Things to sow & do in an April 2020 kitchen garden
Are you thinking about growing your own fruit, vegetables and herbs this year? I’ve noticed it seems to be much more pressing for many of us in 2020, so I’ve put together some April tips mainly aimed at new gardeners but will include a few timely reminders for the more experienced growers among us as well.
April’s a month of green shoots and busy windowsills in the world of grow-your-own. Here are some ideas for what to sow now, and jobs you can do in your kitchen garden or on your allotment over the coming days.
First of all, try to take it easy if you’re a first time home grower, even if you’re feeling a bit panicky. Don’t over-extend yourself if you have limited time, concentration span or physical stamina – do a bit here and there and don’t try to get everything done all at once, and remember that most plants will catch up if you sow them a week or two later than you hoped. Also think about what’s likely to grow in your garden, or on your windowsill or allotment, as many plants only grow in a sunny sheltered spot or a big greenhouse. Strike a balance between what you like to eat and what you’re likely to be able to grow successfully. For example, I love aubergines but don’t have a big, warm greenhouse to grow them in so they’re off the list here as I have limited space that could be put to much better use.
At the moment it’s difficult to get to many garden centres, either safely or at all, and some seed sellers have temporarily closed their online shops because of the coronavirus situation. You may find it difficult to get hold of all sorts of things from compost to canes, so be prepared to improvise where you can and look for plant varieties that need very little cosseting. Think about easy-to-grow crops such as bushy tomatoes, lettuce and other salad leaves, spring onions and dwarf beans.
Last frost dates are also something important to consider, especially if you’re new to growing your own. In the UK this is usually around the last week of May, so don’t plant out ‘tender’ plants before your local date or they could be damaged, stunted or even killed by the cold. Tender plants include tomatoes, cucumbers, courgettes, pumpkins and most beans, and it should say when to plant outdoors on most seed packets.
Finally, be aware that you’re unlikely to be able to go fully self-sufficient in fruit and veg, unless you have lots of land and enough time to pretty much farm as a full time job. Manage those expectations and think of your homegrown produce as a supplement to whatever you’re able to buy.
What to sow in April
There are so many seeds that you can start off this month, giving you plenty of options. Don’t feel that you have to try growing all of them though, it’s okay to keep it simple.
Remember to check individual seed packets carefully before sowing, since ideal sowing dates may vary for specific varieties. What follows next is a general guide.
Seeds to sow in April: Outdoors
- Broad beans
- Brussels sprouts
- Cabbage (summer & autumn types)
- Calabrese / broccoli (under cover)
- Cauliflower (summer & autumn types)
- Chard (outdoors or under cover, depending on variety)
- Endive (under cover)
- Florence fennel (vegetable, modules under cover)
- French bean (direct under cloche or under cover in modules)
- Kohl rabi
- Leaf beet (perpetual spinach)
- Peas and mangetout
- Runner bean (direct under cloche or under cover in modules)
- Spring onions and silverskin / pickling onions
If the soil is still cold or the weather is frosty at night, remember to sow hardier seeds under cloches and start less hardy seeds off indoors.
Be aware that some plants such as cauliflower can take up to a year to grow, so only put these in your garden plan if you’re happy to give up that space for a long time.
Carrots are generally easy to grow, but need well prepared soil. They can also be attacked by carrot root fly, so either grow carrot fly resistant varieties (such as Flyaway or Resistafly) or grow them under a fine mesh. Some gardeners also swear by sowing the carrots mixed in with onions or spring onions.
What to sow indoors in April: Warm windowsill or propagator
- Summer squash
- Winter squash & pumpkins
Seeds from the cucurbit family (cucumbers, courgettes, pumpkins etc) are best sown towards the end of April, to time best with their growth patterns and planting out. They tend to be fast-growing and boisterous plants.
If you want to grow butternut squash these need a long sunny growing season, which you might not get if we have another rainy summer. If in doubt, pick a faster growing pumpkin. Also remember they take up a lot of room and need plenty of nutrients to grow well.
Some varieties of tomato are only suitable for growing in greenhouses, others grow best outdoors. Tomato blight disease is a major problem in some parts of the UK, but there are quite a few blight-resistant varieties available now, especially Mountain Magic which I’ve found to be nice and reliable although it is a cordon (tall vine) type of plant so you’ll need to provide support for it as it grows.
Melons and most peppers grow best in a warm greenhouse. It’s too late to start off most chillies now, so if you want a crop this year it’d be better to buy a seedling if you can get hold of one, or maybe swap one with a friend or neighbour.
What to sow indoors in April: Normal room temperature
- Edible and companion flowers
- Soft herbs
- Sweetcorn (in modules)
If you’re thinking about growing sweetcorn, be aware that it needs quite a lot of room, it’s a hungry crop that needs a lot of nutrients, and generally you need to have several plants (ideally planted in a block, not a row) to allow for successful pollination.
It’s very hard to get a crop of okra unless you have a nice warm greenhouse.
Garden jobs to do in April
As well as sowing seeds, there are some garden jobs to do in April that can make your kitchen garden or allotment much more productive. There’s plenty you can do in April to get your mid-Spring kitchen garden producing lots of tasty crops.
Plant sets & tubers
This includes ‘early’ type (usually ‘chitted’ to grow shoots) and maincrop potatoes, and onion and shallot ‘sets’ (small bulbs).
Harden off & plant out some seedlings
April is usually too early to plant out heat-loving plants such as courgettes, French beans and peppers, but you can make a start with these more cold-tolerant seedlings:
- Broad beans
- Japanese bunching onions
- Kohl rabi
To harden off seedlings grown indoors, leave them outside during the day then bring indoors at night every day for at least a week. In colder weather it’s often better to do this more slowly over two weeks instead of one.
Check the weather forecast before hardening off your seedlings outside – don’t put them out if strong winds or hailstorms are likely.
If the weather’s unusually cold for the time of year, try planting your hardened off seedlings under a cloche or just delay the process for a few days until conditions improve. They’ll soon catch up so you don’t need to rush.
- Asparagus crowns
- Globe artichokes (suckers or plants)
- Strawberry runners (small plants grown from offshoots of older plants)
Asparagus crowns take about three years to give you a crop, so don’t plant them if you need to get quick food or if you’re likely to move house in the next few years. They also need diligent care such as ground preparation and careful, regular weeding.
Care for fruit trees & bushes
- Hand pollinate flowers and blossom with a small paintbrush, if necessary.
- Look out for pests like sawfly caterpillars and moths.
- Mulch around roots with compost, and top dress container-grown plants with mulch and fertiliser.
- Protect delicate blossom from hard frosts with fleece.
- Prune and tie in fan or wall-trained fruit trees such as apricot, cherry, fig and peach.
Other garden jobs in April
- Dig up and compost finished Brussels sprouts from last year.
- Gently water anything newly-planted.
- Pot on indoor tomato seedlings etc into larger pots as they grow.
- Prepare compost-filled beds for beans, squash and pumpkins.
- Protect crops from aphids, caterpillars, cabbage root fly, carrot root fly, red spider mite, snails etc.
- Pull earth up around growing potato stems.
- Put in support for climbing plants now, before they start their upward growth.
- Remove weeds by hand.
- Thin out seedlings in seedbeds if they are overcrowded.
Are you planning to do anything in the garden or on your allotment this month? Are you a new gardener or more experienced?