Now that we've sprung forward to the second quarter of the year, it's time to let go of the past months. Time to dig up vegetables that have supported us through the winter. The ground needs to be cleared for summer produce. Here's how.
Make space for a bountiful summer
In my allotment, ‘superfood’ kale has been feeding us since October but with the first sign of warmth it went to seed. It’s been dug up to make space for a summer veg.
I noticed half a row of bright green feathery shoots peeping out of the soil. Investigation reminded me that the last of the parsnips were still in the ground and sprouting again. Last May, I had sown the seed by sticking a dibber as deep into the ground as I could. I filled the hole with compost, only lightly pressing it down, and then popped a seed in.
The reward has been long, ramrod straight parsnips. They are now a little woody but still delicious for soup or mashed with carrots as a change from potatoes.
Many plots still have leeks in the ground—they'll now be a magnificent size. It’s really time to eat them up. For the next harvest, seeds should be sown in a pot by the end of April.
Plant out a couple of months later or when they have grown to the thickness of a pencil. Leeks are greedy and like to grow in really rich soil. Be mean and they’ll be spindly.
Sow your sweet peas
I sow sweet pea seeds in the cardboard tubes of lavatory paper, putting two per tube. The seeds can be popped straight in the ground, but I prefer to monitor germination on a window sill. When it comes to planting out, I use a bulb planter to create a big hole.
Next, lightly tear the tube apart so the seed growth is not hampered. By putting both tube (it will decompose) and seedlings in the ground there is minimal disturbance to the seedling. Add lots of good compost.
The price of a mild winter
Our broad beans have already been attacked by blackfly and I’ve succumbed to spraying them with a commercial organic spray. But I’ve ordered a packet of Limnanthes douglasii (‘poached egg’ plant seeds).
Hoverflies are attracted to the bright colour of poached egg flowers and their larvae eat blackfly and other aphids.
Be as artistic with your veg garden as your flower garden
Runner beans give the veg patch height and colour. I’ll be sowing a mix of St George (red and white flowers), Celebration (pale salmon-pink flowers) and White Lady (white flowers).
At low level, courgettes are exquisite with their yellow trumpet flowers. I’ll be planting out yellow Limino or Sunstrip; pale green Alfresco; and exquisitely ribbed, green Romaneso Latino. Patty Pan squash are another visual delight.
Lettuce can be beautiful when well planted. Alternate red and green Lollo leaves; include crunchy upright Cos and self-explanatory Freckles lettuce.
Be exotic. I always think the dusty purple balls and unusual leaf growth of Kohl Rabi look more as though they’ve landed from space than grown out of the ground. Delicious and add spice to a salad when grated.
Less may be more
It’s tempting to cram too much in when faced with a plot of bare earth. Vegetables need breathing space as much as humans do. Good ventilation is a major contributor to preventing disease and encouraging growth.
If you can’t resist putting a bit too much in now, be strong later on and thin out the weaklings.
Joanna Cruddas lives in London and gardens at her plot in Fulham Palace Meadows Allotments, on her balcony, and in her window boxes. She is the author of The Three-Year Allotment Notebook with photographs by Edwina Sassoon.