A Very Demanding Month in the Garden
18th Apr 2002
There just isn't enough time during April is there to cope with all the demands that the garden throws at you from all quarters. Not only is the vegetable area time consuming and demanding, the lawns want cutting, the borders want weeding and hoeing as well as preparing for bedding out annuals and filling hanging baskets. However I wouldn"t have it any other way and though some items have to go on the back burner for a week or two I always somehow seem to manage.
The state of play with my vegetables for exhibition at the moment is that my large exhibition onions have been planted and now settling in well as are the once for the under 250 gram classes. However I do stress that the onions were planted in raised beds under the protection of polythene and the soil was at a minimum of 60°F.
My leeks will be planted up this weekend and they are looking quite well, there are no collars on them yet, I prefer to use the green plastic plant support clips to keep the flags tight together. This means using a two foot long split cane and tying one end of the clip to the cane whilst wrapping it around the flags about three inches above the button and clipping it back on the cane on the other side. This has the effect of darkening up the heart of the plant and when this occurs the plants natural instinct is to pull up in search of light. This way you can naturally pull the leek gradually whilst at the same time increasing it's girth and maintaining a strong green healthy barrel and lower foliage.
Runner Beans and French Beans
Runner beans are sown in pots and my own dwarf French will be sown ten weeks before the show date.
My first sowing of celery is now in 3 inch pots and from this point on will literally gallop away and will very soon be ready for a five inch pot. My final sowing, the one that I shall use hopefully for the National Championships at Malvern during late September was only sown a week ago so it hasn"t yet germinated.
My parsnips went in under my new glazed timber construction on the 11th of March and they were all through by the 30th, just under three weeks.
The fourth bed under the same construction was utilised for long carrots and 17 stations of my own re selected New Red Intermediate were sown on the 27th March. The larger batch were sown under smaller covers outside during the first week of April.
Short or Stump Ended Carrots
It is now time to consider sowing the first lot of short or stump ended carrots, particularly if you want them to develop a distinct stump end for shows in August. For the Malvern Championships I shall sow another batch towards the end of the month. One batch will be sown in my largest polytunnel in plastic drums that measure about two feet across and about the same in depth. These are filled with concreting sand and I can usually get six stations per drum.
Trying to use a steel bar to bore six holes in such a confined area is not easy, the barrels being short, have a tendency to move about as you form the conical hole with the bar so I have dispensed with that idea. What I do now is to use a four inch pipe and core out the sand down to a depth of 15 inches, the holes are then filled up with my prepared mixture. The mixture that I intend to use is the one that Graham Watson uses for his long carrots with superb results, it contains no soil whatsoever and is as follows : 18.2 litres (4 gals) Levington F2s professional range seed compost; (seed compost with added sand) and 85g (3oz) of finely sieved calcified seaweed. Although the seed compost is a 'Fine' grade it's amazing how many lumps there are in it so I will pass the whole mix finally through a 6mm (žin) sieve to make sure that the body of the carrot will be in no danger of having a small indent in it from any hard lumps in the mixture.
Fill the hole about an inch short of the rim, this will help later on when the carrot is developing it's tap root and in the process has the natural tendency to push itself out of the bore hole and exposing it's shoulders. Make a slight indent with you finger in the centre of the compost about half an inch deep and sow four or five seed per station. The weather can still be extremely variable in April and the last thing that carrot seed require is to be wet and cold, so place some panes of glass over the bed where they are sown and these will help to conserve warm moisture as well as giving you an increased chance of a strong even germination. Do make sure that you look closely at the glass every day after ten days or so and remove it immediately you see the first sign of germination.
Last year I went to the trouble of creating a lightweight wooden cover over two of my short carrot beds and this season I intend, time permitting, to extend this further to the remaining two other beds that I use for these short varieties. It is a very simple construction with wooden treated uprights pushed well down into the soil and then panels made from treated roofing battens on to which Enviromesh is stretched over and stapled down. The side panels are then screwed into position with just four screws per panel, the top ones are on a hinge so that they can be opened when required for watering and the occasional weeding.
The panels were all removed last September and stored away in a storage container that I now own, the uprights remain in the ground all year round and the whole construction can now be put together in less that half an hour. The benefits of using such a structure is enormous, there is no need for the regular use of insecticides onto the crop as the fleece prevents any insects from getting through it. It also has the very distinct advantage of giving the plants a regular consistent growing environment, regardless of how strong the winds are going to be the foliage of the crop remain upright and undamaged resulting in a far superior harvest later on.