GARDENING: Press home advantage of the good conditions

“Best Easter gardening, weather-wise, for years,” was the verdict of fellow enthusiasts on the recent holiday weekend.

By Tom Pattinson
Saturday, 04 May, 2019, 15:19
Runner bean Saint George is well-rooted and marking time, but the wind can still pose problems. Picture by Tom Pattinson.

Long hours of daylight, warmth and the absence of strong winds saw everything in our favour; more vegetables planted, fruit trees and bushes set up for summer, and ornamentals under way. Now we need to press home the advantage.

Early potatoes should be in by now. We planted several rows of the first-early ‘Foremost’, and two of ‘Sharpe’s Express’. Both varieties were well sprouted, the former received weathered horse manure, the latter composted material from our hot bin.

It’s eight years since the asparagus bed was planted with year-old crowns. They comprised three separate cultivars, six of each, and have been so successful that I recently introduced two more varieties. They will simply be allowed to grow this year, with the first harvesting in May 2020. Meanwhile, we cut spears from existing plants in mid-April, three weeks earlier than last year.

This is a delicious vegetable that is so easy to grow and cut fresh over six weeks of summer. Harvesting stops mid-June to build up the plants’ reserves. With reasonable cultivation, which includes the annual organic mulch, the bed should remain productive for two decades.

Peas and broad beans are developing well within the birch branch supports, but I did have to water them recently and drape netting over the peas to stop wood pigeons feasting on the leaves.

Two rows of perpetual spinach sown last April had offered a constant flow of fresh leaves for a year, but as many such vegetables are biennial, i.e. grow the first year and run to seed the next, they were dug out last week, chopped-up and fed into the hot bin. Two new rows were sown on a different island bed and harvesting will recommence with micro-leaves in a month.

Sowings of turnip, leaf lettuce, beetroot, et al, are under way.

Vegetables that would struggle to become established in the cold and windy conditions of early season are started in the unheated greenhouse. This can involve a lengthy holding operation as daily temperatures rise, causing rapid development.

With limited bench space, a gradual hardening-off outdoors is the way forward. Short of buying a ready-made cold frame, it’s often an existing, wooden raised bed with makeshift cover.

We have pots of Kelsae onion, F1 courgette ‘Yolanda’, runner bean ‘Saint George’ and ‘Sundance’ sweet corn, all well rooted and marking time. They’re capable of tolerating a cooler night, it’s the wind that can shred leaves.

If you’re after a reliable courgette that offers heavy crops, try the F1 hybrid ‘Defender’. As with any courgette plant, keep harvesting the small fruits otherwise they turn into large marrows.

This year I’m trying the cultivar ‘Yolanda’ because of its alleged disease resistance, especially against mildew.