We’ve experienced extremes of weather with one of the coldest Aprils on record followed by record levels of rain in May. The cold April weather slowed plant growth and the rain conspired to keep us away from our plots and let the weeds proliferate, so most of are making progress a bit later than usual. But things will start to catch up as we move into summer.
It’s time to earth up your spuds – applying earth around the base of potato stems will reduce tubers’ exposure to frost as well as keeping them in the dark to stop them turning green.
Thin out direct-sown crops such as spinach, carrots and lettuce. Move leeks and brassicas to their final positions.
Keep an eye on your crops for early signs of pests or nutrient deficiency – e.g. if the veins of leaves on your tomato plants are green but the spaces between turn yellow this is a sign of magnesium deficiency. This can be caused by overstimulating growth by using fertilisers with high content of other nutrients.
Remember to ventilate your greenhouse on warm days, and consider using blinds or shades to avoid excessive temperatures, and damping down pathways to maintain moisture levels (and discourage mites). It’s time to protect plants from the heat.
Apply mulches around plants to reduce the amount of moisture escaping from the soil. Consider applying temporary screens where plants are exposed to directly sunlight for long periods of the day. If you are planting out new seedlings, these can get some protection from the sun if located where they benefit from shading from established nearby plants.
And there’s still time to fill any gaps on our plots with late season seeds. Salad crops – lettuce, endive, radish, mustard and cress - can be planted and harvested within a few short weeks but beware of ants, aphids and slugs/snails
Outdoors - Salad vegetables, beetroot, carrots, cucumbers, peas, pumpkins and squashes, fruiting plants (peppers, tomatoes, aubergines). Plant out sweetcorn, brassicas and courgette seedlings.
Pinch out growing tomatoes and broad beans.
Inspect plants regularly
Water and remove pests whenever necessary.
Thin out directly seeded beds. .
Chard, French beans, garlic and onions (if leaves are turning pale), early potatoes.
A well planned plot will have some well-developed brassicas as we head towards winter: various types of kale, cabbage, sprouts and broccoli. Give them a helping hand by:
Salad crops develop quickly, and there are a wide variety – sorrel, lettuce, endive, kale, radicchio and mustard leaves - to suit various conditions.
They can be grown in seed drills, broadcast over an area of ground or grown in containers. Either way, they offer a fresh and tasty alternative to bags of supermarket salads.
As salad crops can outgrow weeds, watering and pests are the main concerns for salad growers. Watering every two days may be necessary during long dry spells if salad crops are grown in compost rich beds (daily watering may be necessary if they are grown in small pots).
Slugs are the main pest, and can be treated with pellets, nematodes, or regular picking off. Ants and aphids can also be a problem – ants can be kept in check if the surrounding soil is kept moist. Aphids can be squashed by hand if they are not tackled by ladybirds or beetles.
Regular collect leaves when they are ready to harvest. If leaves start to sag after harvesting they can be recovered by soaking in cold water.
February is time to prepare seed potatoes for planting by ‘chitting’ them – storing them in such a way that they start to sprout before being planted in the ground.
The potatoes should be spread out over a single layer in a cool, dry place which is free from the risk of frost. Large, unused egg boxes are ideal for this, allowing air circulation between each seed potato.
Ideally the storage area should be bright but the seed potatoes should be out of direct sunlight. After a few days the potatoes will then grow short stubby shoots which will help the potato plants to grow when they are planted out to get them off to a fast start when planted out. St Patrick’s Day is the traditional day of the year to plant potatoes.
There is some evidence that you can grow larger potatoes by breaking off the weaker shoots just before planting, leaving only the three or four stronger shoots to grow.