Although the weather over the last six weeks hasn’t exactly been awful (we haven’t had any snow!), low temperatures have not exactly provided brilliant conditions for sowing direct out into the ground either. In previous years I have been able to sow the very earliest crops from about mid-March onwards but this spring it has paid to be patient and wait till mid-April.
However, it looks like things are finally on the turn and I have finally been able to spend a few days filling up some of the beds. Direct sowing into the ground involves putting out a string line across the bed where you want the seeds to grow, then drawing out a shallow drill (about 1.5cm / half an inch) deep using the corner of a hoe.
If the weather's dry I water the bottom of this drill using a watering can before very thinly sowing the seed into it and covering it over, not forgetting to label what I have just put in the ground. I have used this method for sowing my first carrots ‘Early Nantes 2’, beetroot ‘Red Ace’ and ‘Detroit Rubidus’ along with some quick-growing salad-type crops such as radish ‘French Breakfast’ and spring onion ‘Performer’.
I have also been able to plant out some of the seedlings I have raised in the glasshouse including Brussels sprout ‘Bedford Fillbasket’, calabrese ‘Fiesta’ and some cauliflowers. These small plants grow well in our heavy clay soil, always returning a fantastic crop, but they do need to be constantly netted to keep the pigeons off.
I’m lucky to have a custom-made metal frame that covers the whole brassica bed; this was knocked-up a few years back by Nigel who works in our turf and machinery department, and it works a treat.
As the growing season gets underway it is very easy to get over-enthusiastic and fill the whole plot up with seedlings straight away, but it pays to reign yourself in and remember the importance of sowing successionally. Doing this helps to spread out the time at which you will be harvesting crops and helps avoid gluts of produce that is impossible to use all at once. I like to fill the beds up gradually, sowing only half-rows at a time, then coming back in a fortnight’s time to sow the remaining half, which will spread out the harvest. This also helps me avoid the tedious task of having to thin out a whole bed of seedlings in one go!
One plant that I have been able to trick into growth, despite the cold spring, has been the strawberries. I grow a mixture of early, mid and late season strawberries; the earliest of which I cover in plastic cloches from early March onwards.
The warm conditions these provide ‘force’ the plants into rapid growth; some of the earliest varieties are just starting to flower now and should give a super-early crop, extending the picking season even further. The only drawback is having to remember to take the cloches off during the day so the bees can pollinate the flowers, before putting it back on at night.