Now’s the time to veg out

Belfast Telegraph - Weekend - - GARDENING - BY DIAR­MUID GAVIN

April has ar­rived and while the days are length­en­ing the weather re­mains tur­bu­lent, with driv­ing rain and some sleet and snow blight­ing the Easter week­end. How­ever, I’m an op­ti­mist and be­lieve that now the soil will warm up, so we should turn our at­ten­tion to the veg patch.

In milder areas you may al­ready have started sow­ing di­rectly out­doors, but in many parts of the coun­try con­di­tions will only now be right for this job. I spent a few days in Co Kerry over the hol­i­day pe­riod and a friend there reck­ons they are three weeks late get­ting spuds into the ground. It all de­pends on our soil types. Clay will stay cold and wet longer than a light sandy soil. Sow too soon and ger­mi­na­tion will be patchy and seedlings slow to take off.

We can be sci­en­tific about this and get a ther­mome­ter to test the soil — plus-7 de­grees is suf­fi­cient for most of our hardy veg to get go­ing. Or you can ask a lo­cal al­lot­ment or veg gar­dener and copy what they are do­ing. Once I see weed seedlings emerg­ing, I take this as a green sig­nal to get sow­ing.

Na­ture has a won­der­ful way of ad­just­ing to sea­sonal vari­ants so let’s not get caught up in how chal­leng­ing the early part of this year has been. We’ve not missed out on a grow­ing sea­son yet so if we get to work now we may still catch up.

The fol­low­ing seeds can go straight to their plant­ing po­si­tions out­side: broad beans, car­rots, parsnips, beet­root, spring onions, let­tuces, radish, peas, spinach, sum­mer cab­bage, salad leaves, leeks, Swiss chard, kohlrabi, turnip and sum­mer cau­li­flower.

You can also plant onion sets, early pota­toes, Jerusalem ar­ti­choke tu­bers and as­para­gus. Wait un­til early May to sow French beans and sweet corn out­doors.

The fol­low­ing will only ger­mi­nate in- doors at the mo­ment: mar­rows, cour­gettes, pump­kins, toma­toes, pep­pers, aubergine and cu­cum­bers.

Don’t use all your seeds at once; you’ll usu­ally find there’s plenty in the pack­ets. Keep some back for sow­ing in a few weeks. This is called suc­ces­sional sow­ing and helps pre­vent you hav­ing a glut of a sin­gle crop at one time.

If weather has been clement, you may al­ready have pre­pared the seedbeds. If not, make sure the area is weed — and stone­free — and rake over the top to pro­vide a fine crumbly sur­face. The finer the tilth, the eas­ier it is for smaller seeds to push through. If there are big clods of soil, a small seed can get buried un­der it or sus­pended in an air hole with no way of get­ting mois­ture or root­ing.

Cre­ate a drill — a shal­low in­dent — by drag­ging a stick or hoe across the soil. Straight lines are best, then any rogue weed seedlings are eas­ily spot­ted di­verg­ing from the line. Con­sult your seed packet (these are usu­ally full of use­ful ad­vice) for when to sow, how deep and how thinly. Don’t worry too much with fine seed — it is dif­fi­cult to spread evenly but once seedlings emerge, you can thin them out so there is room for each to de­velop.

If you find it too tricky, try seed tape. This is where the seeds come pre-pack­aged at their cor­rect spac­ing in a biodegrad­able mat. As with seeds, just cover lightly with soil. Now gen­tly wa­ter in us­ing a rose on a wa­ter­ing can or hose so you are not dis­turb­ing them. Keep an eye on the weather. If it doesn’t rain in the next few days, give them an­other sprin­kle.

Fi­nally, la­bel what you have sown — it’s easy to for­get. You can make this a fun project with chil­dren as a way of get­ting them in­volved in the process. Use your imag­i­na­tion and recycle objects. La­bels can be made from old wine corks, clothes pegs, wooden spoons, jam jars, pen­cils, clothes hang­ers, small ter­ra­cotta pots turned up­side down, jam jars, bro­ken bits of ter­ra­cotta, twigs, stones — just some­thing to iden­tify which row is which.

If it’s prac­ti­cal to write on the la­bel, in­clude the date. This will help you as­sess their progress, if they are do­ing well or oth­er­wise.

Now the ex­cit­ing wait be­gins.

TAK­ING ROOT: car­rots, pota­toes and (right) beet­root seeds can all be planted straight into the ground

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