Friday, 27 April 2018

Growing Your Own in April - Update from The 80 Minute Allotment

Grow your own April Update 80 Minute Allotment Green Fingered Blog
This is a busy time of year for gardeners. How do you grow your own fruit and veg if you have a busy lifestyle? 

I only get about 80 minutes a week on my allotment, so I try and keep things simple. Right now that's just enough time to be sowing, potting up, and planting out. But I'm harvesting fresh vegetables this week too.

Read on to see what you can do right now if you only have an hour or so a week to grow your own...




I've finally had some warm sunshine here in South Wales and it's given me the confidence to get more things growing, after starting slowly in March when there was no chance of doing anything outside due to two feet of snow lying on the ground.

A week or two of warmer weather means the ground has warmed up too. 

It's often said that if you sit your bare backside on the earth and it doesn't feel too cold, then it's OK to start sowing and planting. It's not my preferred method! 

I'd rather use my hands, but it's evident when conditions are good because the weeds will be growing. 

If it's warm enough for the weeds to be growing there's no reason why most of your crops shouldn't be able to.

This time of year, when it becomes possible to plant more things outside in the ground, is a busy one. I've got various crops at various stages of development, gradually progressing towards getting them in the ground.


I get an average of about 80 minutes a week to grow fruit and vegetables on my allotment. If you've also got limited time to grow your own, on an allotment, in a kitchen garden, or just a few containers, then come and visit me regularly on the 80 Minute Allotment. Click here to Subscribe by Email and you'll get regular updates on how I use my time in short sessions of one to two hours. I'll show you how growing your own can fit into a busy lifestyle and still produce regular harvests of fresh fruit and vegetables all year round. 

Here's what's going on at The 80 Minute Allotment as we near the end of April:

Growing your own in April - 80 Minute Allotment Update

Giving up on seeds that haven't germinated


I sowed a few batches of peas and broad beans, indoors, back in early March. The ones that germinated successfully have been hardened off and planted out already. But not all of them germinated.

This is nothing to worry about, so if not all your seeds start to grow, don't be put off. Sowing early in the year, it may have been too cold, or there may not have been enough light. Some were seeds left over from last year, so it is no surprise if germination rates are lower anyway.

The advantage of growing from seed is that they are cheap so you can so dozens, hundreds of some crops, and if a proportion of them grow, you will have enough.

It is strange how some germinate and some don't, given identical conditions, but that is the random element of nature. There are no guarantees.

Anyway, if you've sown seeds and nothing's happened, there comes a time to get rid of them. Give them a chance, but eventually, give up and sow some more.

Failed seeds Grow your own April Update 80 Minute Allotment Green Fingered Blog
No sign of life here - time to try a new batch

For example, I sowed these peas and broad beans on 11 March. The packet says germination should take between 10 and 18 days. After a month, I threw them away and started some more. 

Sowing seeds indoors


Although it's warmer outside, to get the best returns it pays to be a little cautious. So I've sown fresh batches, indoors, of peas and beans, to add to the earlier ones that are more advanced. I know roughly how many of each I want to end up with because I made a plan earlier in the year:


Related:  Allotment Planting Plan - a Step by Step guide 

Sowing in different batches also helps to slightly stagger your harvest times. 

Even though later sown crops will grow faster in better conditions, and will catch up a bit, the earlier indoor sowings should be ready earlier, with later ones following on, extending the time over which you can pick fresh vegetables.


There is now enough warmth and light to make it worth sowing french beans indoors in pots. 

I didn't sow these earlier because it needs to be warmer, and early sowings would be more difficult to keep healthy until they could go outside.



Broad bean seeds Grow your own April Update 80 Minute Allotment Green Fingered Blog
A fresh set of bean seeds in toilet roll tubes



GREEN FINGERS TIP: When sowing beans or peas in modules or cardboard tubes, make sure you don't accidentally leave any empty. Fill them all with compost, make a hole in each and drop a seed in each. But don't cover any of them over until you've sown a seed in every hole. By leaving them uncovered you will see when you've done this. If you cover them as you go along you can easily lose track and leave one or two without seeds! 


I've also sown some carrots in toilet roll tubes. These are vulnerable when transplanted so I only want to move them once, when it's warm enough for the seedlings to go straight into the ground on the allotment. Sowing in cardboard tubes means I won't actually have to disturb them at all. They can be planted still in the tubes, which will simply rot down over time.


I've sown some beetroot in a seed tray. These get a bit of a head start by sowing indoors, but most of my beetroot, carrots and parsnips will be sown direct in the ground in May.  


Sowing outdoors in containers


I haven't sown anything direct in the ground outside yet, but I have sown spring onions, beetroot and carrots in containers. I've also sown watercress in my guttering! This worked really well last year - check it out:

Related:Grow Your Own Watercress - On Your Fence! 


The spring onions came as a seed tape, which I haven't used before, so it will be interesting to see how it does.


It was certainly easy enough. I made a shallow drill by running my finger along in the compost, and laid the tape along the drill, having cut it to the right length to fit the container. I then covered it over with the compost and watered it.  



Spring onion seed tape Grow your own April Update 80 Minute Allotment Green Fingered Blog
Spring onion seed tape in a drill

I've also sown my main crop potatoes - three seed potatoes in a bag, covered with compost - that's it. Just the same way as for the early variety a couple of weeks ago:

Related: Planting potatoes in a bag (and other allotment jobs for April)



The good news is that those earlies have already produced some shoots above the compost, so they are doing great so far.


