Monty starts the new veg year

Now is the time to plan and plant your veg plot, says Monty. He shares his se­crets to suc­cess, ex­plain­ing when to start sow­ing and the crops to choose

Gardeners' World - - Contents -

If weeds are not ac­tively grow­ing, then it is prob­a­bly too cold for your much less ro­bust veg­etable seedlings

have learnt over the years to wait pa­tiently for April. A few sunny, warm days in March flat­ter to de­ceive. You roll up your sleeves and fan­ta­sise about early har­vests. But turn around and the snow clouds are form­ing, with a wind poised to whis­tle in from the Arc­tic. March is ever fickle and, if you have clay soil as we do here at Long­meadow, the ground will re­main cold even if the sun shines for days. But March is ideal for dig­ging over your beds, re­duc­ing the ac­cu­mu­lated com­paction of win­ter and ex­pos­ing a greater sur­face area to warmth. If you have raised beds or a no-dig sys­tem, the inch or two of gar­den com­post added in au­tumn will have been worked down into the soil and it can be raked over to make it ready for sow­ing. The tem­per­a­ture of the soil is key – if it feels cold to you, then it will to seeds too, and very few will ger­mi­nate. Bet­ter al­ways to wait un­til the soil is ready be­fore sow­ing or plant­ing seedlings in your veg plot, even if that means hold­ing back un­til May. And if you don’t trust your judge­ment on soil tem­per­a­ture, then weeds are a good indi­ca­tor. If they are not ac­tively grow­ing, then it is prob­a­bly too cold for your much less ro­bust veg­etable seedlings. This all makes April the best time to get to grips with your veg plot. By April, spring is un­de­ni­able. The days reach out into the light, bird song is at its best, and there is no other mo­ment in the year – in life it­self – that is so suf­fused with prom­ise.

There is an in­evitable ten­dency to grow what you al­ways grow – es­pe­cially if you grow them well. The rit­u­als of spring in­clude or­der­ing favourite va­ri­eties, as well as pre­par­ing the plot. But I try to take stock of what we re­ally want to eat be­fore blindly re­peat­ing last year’s crops. You should never grow any­thing ed­i­ble that you don’t like to eat. Hor­ti­cul­ture should be serv­ing you, your taste buds and your stom­ach – not the other way round.

Sow­ing in­doors

For many years I have used seed trays or plugs to raise any­thing that can be trans­planted. I start them off in the green­house, then move them on to a cold frame and stand­ing- out area, be­fore plant­ing the vig­or­ous, ro­bust seedlings into their grow­ing po­si­tion. This ger­mi­na­tion and rais­ing process usually takes six to eight weeks, so I start sow­ing rocket and broad beans in mid-Fe­bru­ary for plant­ing out in April, along with Mediter­ranean crops such as toma­toes and chill­ies that are des­tined for the green­house. Once we’ve reached April, it’s a good time to sow ten­der crops, es­pe­cially if they are to be raised out­doors. But they should be sown as soon as pos­si­ble and, crit­i­cally, kept warm as the seedlings grow. The idea is not to force them in any way but to keep the growth steady. Au­bergines, toma­toes and, to an even greater ex­tent, chill­ies pro­duce most fruit on large plants, so the ini­tial grow­ing phase should be geared to en­cour­ag­ing re­ally ro­bust, healthy plants be­fore wor­ry­ing about fruits. This means reg­u­lar wa­ter, food and, if nec­es­sary, pot­ting on, so the de­vel­op­ing roots have a con­stant sup­ply of grow­ing medium and nu­tri­tion. There is no for­mula to this. In the end it is just a mat­ter of pay­ing at­ten­tion to the plants and re­spond­ing to their needs – which vary from year to year, va­ri­ety to va­ri­ety, and place to place.

gar­den­er­ April 2018

Monty sows toma­toes in mod­ules from mid-Fe­bru­ary to mid-April and en­sures they are al­ways warm, well-wa­tered and pot­ted on reg­u­larly, which leads to strong, steady growth and healthy plants

By early sum­mer, Monty’s ro­bust young toma­toes will be ready for plant­ing into the green­house, usually teamed with basil

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