April VI: the garden at the end of April

April 2017 in NW London has been very dry, pretty sunny and with very variable temperatures (max. maximum 22C, min. maximum 9C, max. minimum 12C, min. minimum 1-2C). With many young plants set out, watering has been necessary, although with most crops I have kept it to the minimum possible.

Apart from the warm spell early in the month, I have kept fleece on my cabbage, spinach, beetroot and turnip bed throughout the month, finally lifting it on 29/04, with excellent results. However, in general, all crops are doing quite well.

Broad Beans are flowering and several plants are now over 4ft high. Sticks and string will be put around them in the first week of May.

Chard is being harvested regularly, but tap water is not as good as rain! Pea shoots are being eaten, but I am still not satisfied with this as a crop: one more year to get it right or something else replaces them!

Lettuces for Pick and Come Again(PACA) are well established, but nowhere near ready for picking. Ten Little Gems for May harvest are progressing OK, with 5 further ahead than the rest.

Onions are further ahead than usual, with the clumps and salad onions looking especially fine. The shallot clumps are well established after an early March sowing.

Carrots sown on 31st March have germinated beautifully, this means I might actually have to thin them. The same is true of those sown on 9th April, uncovered on 29th April and the exuberant radish germination in the drills thinned the same day.

Parsnips sown on 9th April have emerged by 29th April, not yet as efficiently as the carrots but more than enough seedlings for each sown row.

Turnips sown mid March have been thinned to 10cm on 29th April, with some nibbler attacking a few last week. Overall, they are on track for May harvest. The 31st March sowing have just been thinned the second time to about 15cm.

The Boltardy beetroot clumps are the best ever and my Pablo sowings are just developing true leaves in the modules.

First Early Potatoes are all through (18/18), six second earlies have appeared by 29/04 and around 10 maincrop plants have appeared by 29/04. The bags for exhibition were set up on 29th April, 16 weeks before a harvest date around 19th August.

Radish harvest started on 20th April and the first sowing has yielded 12 roots a day ever since. Its harvest should complete for sowing carrots on the May Full Moon. Subsequent sowings will provide harvests through to the first week of June. The 31st March sowing has progressed magnificently under fleece, I do not think I have ever seen happier plants.

The lean to is full currently with:

1. Three trays of Alderman peas – to be transplanted very early in May.

2. Two trays of Pablo Beetroot – to be transplanted mid-May.

3. One tray of Quintal de Alsace Cabbage, to go out in June.

4. Ten 8cm pots with Sorrel transplants – to go in a shady area getting four hours sun a day.

5. A tray with wallflower and lovage transplants in 8cm pots – to form perennials on a shady boundary area with 5-6 hrs sunshine a day.

6. A tray with a borage transplant (for the same boundary as the wallflowers) and chives (for the same boundary).

7. Two 17 litre polypots germinating Sweet Candle Carrots, to be grown for shows.

Inside, all the tomatoes are progressing, although the February plants could do with living outside quite soon. Flowers are on the Red Alerts. The March plants need spreading out soon and the April ones are happily growing in 8cm pots.

Finally, the first leek modules are all now showing seedlings and marigold seeds germinated 24 seedlings with great haste: one for each tomato plant!

I have religiously hoed between and around my plants on appropriate days using my Nunki Weeder. Whether it has helped or not, who knows, but things are looking good.

The blossom on the apple trees, sprayed for the first time with horn manure this February, is the best I have ever seen. We await fruit set with anticipation.

I may be dreaming, but it may just be that horn manure can also help pear trees to resist pear midge (nothing else I have tried has ever achieved it, so that would be a wonderful outcome if it occurs).

One wonders whether a viscious slug attack is around the corner. Very few have appeared due to the drought, but last year, late May/early June was disastrous after a great early season.

It is becoming clear to me that no dig gardening helps in the vegetable garden but is not enough.

Good compost transforms carrot germination and early growth of most spring plants, notably radish, lettuce, turnip and banana shallot. The compost effect works when put down in November, in late February and in mid March.

Watering young plants just enough so they do not die may lead to initial slow growth and good rooting, but it is better than flooding them. Finding the right levels of water for young onions and shallots appears to be an art form……

But the combination of not digging, producing great compost and watering correctly does seem to me the Holy Trinity for effortless effective gardening.

I still feel there is so much to learn, but compared to three years ago, my no dig garden has progressed in leaps and bounds.

Author: Rhys

Rhys trained as a research biologist, working for a decade in the cancer research charity sector, before completing an MBA and working in management consultancy, technology transfer and early technology investment spaces, mostly working with UK academics to turn their scientific discoveries into value for society. AS a younger man, he was fascinated with mountains, both climbing them and ski-ing down them. Whilst living in Scotland, he completed a round of (then) all 277 Munros, the independent mountains over 3000ft originally complied as a list by Munro. He also spent his holidays representing the Ski Club of GB, as a Representative and Party Leader between 1990 and 1997. During that time, he found to his bemusement that he was able to predict, without understanding fully why, to a remarkable degree of accuracy, when good snow conditions would occur in the Alps, gaining an unworthy reputation for predictive genius in 1990 when predicting the evolution of the 1989/90 winter in Wengen, Switzerland for his CEO boss. He used this skill for the next seven years to ensure that he enjoyed powder snow pretty much every time he went ski-ing. An MD student he was training in Oxford also impressed his wife by taking Rhys' advice about when to take her to Italy in the mid 1990s! In recent years, Rhys has turned his mind toward how to grow prize tomatoes, winning several prizes in local and London shows and has, in the past 3 years, moved toward taking over a 50 square metre urban vegetable patch, which he has turned into a no-dig area since autumn 2014.

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