Potato shoots emerging Grow your own April Update 80 Minute Allotment Green Fingered Blog
Potato shoots emerging



GREEN FINGERS TIP: Don't forget to keep "earthing up" your potatoes. As the shoots grow, cover them up with more compost, bit by bit, until your bag is almost full in a few weeks time. After that, keep watering and let them flower. After flowering - dig them up!


Potting on seedlings


For me, tomatoes are a greenhouse, or indoor (as I don't have a greenhouse) crop. Any tomatoes grown outdoors will almost inevitably get blight at some stage, and will fail.


I planted some seeds in modules a few weeks ago, and ended up with seven seedlings of two varieties. This will be enough to fill my windowsills! 

They are "Gardener's Delight" (cordon variety) and "The Amateur" (bush variety).



Once they developed their true leaves (the ones that look distinctly tomatoey) I potted them up into larger pots to give them more room to develop, and more nutrition in the form of fresh compost.


 Tomato seedlings Grow your own April Update 80 Minute Allotment Green Fingered Blog
Tomato seedlings


You can also see here that I've planted the slightly leggy seedlings a bit deeper in their pots, to help them develop strong main stems and a good root system.


Tomatoes need plenty of warmth, light and water, so they tend to do better in the sunny corridor that leads to my garden, or on a south facing windowsill.


Hardening off seedlings


I've sown different batches of seeds at different times, and they all need some gentle preparation for life outside, however warm it might be now.

Once plants are a reasonable size in the pot in which they were sown, I move them to the coldframe on the patio.


This is closed at night but open all day, which protects everything in it from any frost but exposes them gently, in a sheltered position, to some of the wind and rain and variations in temperature outside.



After a week or two they will be resilient enough to withstand most typical conditions outside. That's when they can be planted out in their final position on the allotment.



Currently hardening off in my coldframe are pea, bean and carrot seedlings.


Seedlings in the coldframe Grow your own April Update 80 Minute Allotment Green Fingered Blog
Seedlings in the coldframe


Planting out seedlings


What's in the ground? Well so far I've planted out some dwarf broad beans, some climbing broad beans, and quite a few peas. More batches are germinating indoors or hardening off in the coldframe. They'll be planted out over the next few weeks, once they've had time to acclimatise.

Once things are in the ground they are vulnerable to anything nature might throw at them. 

The hardening off process will enable them to cope with the weather, but they are also at risk from birds and slugs and snails.

As conditions get warmer, but are still moist, this is not only good for the plants. It's also ideal conditions for slugs and snails, which will become increasingly prevalent at just the same time as we want to be planting things.

They especially go for young pea and bean plants. Once plants are bigger and more established, they are less appealing to these predators, and better able to withstand a bit of nibbling. 

I spread a few organic iron phosphate pellets around the edge of the plot. 

These kill slugs but are not harmful to frogs, toads or hedgehogs, which I'm hoping will do some of the control for me by eating more of the slugs. I don't want these useful garden predators to be killed, I want them to thrive so that maybe one day I wont have a problem with slugs at all. (Well you have to dream...)


GREEN FINGERS TIP: You need fewer slug pellets than you think. There's no point surrounding each plant with a ring of them. That will just attract slugs and snails to your plants. They tend to spend the daytime hiding under stones, or in crevices at the edge of beds or paths. Put pellets near these areas to attract and kill slugs and snails before they can get near your crops.  


Slug pellets Grow your own April Update 80 Minute Allotment Green Fingered Blog
Slug pellets (just a few) by the stone path

Birds will sometimes nibble at young plants too, or simply pull them out of the ground. To stop them, I put netting over anything I'm worried about, certainly onions. Once plants are established, they won't be so badly affected, and are more difficult to uproot, but I have a system where I can net any of the beds, using recycled wood as the supports:


Weeding


A little bit of hoeing or pulling out weeds every time I'm at the plot is enough to keep things under control. All my onions have now shown themselves above ground at last, and they don't do well if they get disturbed by hoeing, so I weed around them by hand.


GREEN FINGERS TIP: I try and dig up the whole plant of any weed with a hand fork - roots and all - to make them slower to return. Taking off only the top leaves with a hoe may allow them to regrow.





Onions shoots Grow your own April Update 80 Minute Allotment Green Fingered Blog
Onions shoots

Harvesting


We've nearly eaten all our curly kale now. They are all flowering, so need to be pulled up and used. They're really tasty when shredded into strips and stir fried with onions or leeks!

The purple sprouting broccoli is at it's peak now.

Purple sprouting broccoli ready to pick Grow your own April Update 80 Minute Allotment Green Fingered Blog
Purple sprouting broccoli ready to pick
It sells for £5 per kilo in our local supermarket. We must have had a kilo already and there are 5 more plants like this one producing edible stems all the time, with loads still to be picked. Not a bad return for the strip of seedlings that cost me £2! 

That plus the freshness and guaranteed absence of sprayed pesticides or chemical fertilisers is plenty of reason to grow your own!


I'll be back with more from The 80 Minute Allotment soon. Do come back if you want to keep up with how you can grow your own fresh fruit and veg in limited time. 

How is your plot right now? I hope things are going well - feel free to share any tips or problems using the comments below. Whether you have an allotment, kitchen garden or a few containers, I'd love to hear how you spend your time.

Paul



2 comments:

  1. I have many seeds that have not germinated yet Paul. I’m glad your advice is to wait as I was thinking the same. I’m so late to planting anything from seed this year. I’ve sown cosmos, bells of Ireland, tomatoes, sprouts and cucumber with some success. We shall see and pray from warmth! This cold weather is not helpful! Sophie x

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  2. One can only wait so long for seeds to start growing though. Have to start again but only after giving them a fair crack. Better to be sowing late this year I think, given the temperatures!

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