flowers are stunning too. I’ve gone for an old Italian favourite Romanesco.
I sowed a module tray of boltardy last month. I’m a bit disappointed with the germination but I think this because I’m trying to use up older packets of seed in my tin. This month I’m sowing more beetroot but expanding the varieties to include Detroit 2 and a Rainbow mix.
I’ve not grown celeriac before and I have to admit I’m drawn to trying it this year as I’ve heard it makes a delicious, earthy soup. The type of soup you want in the late autumn and winter – which is when this hefty root is ready for harvest. I found a packet of the variety Monarch in my tin.
It’s such a super fast crop to grow and there are just so many varieties, I’m sowing more lettuce every three to four weeks. It’s the perfect crop to simply slot in any gaps. I tend to grow ones that produce a loose-head and then pick the outer leaves.
This is Charles dowding’s method and it means you can crop a smaller amount of lettuce plants over a longer period of time. In fact, choose the right varieties and you might only need to sow 3 times a year for a continuous supply.
I need to grow herbs. I spend many hours passionately cooking in the kitchen, herbs should be something I grow and preferably close to home in the back garden. It makes it so much easier to pop outside and grab and handful of flavour and fragrance for the pot.
I’ve sown a row of Champion of England. I grew this two years ago and it’s a fantastic old variety that can grow up to seven feet. Long cropping season of good size pods with plenty of peas. I’m also growing a delicious mangetout Spring Blush. This one has mottled pods and they taste great in a salad or (usually) straight in the mouth from the plant.
I realised as I rummaged around in my seed tin, discovering a few forgotten packets of courgette seeds, that it has been a few years since I grew them. What a shame ans they such a prolific plant – almost to the point where you get sick of them. I’m growing the beautiful stripped Romanesco and bright yellow Atena Polka. Remember, one plant will probably produce enough courgette for a small family through the summer.
Something went terribly wrong with my squash plants last year. I’m not sure what happened but I failed to get any plant to survive the summer. I grew them in pots until they were big enough to go outside and for some reason, they never really took off after they went in the bed. This has never happened to me before so I’m at a bit of a loss.
I am determined that this will not be the case this year. I found some Orangita seeds, a fantastic compact squash plant that produces mini orange pumpkins which are delicious. I grew them in 2018 and we had so many from four plants. Highly recommend it if space is tight. I’m also growing the fabulous Musque de Provence and Uchiki Kuri.
I’m using Charles Dowding’s book Organic Gardening – The natural no-dig way as my guide to sowing and growing this year. There are plenty of other vegetables that can be sown this month and you can find more advice on Charles’ sowing timeline too.
I’m trying to pop to the allotment once a day for an hour. This means being focused on what tasks I want to achieve in that time. At the moment I focus on keeping the beds clear of any weeds. This means moving a hoe or pulling any emerging weeds I see on my daily round.
I have horsetail on the allotment and I know many allotment holders will gasp in horror at the thought, but let me tell you it is something you just have to deal with. It is very difficult to eradicate. Even if I was inclined to use chemicals (which I will never do) none can deal with horsetail to effectively clear it from the garden. We should be in awe of the plant it’s an ancient and determined thing.
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