Top tips for your garden and allotment this month during the lockdown.
With much of the nation in lockdown, Allotments and horticulture in general offers a wonderful antidote for this unprecedented and very worrying global situation.
With many of us currently having more enforced time at home, gardening gives us a much-needed distraction and focus. Provided the social distancing rules are adhered to, the benefits to physical and mental health are second to none.
As it happens, April and May are the busiest months of the year in the greenhouse and on the allotment. They are perhaps the most pivotal months in the grow-your own-calendar. A good start now can go a long way to achieving early successes in summer.
Seed sowing is in full swing and space in my greenhouse is becoming increasingly at a premium.
Half hardy vegetables, french beans, sweet corn, pumpkin and squash can all be sown now under glass. Please do be careful not to overwater the seeds. Over the years I’ve learned the hard way not to keep them too damp especially if the temperature is on the low side.
April can often bring settled weather. Accordingly I increase my visits to the allotment to two- three times per week now. The main focus is on preparing the ground for direct seed sowing and planting.
Another key task is planting our potatoes, ground conditions permitting. Keep an eye out for frost as the shoots start to emerge. My preferred way of protecting the young plants is by covering them with horticultural fleece.
Asparagus crowns that have lain dormant over the winter, should now be bursting into life! Keep an eye our for slugs as they can devour the tips of the succulent young spears overnight. Asparagus has to be my favourite spring crop. The flavour of young freshly harvested spears after being lightly steamed has no equal.
By mid-month, an early sowing of Beetroot ‘boltardy’ can be made outdoors on a prepared seed bed. Cover the seeds with cloches, a mini tunnel or horticultural fleece to protect them from the worst of the weather. It is a similar story with parsnips and carrots.
Early sowings of carrot ‘Early Nantes’ can be made directly now. To offer protection against carrot fly, use enviromesh or micro mesh to create a 3ft high barrier around the plants. The pest can’t fly higher than 2.5ft so the mesh offers effective protection. Parsnips, parsley, celery and celeriac can attract carrot fly too.
Broad beans can be sown directly on the plot too. Sow in seed drills, in double rows around 30cms apart. Place the seed 20cms apart to stop the plants becoming too leggy and falling over.
It is nice to grow some flowers for cutting or simply admiring on the allotment. They attract pollinators and allies, and provide a bit of glamour!
Lilies have striking blooms and can either be grown in the soil or in a container in the greenhouse. Now is the time to plant these bulbs and another favourite of mine, gladioli.
At this time of year I spend some time preparing a runner bean trench. The trench can be dug out to a depth of just over 2ft (60cms) with a width of around the same. Fill the trench with garden compost, spent multi-purpose compost, leaf mould and well rotted plant material. I also like to add a balanced organic chicken manure fertiliser such as 6X. Finally cover the trench with good quality top soil and leave it to settle until late May. While you’re at it, its a good idea to make a frame too. If you are not growing runner beans from seed they can be purchased as plug plants.
We are approaching the so called ‘hungry gap’ as most of our winter crops are now finished. However, purple broccoli is in full cry now, along with rhubarb and the soon to be ready asparagus. Not far behind are the spring cabbages that we planted out late last summer.
Finally, for something a little different why not grow your own cardamom plant? It is possible to grow this excellent and fragrant plant as a houseplant on a shady windowsill. The leaves are edible and make a fine cinnamon flavoured spice for curries. The plant will also release a wonderfully sweet fragrance into the room when you brush against it!