Gardening has been a saviour for many of us during these desperate and unprecedented times. Fortunately, mother nature has so far taken pity on us. During lockdown there has been been a lot of near-perfect spring gardening weather. This has been a real tonic when we needed it the most. And how well our allotments and gardens have responded!
Early in April, long sunny days finally dried out land saturated from the almost incessant winter rains. By the end of the month, nature had flicked a switch and the land became dry. The contrast couldn’t be greater or more welcome.
The blossom on apple trees has never looked better, backed by clear blue skies above it. The same can be said for cherries and many other fruit and ornamental trees.
My asparagus crowns have responded to the heat of spring in the most wonderful way. So far there has been a heavy spring crop of young, succulent spears. I’d forgotten how fast the spears can grow in good weather. It is no exaggeration to say I’ve been harvesting them almost daily after taking advice from the children! I look forward to enjoying this must-have spring delicacy, albeit at a gradually slower pace, until early June.
Purple broccoli joined the harvest party too. There has been a steady supply of tender shoots from the end of March from the packet of seeds ‘Purple Sprouting Continuity Mix’. I’ve just made a spring sowing which will give an early autumn crop to look forward to during September. The continuity range is a great initiative, providing two cropping windows instead of one.
Spring cabbage is ready now too, offering a far better taste than shop-bought specimens. There is also rhubarb aplenty, all of which is providing vital food at a time of greater need than normal.
It many ways it has been a strange early season so far and the text book has been well and truly thrown out of the window. The effects of this topsy-turvy climate we now live in have been profound.
There is a long season ahead but the effect on pests so far has been interesting. I’ve barely seen a slug or snail, though that situation is unlikely to last! On a less positive note, cabbage white butterflies were noticed here in the north as early as mid-April. The pea and been weevil has gone about its work as dependably as ever. Those tell-tale notches in the broad bean leaves appearing within a matter of days of planting out. Generally this damage can be ignored. The plants will recover, albeit with perhaps some stunting of growth of the smaller transplants. In fact some plants are in flower now, though the height of the plants is noticeably less than I’d expect due to the lack of moisture.
My strawberry plants are in a race to show how early they can flower. Several of my two year old plants were in flower as early as April 22nd. This is one of the earliest dates I can remember. I spent some time over winter removing the dead outer leaves from last year. This allows for an improved airflow near the crown of the plants and deters fungal diseases. It also improves their appearance tremendously.
Excitingly many early potato varieties are now starting to peek through the soil. These need protection from frost either by earthing up or by using frost protection fleece or a combination of both. If you’ve any remaining second early or maincrop tubers left over, these need to be planted as soon as possible.
In the greenhouse things are no less exciting. Young seedlings have romped away and keeping them cool and shaded has been the main challenge.
The task now is to begin the hardening off process. This gradually acclimatises the plants to outdoor conditions. Eventually we can leave them outside overnight provided there is no frost. If in any doubt with the weather, always err on the side of caution.
Ironically just as I’m finishing this blog it is starting to rain! More is needed. Let’s hope it comes in sensible moderation. We gardeners are never happy are we and clearly we are at our happiest when having a little moan!