Well the spring has done it again! Just when we got excited about the warmer temperatures, dry weather and more hours of daylight the temperatures have dropped again. If there’s one thing we can be sure about it’s the unpredictable temperatures of a UK spring. In April I started off my hardy vegetables but kept them inside my unheated greenhouse for some extra TLC; just as well considering the change of conditions outside.
However, I’ve noticed that some of the hardier vegetable seeds sown outside in the community gardens where I teach are still germinating in the colder conditions, these include Spinach ‘Medania’, Mustard ‘Ruby Streaks’ and Pak Choi ‘Red Choi’.
The Radish ‘Watermelon’ seeds I sowed at home last month have germinated and are growing well now. I thinned out a few as the germination had been good, and the seedlings were too close together to grow into mature roots. I didn’t compost the excess seedlings – just gave them a thorough wash and put them on top of my salads and soups; using them as a ‘microgreens’. They have an excellent peppery flavour, even when tiny.
The Chicory ‘Palla Rossa’ is growing more slowly but has produced sturdy seedlings.
In May I sow my ‘tender’ vegetable seeds. These are the varieties that can’t be planted outside until all the frosts have finished and for my location in Lancashire this mean late May or early June. So I get the seedlings started off inside (either in greenhouse or on a windowsill) and then move them outside into a sunny spot once the weather’s warmed up properly.
This year I’m trying out Dwarf French Bean ‘Stanley’; the dwarf varieties are perfect for growing in pots and containers. They don’t need supporting stakes or netting as they grow into a compact ‘bush’ shape. As these seedlings get big quite quickly, they don’t appreciate being sown in trays or small pots. Instead they need a larger pot (a minimum of 12cm across) where there’s space for their roots to develop. I put three seeds in each pot and will pot them into their own pots once the roots fill the pot.
Where I garden, we don’t have enough late summer sun to ripen the larger ‘winter squashes’ such as Pumpkins or Butternut Squash. Those types of squash also need a lot of room; often a whole raised bed each!
But if you’re growing in a small space or cooler location you might have more success with summer squashes. These are a smaller plant and ripen in the middle of summer. Squash Sunbeam F1 (Summer) AGM is a ‘Patty Pan’ type of summer squash with smaller fruits (harvest when 10-12cm across) that are flat with soft skin. They will grow in a large container but will need supports to climb up. You can use bamboo, trellis or poles and tie in the stems as they grow. I’ll be starting mine off inside; sowing them at the same as my courgette seeds. When I move the squash plants outside, I’ll then put them in front of my south-facing fence, where they will be ornamental as well as edible.
I usually grow the familiar purple Beetroot ‘Boltardy’ but this year I’m trying a new yellow variety ‘Burpees Golden’. It’s rare to find this type in the shops or markets and I’m interested to find out how the flavour compares to my usual choice. Try soaking the seeds for 30 minutes before you sow them to encourage quicker germination. I’m sowing the seeds directly into a small trough where they can grow to their full size, after some thinning.
Gardening is all about optimism, so here’s hoping the spring warms up and we can get our ‘tender’ vegetables outside soon!
Read more about Sue's horticultural expertise and projects on her website HERE