Growers' Yearbook - April
The weather is hotting up and the vegetable garden is now a busy place, getting plants into the ground and trying to keep the weeds at bay. This is the time when plants go mad if you don’t keep them in check now your vegetables will be a sorry lot. To be honest, everything is determined by the weather, if the ground is too wet you can’t work it, if it’s too cold seeds won’t germinate. Growing is all about providing the right conditions for the plants, it would be lovely if vegetables grew as well as weeds but the fact is that they’ve been selectively bred over centuries to have big and tasty fruit at the cost of making them more tender or more susceptible to pests and disease. It’s our task as gardeners to give them the best shot possible.
This year I’m experimenting with a traditional native American method of companion planting called The Three Sisters, basically planting sweet corn, beans and squash in the same place. The theory being that the sweet corn acts as a stake for the beans, the beans fix the nitrogen for the sweet corn and the squash smother out all the weeds at ground level. One problem is how to harvest beans and peas when the ground is smothered in squash plants. The native Americans wouldn’t eat sweetcorn fresh like we do, they would wait until autumn to harvest it once it was hard and had turned to maze. The same goes for the squash and beans they’d all be harvested when the plants had started to dry out. I’m going to only harvest what i can reach from my paths (for fresh consumption) and leave the rest to ripen fully (until hard) for re-hydration over winter. Sweetcorn is wind pollinated so to be successful you need to plant in blocks of about 3 meters (10 feet) square as a minimum. I’ll talk more about spacings and when to plant what next month.
What to do
It’s a good idea to get a bed ready and stakes fixed for your runner beans.
If you’re trying The Three Sisters prepare the bed. You’ll need a bed 3m by 3m or in a long strip 3m wide.
Prune peach trees.
Mulch your blackberries, loganberries, raspberries, figs and plums with a good amount of muck or compost if you have it.
What to plant
Squash and pumpkin I plant mine now under upturned jam jars or old plastic bottles with the tops cut off. I sow clusters of 3 seeds with 6 feet (1.8m) between each cluster.
French beans can be sown now if your ground is warm. Sow in double rows 2 inches (5cm) deep, 6 inches (15cm) apart in a staggered pattern.
Courgette grow in the same sort of fashion as squashes.
Beetroot likes a fine seed bed and doesn’t like a freshly manured patch. Sow them in rows 1 foot (30cm) apart and 1 inch (2cm) deep. They should be sown very thinly at just one seed every 6 inches (15cm) as each seed actually contains multiple seeds and you’ll probably still need to thin out later.
Broccoli can be planted in the seed bed or in trays now. You can plant a few batches a couple of weeks apart. Like all brassicas they like lime in the soil. You should transplant them when they are a few inches tall.
Asparagus is a perennial so will be in its position for many years. You need to plant on a good patch of soil that’s completely weed free because it’s difficult to weed once the asparagus has established. You want to beg, steal or buy some three year old plants – they look like big old spiders. Stick them in the ground 18 inches (45cm) apart and cover with a few inches of soil. Make sure they don’t dry out and don’t harvest them in the first year. They need to put their energy into producing a good root system that will provide you fresh asparagus for years to come.
Radishes grow just about anywhere. If you like them sow a little patch every week or so for the whole summer. They take about 6 weeks to mature. Although they are brassicas you don’t have to worry about them perpetuating club root as, being in the ground for such a short time, they don’t suffer from it.
Carrots like a fine seed bed and if the soil is too rich they are likely to fork. Sow them shallow when the soil is dry and warm as thinly as you can in rows 12 inches (30cm) apart.
Turnips and swedes are a great fodder crop for your animals if you’re not in a drought area. If you get 35 inches (90cm) of rain a year or more then you’ll want to put them on top of ridges to aid drainage. You can sow them now or any time until August. Sow the seeds shallowly in rows 9 inches (25cm) apart.
Potatoes are a marvelous crop and one of the best sources of carbohydrate a self-sufficient grower can have for the winter. They are also rich in vitamin C which can be hard to find in the winter time. If you grow too many you can boil them up for the pigs. Potatoes like well mucked land and don’t let the leaves get frosted off they’ll have to start all over again. Plant them 18 inches (45cm) apart in both directions about 5 inches (13cm) deep. As soon as leaves appear start to earth them up.
What to harvest
Well there’s pretty much nothing in the garden to harvest right now, you might have some cabbages left. If all else fails you could go and forage some wild greens but hopefully you’ve not eaten all your winter stores yet.
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