Well it’s time to get motoring with preparing the vegetable gardenfor this year’s crops especially peas and beans. As runner beans are notoriously hungry plants I thought I’d share with you how I prepare my runner bean bed (see all pics right from left to right):- prepare a trench around 1 foot deep and 2 feet wide, fork over the bottom and add a thick layer of compost with a sprinkling of chicken manure on top. Before refilling the trench add vertical lengths of plastic downpipe, 1 for every metre of the row. These can then be used to water the beans during dry periods, ensuring the bottom organic layer remains permanently moist – this encourages the roots to grow deep and helps limit the impact of dry weather.
Deadhead daffodils and narcissi giving them a liquid feed or sprinkling of bonemeal, and then let them die down. Don’t cut off the leaves as they are necessary to replenish the bulb for next year. Keep deadheading spring bedding to keep it looking neat and encourage new flowers.
Continue with the spring cleaning. Hoe your borders, getting rid of weeds before they take hold – annual weeds such as bitter cress and groundsel are enough of a nightmare without allowing them to go forth and multiply by seeding.
Mulch away while you can still see what you are doing and before the herbaceous growth really takes off. Use your own garden compost or leaf mould, well rotted manure; the contents of out-of-date grow bags or ready-made soil conditioner.
Now the soil is warming up and things are starting to grow, add general purpose fertiliser before covering with mulch especially in borders, the fruit and vegetable patch and containers. If you have already mulched, draw it back (if possible), tease the soil a little, add fertiliser and replace the mulch.
Now is the time to wage war on slugs and snails. They love tulips and delicacies such as the delicious young shoots of delphiniums and the like, so use pet-friendly slug pellets, or nematodes.
Drench the ground around hostas with liquid slug killer to exterminate slugs below the surface. Keep an eye out for snails and pick them off – what you do with them is up to you. Birds are your friends here – flat stones artfully located are useful access-ories for birds to practise their snail bashing techniques.
Carry on lifting and dividing overgrown clumps of perennials and split polyanthus and primrose plants once they have finished flowering.
Plant hardier summer bulbs and un-sprouted dahlia tubers (at least 4 inches deep in good, rich soil).
Sow hardy annuals such as nasturtium and calendula in drifts – clashing colours just don’t matter in a garden, but remember to plant taller plants behind shorter ones. Wait a while to plant cornflowers and larkspurs until the soil is warmer.
Sow sweet peas outdoors (soak the seeds overnight to improve germination) and plant out those raised under cover.
Feed your pots and containers and brighten them up with cheery primroses, violas, pots of spring bulbs and spring heathers. Packing them densely in single colours makes for a stunning display.
Summer bedding is now available in the garden centres as young plants for you to grow on – much easier than growing from seed or cuttings.
Remember though, do not be beguiled by the odd warm day – frost will wreak havoc with these plants unless protected and slowly hardened off.
Jobs for the Month of April
Sow under cover
Greenhouse / Poly-tunnel / windowsill
Rhubarb (forced) / Chard / Early salad crops from the greenhouse border
Compost around the base of fruit trees
Prune established shrubs such as Forsythia and Ribes sanguineum
Camellias and rhododendrons can also be pruned hard
Apply a general fertilizer such as pelleted chicken manure to borders before mulching
Look out for the new supplies of herbaceous perennials in your local garden centres
Snap the seed heads off tulips and late daffodils as they finish flowering
Snowdrops can be divided now that they have finished flowering and before they die back for the year
Look around neighbouring gardens to see which plants are flourishing – this will give a good indication of what might grow well in your garden
Broccoli in garlic oil
Here’s a cracking recipe for sprouting broccoli. You will need 450g purple sprouting broccoli, 2 tbsp groundnut oil or vegetable oil, 2 tbsp toasted sesame oil, 5 garlic cloves, peeled and very finely sliced
1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
Bring a large quantity of salted water to the boil in a very large saucepan and plunge in the broccoli. With the lid on, quickly bring the water back to the boil, then remove the lid and briskly simmer the broccoli for about 2 minutes. Drain thoroughly.
Heat both oils in the pan over a medium heat. Fry the garlic for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly, until the slices are light golden. Throw in the broccoli and fry it for 2-3 minutes, tossing frequently, until the stalks are piping hot and imbued with the garlicky oil.
Serve immediately with the sesame seeds sprinkled over the top.