Growing your own Vegetables and Fruit
Enjoy growing and eating fresh veg and fruit when you want it.
Here, help is at hand month by month so you can see what you should be doing on your plot when growing your own vegetables and your own fruit. The weather and where you live make a huge difference to what grows, or not, but doing anything is better than nothing. Use the links above if you want specific information on a fruit or veg, or to see what you should have done last month.
April with showers and sun is what we'd all like. So that the soil warms up, the seeds germinate and rain keeps the soil moist. And if nature won't do it, then we have to, bu using cloches to warm the soil, and water butts and watering cans to keep things moist.
April 2008 was cold and grey (but dry), April 2009 and 2010 were warm, sunny and dry. April 2010 was officially the sunniest April since records began, and April 2011 the warmest. April 2012 was officially the wettest! And we had the bizarre situation of a drought in May parts, hosepipe bans, torrential rain, flooding, and wetest month on record! Sadly a wet spring after a dry winter is no good for filling reservoirs, only good for watering crops. As we all remember, the summer of 2012 was too wet, so happily summer 2013 was lovely, but oh dear, what a wet winter.
Now that Easter’s here, nice and late this year, out you go. Tell your family and friends you are in the garden, and will be until October. With Easter in April there shouldn’t be any snow like there was in April 2008.
If you have a greenhouse you can shuffle between it and the plot to avoid the (hopefully) showers, making the best use of your time. If not, use windowsills in the house, or create your own cold frame outside. A sheet of glass/clear plastic on some bricks is a start, as the glass keeps the rain off the seed trays/pots, and warms up the soil. Another way is to put trays and pots in a clear polythene bag, and put it in a sunny spot or under a cloche. This keeps them warm and protected, and is cheap and easy to do.
Although you can sow seed direct into the ground now, plants will come on more quickly if you sow them in trays/pots this month, and then transplant them into open soil. Towards the end of April, you can sow direct outdoors. The exception, as always, are the root veg which like to be sown direct, but you can try fooling them by planting them in biodegradable pots (or loo roll cardboard inners) under cover. Then when the shoots appear, plant the whole pot in the soil, and protect, and the plant will never know!
When outside you can busy yourself by raking the soil where seeds and seedlings are going. If you want a good even seed germination then a fine tilth is needed. If you are putting in plants or seedlings then it’s not so important. Either way you need to make sure you have put in something to protect the young plants from slugs, snails, birds, mice, cats, rabbits, deer, pheasants or whatever your particular pests are. A row of newly germinated seedlings can disappear overnight if not protected. Try anything from beer traps, copper wire, plastic protectors, netting, cloches of all descriptions.
Seedlings that have been grown in trays or pots, or under a cloche, need to have time to get used to the real world, (called hardening off). This is easy with a cold frame, you just open the lid; or with a cloche, you can lift it off during the day, and return it at night. Seedlings grown inside should spend the day outside and then return inside, or be covered at night.
If you’ve got green manures in the soil, dig them up about three weeks before you want to put new crops in. Either dig them back into the soil, or put on the compost heap.
At this time of year, mulching is not something you need to usually worry about. You’ll already have put some manure around your roses and fruit bushes and trees, so the only crops that might like a bit are potatoes and asparagus. Potatoes need to have a layer of organic matter added on the surface all the time to keep the soil moist and hide the tubers. You can use garden compost or (untreated) grass mowings for this. Your asparagus crowns would like a bit of mulching, but look out for slugs which like it too. The idea of mulching is to keep the soil warm and moist, so if the soil is cold and dry and you put a layer of mulch on now, it will stay that way! It’s best to mulch when the soil’s warmed up, and it’s been raining.
If you are itching to do things, but the weather’s not so good, clear out your compost bins. Bag up the good stuff and then toss the other back in the bin, and mix well with the first grass mowings. You can dig in the good stuff when you sow potatoes, or plant out beans, peas, courgettes, sweetcorn, anything which likes a moisture retentive soil.
