by Jez Taylor, Head of the Organic Market Garden at Daylesford
In the world of plants, very little growing happens below 8 *C. Before the beginning of April, most of our horticultural concerns are about getting a head start and preparing for the growing season ahead.
Get out in your garden on days when the soil isn’t soaking to dig over ground and remove perennial weed from growing areas/beds. Couch grass, creeping buttercup, dock and thistle are the likely offenders. Try not to stand on your growing ground too much, to minimise compaction. Dig in some compost or well-rotted farmyard manure to provide plant food during the growing season.
If you are growing in containers, refresh at least half the compost and remove any weeds. Bigger containers provide better growing opportunities as they are less likely to dry out.
To make the most of the growing season, here are my pick of the crops you can get started with, which can be planted out as soon as the temperatures increase.
Being one of the bigger vegetable seeds, broad beans germinate and grow quickly as the soil warms up, making it less prone to slug damage. However, mice and birds can take an interest, so if possible let them germinate in protected containers and just make sure to transplant them before their large brittle roots get too big. Root damage during transplanting can stunt the height of the crop.
The variety I recommend is Witkiem Manita.
Mange tout is one of the best value spring crops you can grow. Not only do you get easy-to-use edible pods for June/July, but from a March sowing you can be harvesting tasty peashoots through late April and May to add to salads. Watch out for mice and for tall varieties grow up 5 foot sticks from the hedge. I recommend varieties such as Sugar Sweet Dwarf Green and Sugar Anne.
Crops from the beet family such as chard, beetroot and spinach beet are also large seed and therefore quick to germinate, either from April sowings or transplants sown indoors in early March. The colourful, young leaves are harvestable from mid-May for salads, then you get leaves and roots that are great for cooking for another 9 months or so. My favourite variety is Pink Passion Chard.
Pot dahlia tubers into a 2-3 litre pot in early February and keep them in a frost free, unheated glasshouse/porch. They will start to sprout (like a potato) from early April, but you must hold off planting out until frosts have passed, normally 2nd week of May. My favourite variety is named Café au Lait.
Germinate sweet peas from early February on wet tissue in a food box or old baking tray in a warm place (around 20*C). When the shoot is 2-3cm long, pot on into a 9cm pot in a cooler location with plenty of sunlight and protection from mice. When the shoot is 10cm tall, take the tip out. Plant out in late April in containers or open ground – watch out for slugs!
Cornflower is another nice big seed which is quick to germinate. Start in a 9cm pot on a warm windowsill from mid February, then move to cool glasshouse to bulk up ready to plant out from late March. Cornflowers are frost-hardy and relatively ignored by slugs and rabbits.