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
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.
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.
gardenersworld.com 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