April is a big month for planting for us. We’ve already planted a fair amount of early crops outside through March (things like red russian kale, turnips, radish, peas, broad beans and salad leaves). Everything we plant through March and April we fleece—we simply lay the fleece directly over the crops, not using any hoops to support it. The key is to pull it tight over the crops and weigh it down securely in the paths (we use sandbags), as the damage from fleece usually comes when the wind blows and it starts flapping around on the leaves. Make sure you check under the fleece at least weekly—weeds can quickly become a problem, and as soon as the fleece goes over a bed it is covered and there is a sense that everything will be fine under there. In reality, slugs like it under fleece, as do weeds—so its important to check regularly. For some of the hardier brassicas we take fleece off at some point in April and swap it over for mesh to stop the flea beetle but to improve airflow a little. It is also a little cooler under the mesh so crops like rocket and salad mustards are less likely to bolt as they would under fleece as the spring warms up.
We will be planting up our polytunnels at the beginning of May with all of the tomatoes and peppers. The peppers were sown mid February and we have had supplementary light on them, which fools them into thinking the days are longer so they focus more energy into their vegetative growth, and they grow into stockier plants. Without the extra light at this time of year they stretch out to the light and can grow very leggy. Peppers are fussier about day length and temperatures than tomatoes, so they require a little more attention. The tomatoes we have begun to sow later and later each year as we so often have them ready too early for planting, so this year we sowed them in mid March, which is around 7 weeks before we intend to start planting them. They should grow stronger too, as the light levels earlier in the year encourage leggier growth, and it is not worth the electricity cost of putting supplementary lights on them for a slightly earlier harvest.
April and May are when all of the crop planning done through the winter really comes into action—having a solid plan for where everything will be planted is important for us, so that we know exactly how to prepare the beds in good time, and so that subsequent crops will fit in with the timing of spring crops finishing. It’s all a bit like a jigsaw puzzle and everything slots together with not loads of room for adjustments. However, like all good plans, it needs to be slightly flexible so that if things don’t quite go to plan it is easy to move crops about a bit. With the plan we can see which beds need preparing a week or two in advance of planting so that we can get them ready for planting. This is especially useful if the beds are weedier than we want them to be as it allows us the time in advance to get them into a good state for planting and we can then just plant them up as soon as the plants are ready to go in, rather than having plants sitting around outgrowing the space in their trays. It is important to try and get plants in the ground before their roots have outgrown their cells. The roots will establish much quicker once planted if they have not been too restricted in their cells, they will then make associations with soil microbes more quickly and access all of the nutrients they need.
Good luck with your first Spring plantings!
WHAT TO SOW THIS MONTH: turnips, chard, spinach, salad leaves—chervil, buckshorn plantain, lettuce, burnet, peashoots, anise hyssop, kales, mustards, agretti, sorrel, summer purslane & goosefoot (end of month). Radish, fennel, courgettes (end of month), spring onions, cucumbers, dill, basil, coriander, chard, perpetual spinach, kalettes, french beans, peas and mangetout. We sow all of these into trays in the propagating tunnel to be planted out in April mostly.
WHAT TO PLANT THIS MONTH:
OUTSIDE: salads—mustards, rockets etc., lettuce, peas, broad beans, potatoes, early kale, beetroot, chard, perpetual spinach, spring onions, onions and shallots
INSIDE: Successions of peas and spring onions will continue to be planted. By the end of the month you can get away with planting french beans, cucumbers and tomatoes in polytunnels or glasshouses, but it’s still pretty early so don’t worry if you don’t get round to it!
OTHER IMPORTANT TASKS THIS MONTH: If the weather dries, continue preparing beds for the spring for planting. Keep on top of the seed sowing, but don’t sow too much of anything—think about sowing successionally rather than doing one big sowing in early Spring. Things that are perfectly suited to successions include all salad leaves, spring onions, peas, beans, beetroot, chard, kale, carrots, fennel, radish and annual herbs.