25 April 2017

What to do in the veg garden in April

There is lots to do in the vegetable garden in April and relatively little to harvest. But by putting the work in now you should be able to reap the rewards later in the year. April is an exciting month to be outside as the whole garden springs into life. Fruit trees put on amazing displays of blossom. Wild garlic pushes its pungent leaves through the soil. Seedlings emerge and put on rapid growth. Weeds, too, can appear everywhere. And if you don't watch out, slugs and snails can munch their way through rows of seedlings.


Harvesting in April

Although there is not much to harvest in April there are a few gems in season. By far the most productive plant that can be harvested in spring is purple sprouting broccoli. I grow four or five plants each year, and in April pick masses of the tasty purple spears. The other highlight of April is asparagus, the first of which can be harvested towards the end of the month. The flavour of freshly picked-home grown asparagus is far superior to anything you will find in the shops. If you have globe artichoke plants in a sheltered spot, you might get your first artichokes in April. Overwintered chard, puntarelle and salad leaves can also be harvested. Perennial herbs such as chives, frond fennel and mint can often be harvested in small amounts in April. Early sowings of radishes can be ready for picking by mid to late April.

Globe artichoke

Sowing in April

Plenty of seeds can be sown in April, and will do well in classic April weather with plenty of sun and rain. A whole host of salads and leaf crops, such as lettuces, spinach, mustards, agretto, corn salad and radishes, can be sown now outside. Lettuce seeds don't like it too hot, and will germinate much better in spring than when sown in summer. Root vegetables such as beetroot, carrots, turnips and parsnips can also be sown. I sow most of these directly in the ground, which encourages good root growth and saves the hassle of transplanting them later on. I often cover early sowings with a cloche, which encourages quicker growth and gives seedlings some protection from frosts and cold winds.

Brassicas includes a wide range of vegetables, including cabbages, kale, kohl rabi, purple sprouting broccoli, cime di rapa, cauliflowers and Brussels sprouts. Nearly all of these can be sown in April. Many brassicas are large plants which occupy space in the veg plot for a long period of time. To maximise use of space in the garden, I sow most brassicas in seed trays and plant them out later on - filling in spaces freed up in mid-summer as I harvest onions, garlic and early-sown salad crops.

Broad beans and peas can both be sown in April. Mange tout is worth considering, as it has a relatively short sowing to harvest period. A row of mange tout sown in early April will be ready for harvest in June, ahead of many other summer crops. They also do well in a large pot if you are short of space. Peas can also be sown densely and harvested early as pea shoots. Runner beans, borlotti beans and French beans are not hardy enough to be sown outside in April. If you have a greenhouse or a large enough windowsill you can plant some inside in modules in mid to late April and plant them out in late May.

Courgettes, squashes and cucumbers are also too tender to be sown outside in April. Again, it is well worth sowing them inside in April and planting them out in May. If you get your timings right, you could be picking your first courgettes in late June.

If you made early sowings in March of crops such as beetroots, turnips, radishes and salad leaves, you might find that germination has been a bit patchy. This is not a problem - simply re-sow in the gaps. The April-sown seeds will grow rapidly, and with many crops will almost catch up with their older siblings.

Seedlings have tiny root systems, and should be watered regularly. Especially with direct sown seeds, it is easy to under-estimate how quickly the surface of the soil will dry out in sunny weather.  We use a soaker hose in the veg plot which cuts down time spent watering.

Potting on in April

Plants such as tomatoes, tomatilloes, peppers and celeriac sown in February and March in seeds trays inside will all need potting on. If like me you keep your seedlings on windowsills, things can get tricky by April as you struggle to find space for them inside. Resist the temptation to put them outside except in the most clement of conditions. The growth of tomatoes and chillies can easily be checked by exposure to cold weather. Opening a window during the daytime will start to get the young plants used to outside weather, and the gentle breezes that come through the window will strengthen the plants.

Looking after autumn-sown plants

Plants sown in autumn, such as broad beans, peas, onions and garlic will put on rapid growth in April as the days lengthen and temperatures rise. All will benefit from being weeded and watered during dry spells. Broad beans can grow fairly tall, and should be tied in to bamboo canes, particularly if your vegetable garden is exposed to strong winds. Peas enjoy twiggy sticks or netting to grow up.

Broad beans


Slugs and snails become more active in April, and pose a particular threat to young plants. I find a multi-pronged approach is needed to keep them in check. Often direct action is the most effective. Try to find 5-10 minutes a day to wander round the garden collecting and dispatching slugs and snails (a sharp knife is an efficient and humane method). Ideally this should be done early in the morning or in the evening when they are more active. You will start to learn where they like to hang out, and can target these areas. If you are feeling brave you can cook and eat the large snails (they need purging first, which is a rather messy and smelly business). Nematodes are pretty effective against slugs, though not snails. These micro-organisms live in the soil, and will attack and kill slugs. Barriers can be placed around young plants to discourage slugs and snails. I find wool pellets best. They are fairly rain resistant, and once they have done their job break down into the soil. Jerusalem artichoke shoots seem to be a particular delicacy to slugs, so put wool pellets around these as soon as they emerge.

Aphids can start to be a problem in April. Broad beans and frond fennel seem particularly prone to aphid attack. Isolated infestations can simply be pinched out. Otherwise, there are some organic products which are fairly effective if used early.

Attracting bees

We have all read about the recent decline in bee numbers. I try to do my bit to provide food for bees in the garden, especially early in the year when there are fewer flowers around. Broad bean and pea flowers are a good source of nectar in April, as is the blossom on fruit trees. If I have space, I let my overwintered kale run to flower in April. Bees seem particularly keen on brassica flowers.

Kale flowers

Happy gardening!

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