April on the English Allotment

So here we are April already. April is normally a very busy month in the vegetable grower’s garden and this one will not be much different. March here broke all weather records with long warm, dry days and unusually warm nights. Because of that I think I am possibly as much as two weeks ahead of where I was this time last year.

Nothing lasts forever especially with English weather and we are back to typical April with heavy showers, the occasional thunderstorm and some sharp overnight frosts. If I am not extremely careful the two weeks I’ve gained on the garden will be destroyed in one bad frost and it will be a case of starting all over again. All of my potatoes are in, a first early type to produce new potatoes to go with the glut of summer salad and a maincrop to hopefully store and provide a few meals through the winter. Thankfully with the turn in the weather they have not yet produced shoots above the ground and as they do I will cover them with earth or perhaps a piece of protective fleece. It will be mid May before this part of the World can be said to have seen its last frost until the autumn.

Parsnip and carrot seeds are also in but have yet to appear. Parsnips are in the ground for a very long time and have a notoriously lengthy germination time. A little tip for this is to very thinly sow radish seed along the row as you sow the parsnips. The radishes sprout very early and will be ready for eating by the time the parsnip seedlings appear. Not only do they produce another vegetable for the table but as they germinate so quickly they provide a marker as to exactly where the rows of parsnips are and allow me to get to work with the hoe without the risk of hoeing them off. The radish seed works with any seed not just parsnip I have even used it to mark flower seeds before now. As the weather had been so warm I have even put in a row of early beetroot. They are my Wife’s favourite when picked small about the size of a golf ball and boiled until soft. I usually sow a half row every three weeks through the summer to try and keep up with demand but I will see how these fair before sowing anymore just yet.

One plant that needs no protection except from the very harshest of weather and the abundance of marauding pigeons is the shallot. I put them in the same time as the potatoes and they are away already. I always enjoy it once they have sprouted and started to divide into their small bulbs. It’s a good indicator that things are starting to move in the vegetable growing calendar and there is something very therapeutic about hoeing between the rows. It’s not an arduous task, I do a row then lean on the hoe and watch the world go by for a while before doing a bit more. The green tips just poking through are usually one of the first things to appear in the garden and are a magnet for pigeons. They don’t eat them just pull them out the ground and leave them on the surface. In all fairness pushed back into light soil they come to no harm it is just so annoying to have to continually do it. Any green vegetable such as cabbages or broccoli has to be netted or it is stripped back to the stalk by these birds. In previous years when there were far less people on the Allotments I used to shoot them early in the morning. They weren’t wasted as they make exceptional eating. The English woodpigeon is far different from the pigeon that lives in Trafalgar Square (and I’m guessing Times Square).

Broad beans also need little protection except from the weather and surprisingly the pigeons don’t touch them either. Mine have been in for three weeks now and despite the weather change are growing well with the first sign of flower buds on them. Blackfly are the main pest as the fly and its larvae infest the plant reducing its bean producing ability. This is easily controlled by pinching out the plant tip when it reaches full height. Traditionally eaten with fat bacon and eggs you can’t beat broad beans with a good old English fried breakfast.

Shallots and Broad Beans with the earthed up Potato bed to the rear

April also sees me in the greenhouse potting seed for the coming warmer months. All my cabbage seeds have germinated as well as the Brussels sprouts and broccoli. They will hopefully be turning in once all the lettuce and other summer/salad produce is past its best. Some on our patch have already potted their runner beans ready to bring on and go out the end of May but I always leave mine a little late preferring to do them the end of the month when all the cabbage plants are outside hardening off prior to planting. I enjoy eating runner beans with my roast dinner but I much prefer the dwarf French bean. These I do plant early and put out under a cloche to get as good and as long a crop as possible. Top and tailed they freeze beautifully and last well into the winter whereas runners tend to break up in the freezer. Later I shall grow a few courgette and squash plants. Grown on in the greenhouse, hardened off and planted in well manured soil they produce a viable crop even in the variable British summer. Peppers are a different matter rarely have I produced a reasonable crop apart from under glass. Last year I grew aubergines and they were a great success though took a little bit of pampering but not enough to put me off growing them again this year.

So the rest of the month will be keeping what I have already got in clear of weeds and well watered and preparing the beds ready to plant out the greens and the French beans under glass. My hens are enjoying the longer days and are laying well even if they resent the heavy showers and cold northerly breeze.

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