Gardening Blog: April – A Mixed Bag of Weather and Cultivating Kindness

 

Only a few days into April and we’ve already had record-breaking highs and freezing north-east winds.  There’s a good reason that experienced gardeners tell us not to sow outside too soon!

Just a few of the things we can sow in April (as long as it’s not too cold!)

Inside                                                                                       

Aubergines, sprouting broccoli, kale, tomatoes

Outside but under cover

Beetroot, lettuces, rocket, salad leaves

Outside

Broad beans, carrots, parsnips, peas

On the allotment

Down on the Greencroft Allotment, Dave has been adjusting his plans to suit the weather.  “At the time of the last blog, I was hoping to sow parsnips, carrots and leeks outside and to plant my (chitted) early potatoes and onion sets.  But it has been too cold.  I’ll sow and plant them when the weather warms up.  And that will be fine.”

Many of us have problems with carrot and parsnip germination.  Dave struggles too. “There are often big gaps in my carrot rows but I just re-sow.  Parsnips take longer to germinate.  This means that it’s getting late to re-sow by the time I know where the gaps are.”

This year, Dave’s experimenting – starting parsnips off at home – not easy, as they don’t like being transplanted.  “I’m sowing 2-3 seeds in empty cardboard loo roll tubes.  I’ll put the tubes on a flat tray and tie them together to stop them falling over.  The plan is to thin each tube to one seedling and then to plant them out – the cardboard tube will break down in the soil.”

I’ll be watching Dave’s trial with interest.  I’ve already sown a couple of rows on my plot with radishes to mark where I put them.  I suspect there will be more gaps than plants.

Like many of us, Andrew, another allotment neighbour has noticed that peas and broad beans are germinating very slowly in the cold weather.  His have just appeared, 5 weeks after sowing. After the new moon on 12th April (and presumably if the weather has warmed up), he’ll sow carrots, beetroot, parsnips, leeks and zinnias.

Planting by the moon

I like the idea of planting by the moon and try to stick to it whenever I can.  If you are interested to learn more, Charles Dowding has some info on his website. If you prefer to read a book, you could try Gardening and Planting By the Moon – Nick Kollerstrom. https://charlesdowding.co.uk/moon-sowing/

Flowers

On the flower front, Andrew has planted out his sweet peas. I’ve sown some cosmos and nicotiana.  Andrew says that his dahlia tubers are in soil in the greenhouse and will be planted out towards the end of May to avoid late frosts.  I’ve started to really love dahlias but I’ve never grown them.  If I can source some good tubers, perhaps 2021 will be the year.

Growing food in the garden

For the last couple of months we’ve been following the progress of Jean, who grows her family’s vegetables in her small Henley garden.  Jean’s April is off to a good start.  Not only are the tomatoes, water melons, luffas and aubergines she sowed a month or so ago ready for pricking out and potting on, she’s also received a surprise parcel!

Quite out of the blue, one of her Instagram followers sent her masses of seeds.  The generous follower had been inspired to share seeds she’d saved after hearing the story of Esiah Levy.  You can hear about Esiah’s inspiring seed saving and sharing here.  https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m0007b4c

In the seed parcel, Jean found some varieties she hadn’t tried before. She explains,  “I’m looking forward to sowing Achocha, which I’d never heard of – it’s a vigorous climber and can be used like cucumber, raw in salads, or cooked …..incredible.  Oca – which is grown in much the same way as potatoes.  Red Orach – part of the amaranth family.  It’s a red spinach-like plant which can be used as salad leaves when young or steamed when more mature.”

As Jean points out, sharing is a big part of allotment life.  One of my own (possibly fanciful) hopes is that, as more of us experiment with growing food, we’ll become like the best of allotmenteers – full of kindness, sharing seeds, plants and harvests.  Just imagine what a difference that could make!

If you are on Instagram you can follow Jean’s progress with her new seeds. https://www.instagram.com/littlewhitefeathers1/

No Mow May

Anyone who eats (obviously all of us) should be concerned to hear that pollinators are in serious decline.  For the month of May, Greener Henley is asking us not to mow our lawns.  There’s a very good reason.  A 2019 Plantlife study found over 200 species of wild flower in the ‘no mow’ lawns they monitored.  They calculated that the flowers on those unmown lawns could support the equivalent of 60,000 bee hives of pollinators.

I’m very happy to join in.  Long months of post-covid weariness last year meant that I mowed my grass very little.  I was rewarded with pretty patches of self-heal and daisies.  The bees seemed to appreciate them too.  Apparently, if we want to do even more to help, we can try the ‘mohican’ grass cut and continue it all through the summer.  Mow one area every month to 2-3 inches and let another strip grow long.  This gives the best balance in flower diversity and density.  I’m thinking of creative ways to experiment with this in my small garden.  Perhaps a snake-like shape of long grass through the middle of the lawn?

If you’d like to find out more about encouraging wildlife to your garden, look out for broadcasts, articles and books by Dave Goulson.  His book, The Garden Jungle (or Gardening to Save the Planet) is fascinating and very helpful.

Swifts

Did you know that more than half the UK’s swift population has vanished in the last 20 years?  To help Henley’s swifts, Greener Henley has formed a Swift Support Group and plans to put up six semi-detached nest boxes before the swift ‘season’ starts.

Birds should start arriving towards the end of this month.  Greener Henley would love to know where they are, so please keep a look out and let us know.  If you are handy with a drill and have a good head for heights you could be doubly helpful! Look forward to hearing from you. swiftshenley@gmail.com

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