The Vegetable Garden in April
The soil is warming now, even our claggy Oxfordshire clay so, having dug the garden and spread the muck, it’s time to get serious about sowing vegetable seeds for a succession of fresh, crisp vegetables in the coming months. Here are some guidelines about what to do in your vegetable garden in April.
Vegetables to plant out
Onions, shallots, potatoes.
Vegetables that can be started now, in the ground, from seed
Cabbages, Chinese leaf, Pak Choi and other Oriental greens, leeks, spinach, lettuce, chard, radishes, swedes, endive, spring onions, cauliflower, calabrese, kohl rabi, turnips, carrots, parsnips.
Vegetables to start now under cover
Courgettes, squashes, herbs, French and runner beans, sweet corn, celeriac, cucumbers, kale, endive, sprouting broccoli, celery.
Vegetables that can be started in a heated propagator
Tomatoes, chillies, sweet peppers, aubergines.
Turn the temperature up to 20-24C and they should germinate well. Tomatoes and aubergines are usually quite fast – 1-2 weeks – but chillies and peppers can take a surprisingly long time, so some patience is needed – don’t give up on them.
An easy way to create a straight drill/groove for sowing into is to lay a bamboo cane across the bed and press it into the soil, then remove it and make the drill a little deeper (about 3cm). If the ground is dry, water the groove first – the seeds will stick to the damp soil and will be less likely to blow away if it’s a windy day. Cover the seeds over and pat the soil firm over them.
Things to do
Feed the soil – the best time to add bulky organic matter (ie muck) to the soil is in autumn, but if you weren’t able to do that, then add compost now. If you have some really well rotted manure you can still add it but dig it in thoroughly.
Creating a ‘fine tilth’ – before you sow, dig the soil over really well to break down the lumps and rake out stones and any bits of woody plant material to create a crumb-like texture. Seeds sown into this soil will have the best chance of germinating.
Things to watch out for
Slugs and snails will be sliming their way towards your tender young seedlings – go out after dark with a torch and pick them off by hand (people might think you’re a bit strange, but they’re probably not the ones looking forward to lovely home-grown vegetables on the dinner table), use beer traps or nematodes, which can be bought from garden centres and watered into the soil. Encourage birds, hedgehogs and amphibians by putting out dishes of fresh water, which are a magnet for wildlife.
Four-legged pests – if your vegetable garden is open, consider putting up fencing to deter deer, rabbits and sweet-toothed badgers. Badgers adore ripe sweet corn and will travel to it. When they find it, they’ll lay waste to the whole crop.
Birds – pigeons are more of a problem in summer and autumn, when they will peck at cabbages, but blackbirds can cause a nuisance by pulling at the tops of onions and uprooting them. Keep a watch out for onions on the soil surface and replant them if you see them.
Insects – weevils can cause a lot of damage to beans and peas, especially young plants. Covering the plants with fleece will help them to outgrow the weevil. If you see them, pick them off and squish them, or give them to your hens.
Weeds – hoe regularly, especially on dry days, to keep them under control so they don’t compete with your vegetables for water, nutrients and light. Weeds like bitter cress and shepherd’s purse are hosts for club root, which affects cabbages and other members of the brassica family, so try to spot them and hoe them off.
Frost – expect a few night frosts for the next few weeks until the nights warm up. Horticultural fleece is the easiest option; potato foliage and tender young seedlings already in the ground can be covered if frost threatens. Old net curtains also work well. Cloches are useful but it’s risky to leave them on an open allotment and they also have a tendency to blow away.
RHS vegetable planner (pdf 66kb)