What to do this April!

April is a busy time for most gardeners and allotmenteers! The sowing season is upon us and with Easter happening this month, there is also the tradition of planting out your chitted potatoes over the Easter Weekend!

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Chitted potatoes ready to be planted!

Sowing, Planting and Harvesting!

The sowing season is upon us and if your ground is not ready and prepared for your new sowings and plants then it really is time to get a move on!

Sowing:

  • Peas and Broad beans can be sown now. These will crop a little later than those that were sown in the Autumn or back in February. French beans (dwarf or climbing) can be started this month too but better off indoors as if sown outdoors you will have to watch out for those sneaky frosts!
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Peas can be sown now!
  • Root vegetables such as beetroot, parsnips, salsify, scorzonera, turnips and carrots can be sown this month. For successional crops of carrots and beetroot sow every three-four weeks.
  • Salads leaves such as land cress, chard, spinach and lettuces can be sown now ready for those delicious summer salads
  • Brassicas can be sown outdoors into a well-prepared seed bed or where they are to crop including early season calabrese, late cropping sprouts, kale, cauliflowers, and summer/winter cabbage. Sprouting broccoli should be started now too. It needs to be sown approximately a year before it is due to be harvested.
  • Leeks should be sown by the end of this month and spring onions can be sown successionally every two to three weeks to give you a continuous supply.

Planting:

  • If you have always wanted to have an asparagus bed, then now is the time to start one. Remember not to harvest in the first couple of years and only take a few in the third, after that you will have asparagus to enjoy year after year!
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Start an asparagus bed now!
  • Spring-planting onions and shallots can be planted out now.
  • Jerusalem artichokes can be planted out in April. They produce beautiful sunflower type flowers throughout the summer and earthy sweet tubers in the winter
  • Second early and maincrop potatoes can be planted out now. Traditionally, they are planted out on the Easter Saturday (which has now passed) but if you are a little behind, not to worry, they will soon catch up if you are a few weeks late.

April firmly sits in the hungry gap but that doesn’t mean you can’t have offerings in the garden.

Harvesting:

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  • If you already have an asparagus bed you can start harvesting from around St George’s day up until the Summer solstice.
  • If you are a lover of chicory, then this can be harvested now too.
  • Any remaining winter savoy cabbages, cauliflowers and leeks should be harvested this month to make way for new crops and Sprouting broccoli and spring cabbage is in full swing during the month of April
  • If you have planted hardy lettuces over the winter then you can harvest these for a delicious salad along with any new sowings or radishes, leef beet/chard, spinach and other salad leaves that may be ready now.
  • Rhubarb should be cropping well throughout April.

 

Jobs on the plot

April is busy, busy, busy what with all the sowing and planting but be sure to remember the other jobs that might need doing:

  • Hoe off any weeds that appear in your vegetable beds. The days are longer and the temperatures are warmer which means weeds will be growing quickly. Control weeds whilst they are still small and before they flower and set seed.
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Hoe off young weeds now before they have a chance to set seed!
  • Pests can often start to appear this month especially aphids. These pests should be controlled and removed in whatever way you see fit (chemical, biological or mechanical) before their numbers get too great.
  • Support your legumes! Build bean and pea frames to support your pea and bean sowings that you will make this month. Bean frames can be bought from many retailers or you can make your own from hazel sticks or bamboo canes.
  • Watch out for those frosts! Keep a close eye on the weather forecasts and if it looks like the temperature is going to plummet over night then bring tender plants in or protect them with fleece.
  • In the fruit garden, feed blueberries with a liquid feed or mulch with ericaceous compost to help get them off to a great start. Grape vines and kiwi fruit should also be fed and mulched with general garden compost or well-rotted manure. Keep an eye out for any fruit tree pests and deal with them quickly remembering not spray chemical controls on trees in blossom.
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Mulch blueberries with ericaceous compost!
  • Train and tie in blackberries against a fence or using a wire support system. Mulch thickly around blackberries and raspberries.
  • Clear out polytunnels and greenhouse to make sure there is room for new sow plants. Also make sure you are removing any dead or diseased foliage so that rots can’t spread.
  • If you have planted first early potatoes in a polytunnel or grow bags then make sure to earth up the foliage as it grows..
  • Thin out young seedlings to make sure that plants have room to grow and aren’t competing with one another for food and light.
  • You still have time to trim and tidy up any perennial herbs such as thyme, rosemary and sage.

Indoor jobs

  • If you have tomatoes growing indoors or in a greenhouse, don’t let them get pot bound. Make sure you transplant the tomatoes into a bigger pot ready for planting out in May.
  • If some of your seeds have been unsuccessful then take a trip to your local garden centre and buy some replacement plug plants.