Your veg patch will benefit from a selection of wildlife and insect attracting plants. Limnanthes (poached egg flower) flower early and self-seed, Calendula (pot marigold) are always around, and self seed, so just remove ones from a row of veg and leave others to flower. Phacelia, a green manure will grow anywhere and insects love the flowers. You know Lavender is always full of bees so have at least one plant nearby. French Marigolds are supposed to confuse various insects, and lure slugs, so plant rows of these where you can. I always grow sunflowers because I love them, and their height means they don’t bother anything else in the patch. In winter heathers flower and are full of insects so it’s worth having them near your veg plot.
Take a look at your plot if you can, at night if it’s warm, and has been raining. You’ll be able to pick off loads of slugs before they do their damage.
Check over any perennial herbs, like chives, lavender, marjoram, oregano. You can lift and divide chives now, and prune the woody herbs.
Now it’s just down to you to sort your seed packets out and start sowing. It is better to sow a little and often so that you can crop over a longer period. It also means you should not be swamped with seedlings. For some crops, like courgette, it is possible to have too many in the summer, and it’s frustrating not being able to use the produce. So limit how many of these you grow, as they’ll stop producing when you stop picking. For other crops like rocket, lettuce, radish, salad onion, you want a small amount over a long time, so keep sowing all summer.
If you are new to veg growing, try to limit what you sow this year, so that you don’t get too much work on your hands. And make a list of what’s worked, and what you’d like to try next year. Some people say ‘grow what you can’t buy’ others say ‘grow what you like to eat’. I’m for the latter, but it’s your choice!
Finally, be aware of anyone else you know who works on their veg patch or allotment, so you can plant swap. It’s fun and you get a range of varieties, and find homes for your spare plants.
Sow this month:
In 2007 I was eating Spring cabbage and rocket (perennial) and lettuce by the end of month. At the plot we were eating purple sprouting broccoli, curl kale and parsley. In 2008 the plot let us pick rocket, (hopefully) first lettuce, leeks, Kale, chives. And, if you want to know, I reckon up here the last frost was on Monday 14 April 2008. The plot in 2009 gave us the last of the leeks, but the purple sprouting broccoli and curly Kale were looking good to eat. In the veg patch chives and rocket were lovely. April 2009 was dry and sunny, but with cool nights and a frost on 21 April. April 2010 was warm, dry, sunny, windy in the day, but frost at nights, even on 19 and 20 April, whilst reaching 17c in the day. The plot had the first ever pink Rhubarb shoot, some tasty Kale and Purple sprouting broccoli and parsley, and at home the perennial rocket was back with lovely chives. Waiting in the new pyramid are sunflowers, sweetcorn and lettuce seedlings. First asparagus shoots peeping through and the school’s Emerald Vale and Rocket potatoes have green shoots in their grow bags. 2011 was so dry, after a dry March as well. But the potatoes under the layer of permealay came up OK. The onion sets looked very forlorn in the dry soil, and seeds took an age to germinate. The weeds however had a great time, with huge nettles, thistles, dock and creeping buttercup. The strawberries were full of flowers, and the rhubarb leaves huge. Seeds sown under cover germinated like magic, and there are sweetcorn and courgette plants waiting to be planted. The chives and rocket were perfect. 2012 left a bit of Chard, and some new Chives and rocket. The first spears of Asparagus were peeping through. The heavy rain at the back end of April was welcomed, but not the hail and cold temperatures that came with it. April 2012 was the wettest for 100 years. Oddly on 4 April 2012 the Environment Agency said it had been the driest 18 months on record and seven water companies issued hosepipe bans. On this day in Yorkshire it snowed, and then on 9 April some places had more rain in one day than the whole of February, with flash floods. By 11 May the drought order was lifted in 19 areas. As the newspaper said, it’s the wettest drought ever! And, as you will remember, sadly the rain carried on for all of 2012. 2013 found April cold, windy, and fairly dry. Not good growing conditions. Lettuce seedlings in the ground stayed small, and the blossom on fruit trees was not out.