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Gardening In April: What to plant

BY Liz Zorab

4th Apr 2023 Home & Garden

Gardening In April: What to plant

Award-winning author Liz Zorab tells us about growing your own vegetables and what to look out for in April

April feels like a hopeful month. Daffodils, tulips and other spring bulbs burst open offering splashes of colour across the garden. Blossoms on trees open and once again the focus of our eyes moves from beneath our feet to above head height.  

In mid spring the weather fluctuates between windy, wet, stormy days and dry, clear days that are followed by a frosty night. It’s a month of activity in the greenhouse, polytunnel or on the kitchen win- dowsill as I sow annual vegetables and flowers for the season ahead. 

"During April and May, I feel gardening becomes an art form of delicately balanced judgement and action"

I also think of it as a restless, frustrating month, as the weather is not usually kind enough to direct sow into the soil or to plant out many seedlings in the open ground. If you grow under cover, there is a daily ritual of checking temperatures and deciding whether you need to open and close doors and windows to keep the temperatures from becoming so high that they cook the young plants, or so low that they get frost burn. During April and May, I feel gardening becomes an art form of delicately balanced judgement and action. 

Beetroot


Beetroots are delicious cooked in a variety of ways, depending on the season

I cannot sing the praises of the humble beetroot enough. The purple slices of eye-wateringly vinegary vegetable of my childhood memories have been replaced by sweet, earthy flavours in a variety of colours that please the eye as much as the palette. 

Beetroot is traditionally a summer harvest, but a few years ago I started sowing beetroot seeds in early autumn. They will sit in the ground throughout the winter and provide an early harvest of small beets in spring. Before the small beetroot are ready to harvest, the new growth of leaves can be used as a hot vegetable. Wilted in a pan with butter, ground black pepper and a light touch of garlic, they are delicious. 

"Before the small beetroot are ready to harvest, the new growth of leaves can be used as a hot vegetable"

Beet seeds sown under cover in late winter and early spring can provide baby leaves for salads. I sow beetroot at regular intervals throughout the year from March to October (and even in November in a mild autumn). For a leaf crop, I sow direct into a raised bed or the ground. For beetroots, I multi-sow in modules early in the year and then direct multi-sow once the soil has warmed sufficiently for the seeds to germinate readily. Multi-sowing is easy, it simply requires you to sow two or more seeds into an area together. For beetroot, I usually sow three or four seeds together. 

I used to associate beetroot with the summer months, salads and pickles, but a few years ago I discovered the joy of slow cooked beetroot, either roasted with a variety of vegetables or slow fried over a low temperature, which gives the beet the texture of a good steak. Well not exactly, but not a bad second option. 

Chard


Chard is both delicious and a beautiful addition to the garden

I would grow rainbow chard in the garden even if we didn’t eat it. The bright stems provide a splash of colour even on the dullest of days. The leaves have a soft sheen which contrasts with the stems. There are white, yellow, red, pink and orange versions with green leaves and also a deepest burgundy red stem with dark green and deep burgundy leaves. Chard is hardy, dramatic and a useful plant in the vegetable garden

Unlike spinach, chard can be harvested even after it starts going to seed. The remarkable twisted stems appear in the second year as the plant races to produce flowers and seeds. As long as there is space for them in the garden, I leave them to grow into huge striking plants because they provide much sought after fresh green leaves at this time of year.

"Chard is hardy, dramatic and a useful plant in the vegetable garden"

I find large chard leaves unpalatable; they taste too strong, too iron-y. The young leaves, however, are delicious in a salad, omelette or stir fry. I happily remove the medium to large leaves, chop the stems into segments and roast them with lots of garlic in a tray of mixed vegetables. Cooked this way, they taste earthy, but as a contrast to the other vegetables, they make a nice change. The seeds can be collected or the plant can be left to scatter its seeds.

Alternatively, the plants can be added to the compost bin, and once the compost is used on your growing beds, you may find chard seedlings popping up all over the garden. I like this haphazard growth pattern, the young seedlings appearing here and there. But if you prefer your vegetables to grow in neat and tidy rows, remove the chard plant before it sets seed. 

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For further info visit Youtube @LizZorab 

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