 

April Recipe

Creamy Chicken with Asparagus and Tarragon (from BBC GoodFood)

chicken and asparagus

Ingredients:

  • 500g baby new potato, halved
  • 4 skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 350ml chicken stock
  • small bunch tarragon
  • 175g asparagus, trimmed
  • 3 tbsp reduced-fat crème fraîche

 

Cook the potatoes in a large pan of boiling water for 8-10 mins until tender, then drain and keep warm in the pan. Season the chicken with ground black pepper. Heat the oil in a large non-stick frying pan. Gently fry the chicken with the onion and garlic for 5 mins until both are lightly browned. Turn over the chicken once and stir the onion regularly.

Pour over the stock, add 2 sprigs of tarragon and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook for 5 mins, then turn the chicken, add the asparagus and cook for 3 mins more. Chop the remaining tarragon.

 

Stir the crème fraîche and tarragon into the pan with the chicken and heat through, stirring, for a few secs. Serve with the new potatoes

I hope you all have a good April and for those of you who will be celebrating the religious holidays, Happy Easter, Happy Passover or just Happy Holidays!

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Vegetable of the Month!

APRIL – ASPARAGUS

asparagus

April is here and for those of us lucky enough to have an  established asparagus patch, we will soon be harvesting those delicious spears. St George’s day (23rd April) marks the start of the harvesting season and we can cut away until the Summer Solstice (June 21st).

Asparagus is one of the staples of the ‘hungry gap’ and the end of the harvesting season for asparagus coincides nicely with the end of the hungry gap making way for all our lovely pickings of peas, beans and other veg.

Asparagus is a herbaceous perennial and plants are normally either male or female. We eat the stems and after June, the plant is allowed to grow on to produce feathery, fern-like foliage producing food and energy which will then be stored in the crown over winter ready for the following years’ season. The flowers are small and bell shaped and give way to small red berries which are extremely poisonous!

A short history! 

Cultivation and use of asparagus can be traced back to Ancient Egyptian times where it was used for medicinal purposes, offering it up to the Gods in their rituals! It was a staple for the Romans and the Greeks, eating it fresh when in season and drying it for use in Winter. Asparagus gained popularity in France and Britain from the 16th century and was thought to have aphrodisiac effects. King Louis XIV had special greenhouse built to grow it!

Why should we eat Asparagus?

Nutritional-Facts-Asparagus

Asparagus is essentially a powerhouse of nutrients, vitamins and minerals and on top of that, per 100g there is only 20 calories! It is a good source of dietary fibre and I am sure we are all aware why we need that! 35% of your RDA of vitamin K can be found in 100g of asparagus plus it is packed full of anti-oxidants!

Studies have shown that Asparagus can improve and protect your heart health due to it’s high levels of Vitamin K and B vitamins. Asparagus also has anti-carcinogenic properties and is also thought to lower risk of type 2 diabetes.

What better reasons could you have to dive into a dish of asparagus!

Unfortunately, one side effect of eating Asparagus can be that your urine starts to smell quite soon afterwards. However, this is just your body breaking down a sulphorous compound called Mercaptan. This smell doesn’t happen to everyone but even so don’t let that put you off this delicious vegetable!

How to grow Asparagus

Asparagus can be either grown directly from seed or can be purchased as 1 year old crowns. Either way you will have at least a couple years wait before you can harvest these lovely stalks!

If sowing from seed, the best time to sow is from April. Seeds can be sown directly into a well prepared bed or can be started off in pots. Seedlings may take up to three weeks to emerge. In a prepared bed, seedlings should gradually be thinned out until 18 inches apart.

If buying from crowns, crowns should be soaked in water prior to planting, and a trench 30cm wide, 20 cm deep. Make a ridge 5-10 cm high in the centre of the trench so the crowns can sit on top with their roots running downward. Space the crowns 30-45 cm (18 inches) apart and cover with about 7cm of soil and water well.

For the first year, you shouldn’t take any spears and just allow the plant to gather strenth. In year two you can take a few spears but don’t take too much otherwise you will weaken the plant. From year three you can start harvesting spears as they grow!

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One thing to look out for when growing Asparagus is the Asparagus beetle. Both adult and larvae eat the foliage of the plant eventually weakening the crown. Black eggs can be seen hanging from the feathery foliage and can be picked off the plant and destroyed along with the larvae and adults. Stems should be cut back in Autumn and destroyed and overwintering adults can hide in debris and soil so ensure your plot is kept tidy!

How to cook Asparagus

Asparagus tips are the tender part of the shoots and will be sold in some supermarkets as labelled. Larger asparagus spears will need to have the woody end cut off.

Asparagus can be boiled (2-3mins) or lightly steamed (4-5mins). My personal favourite is to brush the asparagus with a little olive oil, sprinkle with salt and then grill for 5 mins!

Asparagus can easily be added to quiches, sauces and pies or added to pasta as well as a succulent side dish to fish and chicken. Below are a few recipe ideas you can try!

Griddled Asparagus

griddled asparagus

Creamy chicken with Asparagus and Tarragon

tarragon chicken

Asparagus and cheese tart

asparagus tart