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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What to do this January!

January is a time when we all look at our gardens, allotments or veg plots with fresh new eyes! It is likely to be very chilly outside but there we still be some of us outside finishing our winter jobs and if we are lucky enough to have finished all our winter jobs then we will be tucked up inside reading through the seed catalogues and planning for the year ahead!

Sowing, Planting and Harvesting!

If you are already thinking about sowing seeds this month then there are a few things you can start to get underway:

  • Chilli peppers, aubergines and greenhouse tomatoes can be started towards the end of this month to give a long growing season.
  • Microgreens and sprouting seeds can be started anytime to add that lovely crunch and zing to winter salads
  • Onions can be started from seed this month, whether they are exhibition onions or not.
  • Salad leaves can be started for growing on the windowsill or under cover if you are looking for that salad hit after a heavy festive period!
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You can start sprouting seeds at this time of year to add that extra crunch to salads.

Now is the time to think about your fruit garden and replenishing, replacing or extending your stock.

  • Plant bare rooted fruit trees and bushes now whilst it is still cold before the leaf and flower buds open in the spring.
  • Bare rooted strawberry runners and raspberry canes can be ordered and planted now.
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Plant your bare rooted strawberries!
  • Dormant rhubarb crowns can be planted now or old ones can be lifted and divided to keep them productive.
  • If you didn’t get a chance to do it in the autumn, you can still plant garlic cloves if conditions are dry. Garlic needs the cold conditions of winter to form cloves. Don’t plant cloves when it is wet otherwise they will rot in the ground.
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Garlic still has time to be planted if it is dry

There can also be plenty to harvest this time of year if you have planned accordingly:

  • Brussels sprouts will still be cropping depending on variety. These delicious little buttons aren’t just for Christmas!
  • Winter cabbages and cauliflowers can be harvested now.
  • If you are a lover of chicory, then this can be harvested now too.
  • Jerusalem artichokes can be lifted now although remember to get all the tubers out of the ground otherwise they will come back next year.
  • Kale, winter cabbages and winter cauliflowers are all ready to be harvested in these winter months
  • Leeks are a staple in January, with plenty of Potato and Leek soup (recipe below) being made during these cold days.
  • Parsnips are ready to be harvested with the cold frosts making these root vegetables even sweeter. They can be stored in the ground until needed but beware of frozen soil!
  • If you have success with swede then they can also be harvested this month (mine were decimated by pigeons)
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There are still things to harvest!

Jobs on the plot

It is good to make sure that the plot is ready for the spring when sowing and weeding will start in earnest. These next couple of months are the best time to try and get a head of the game by performing some routine tasks:

  • In the fruit garden, consider applying oil-based winter washes to trees and bushes to kill off over-wintering aphid eggs and make sure apples, pears, currants, gooseberries, autumn raspberries and blueberries are given a good prune to encourage new shoots and keep their shape.

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  • Try not to let compost heaps become to cold. Turn the compost pile to encourage further decomposition and clad the pile with layers of cardboard or cover with carpet or polythene.
  • Make sure you move any vegetables, fruits and herbs in clay pots to a frost free place in the garden or cover with bubble wrap to stop the pots getting frost damage and breaking!
  • Practice good hygiene and rinse out any pots and trays you plan to use prior to the sowing season. It is also worthwhile to sort and tidy your shed and sharpen your tools ready for the new season!
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Tools should be cleaned, sharpened and oiled to prevent rust!
  • Whilst having a tidy up, cleaning down any greenhouse glass and polythene sheeting on polytunnels to ensure maximum light levels can reach your plants. Insulate your greenhouse and polytunnel if very cold conditions are forecast.
  • Make sure that all guttering is clear of leaves and debris so you can efficiently save water. Install more water butts if possibly to make the most of the winter rains.
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Install water butts and make sure guttering is clear!
  • Protect plants from pesky pigeons who will be on the look out for a brassica feast. Make sure that cabbages, cauliflowers, sprouts, broccoli and kale are covered with netting stretched tight to prevent them from being eaten.
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If you don’t protect your brassicas from pigeons, they can strip the leaves off the plant like my brussels sprouts!
  • Don’t forget to do any winter digging on dry warmer days. Don’t work the soil when it is wet as you will ruin the structure of the soil. Turn over the soil with a fork and leave the big clumps on the soil for the frost and the worms to break down. Or you can work some well-rotted manure into the soil ready for planting later in the year.

Indoor jobs

It is often so cold in January that even the best intentions get put aside in favour of a nice hot cup of tea and some biscuits (I like a chocolate hobnob or two)!

  • Now is the time to sort through seed tins and discard any old and out of date packets of seed. Make a list of what plants you want to grow this year and search through the seed catalogues to find the best varieties for you. Remember that you can make use of any extra, in date seed packets you no longer want at any of the seed swaps that happen around the country. Who knows what you may find in return.
  • As well as seed swaps, potato days are also being held around the country this month and into February. This is a brilliant opportunity to go any look at a wide variety of potatoes, more varieties than you can find in a seed catalogue! There will also be opportunities to meet other like minded people and join your local National Vegetable Society or allotment association at these events.
  • If you buy any potatoes remember to save your egg cartons so you can start chitting potatoes. Pop the potatoes in the egg cartons with the eyes facing up and place in a cool, light location such as a windowsill. You will soon see little shoots sprouting from the tuber. Also remember to save your empty toilet roll tubes for sowing seeds in. These are great, free biodegradable pots which are perfect for starting off peas, sweetcorn and beans in.
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Use egg cartons to chit your potatoes!
  • Make a detailed plan of your plot and plan where plants are going to grow making sure you consider crop rotation where possible to stop the build up of pests and diseases.
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Plan where your crops are going to go next year!

 

January Recipe

Potato and Leek Soup

Ingredients:

  • 2 large leeks, sliced
  • 50g butter
  • 50g flour
  • 200ml milk
  • 1 litre vegetable stock
  • 500g potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • salt and pepper to season
  1. Add the butter to a large pan and heat until melted. Add the sliced leeks to the pan and cook for 3 minutes in the butter until slightly softened.
  2. Add the flour to the pan and mix together so the flour combines with the butter to form a type of roux. Stirring continuously, cook the roux for 2 minutes.
  3. Slowly start adding the milk to the pan, stirring continuously until the mixture thickens. Add the vegetable stock and potatoes and bring to the boil.
  4. Once the soup is starting to boil, remove any scum that has formed and then turn the heat down to a simmer and partially cover. Stir occasionally until the potatoes are cooked through and the soup has thickened slightly. Serve hot with warm crusty bread.

Hope you have a happy and productive January! I know I’ll be working away down the allotment. At least I have got my little kettle and gas hob to keep me warm with cups of tea!

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Oh and the biscuit tin!