April is the ‘Let’s go for it!’ month on the allotment; but proceed with caution. We are feeling the benefit of the lengthening days and warm sunshine but beware there is often a price to pay with the threat of hard, night frosts never far away. Hold back and wait a few weeks rather risk the seedlings that you have nurtured being damaged by a late frost . The allotment will always catch up and reward your patience with a bumper harvest.
If you have been busy in March your beds will be ready, but there is still time. If you have a new plot, tackle a small area first for the early crops and then work your way over the plot through the season. Pull up any perennial weeds, being sure to get the roots out, and hoe any early annuals. Mares tail is all over the allotment which will start to appear in the form of asparagus-like spears. If you get on top of it now, it’ll be easier to control for the rest of the year.
Add in plenty of organic matter to enrich the soil, but new manure can create too much green growth on new seedlings, so take care around new plantings. Carrots and parsnips prefer soil that has not been recently enriched, this can result in forking of the root.
Towards the end of the month build bean and pea supports. Most plot holders use the trusty A-Frame bamboo support for beans, using 8 ft bamboo poles, though personally I’m a fan of the wigwam. Make the frame as stable as possible as when the poles are covered in green growth, any strong wind can blow the whole structure down, so don’t be tempted to use damaged or really old bamboo poles. For peas, some chicken wire between bamboo stakes works well, or standard pea netting.
Sort out the paths between you and your neighbours. Keep them tidy, clear and strim or mow any long grass. Before long you’ll be up and down with cans of water so a clear, even path is a must have!
SOWING AND PLANTING
April is the time to start sowing a range of seeds indoors, undercover or direct.
Sweetcorn, courgette/pumpkin/cucumber family, tender beans such as runner and French, chard, kohlrabi, celeriac, tomatoes can all be sown now under cover and kept in either a greenhouse or sunny windowsill before planting out in May, when risk of frost is over.
Direct sow outside
Carrots, radish, spring onions, beetroots, turnips can all be planted outside, sown successionally to allow harvesting of young crops through the season. Carrots need protection from carrot fly, use horticultural fleece to cover the crop. All of these crops grow very well in containers with sieved soil.
Parsnips can be sown now, they can be tricky to germinate, so do allow 3-4 weeks before you give up and sow a second time. Use fresh seed every year, unlike many other seeds, they do not store well.
Sow maincrop peas and make the last sowing of summer broad beans.
Plant onion/shallot sets & garlic bulbs – try to get these in the ground as soon as possible. Choose a sunny site with good drainage so that they don’t get drowned in the rain over the coming weeks!
Plant asparagus crowns in beds already prepared. Though it will be a patient 2 year wait before spears can be harvested, the crowns will reward you for 10 years, with little more effort than mulch and weeding.
Chit and plant seed potatoes - though your early potatoes might be in, April is the time to plant your second earlies and main crop. Aim to complete the job by the end of April. ‘Earth up’ any emerging shoots with soil if a frost is forecast. Potatoes can be grown very successfully in containers.
Towards the middle of the month start sowing, every two weeks, mange tout, lettuce and other salad leaves.
Compost, compost compost! compost all green matter, add foliage, leaves and annual weeds to your compost pile, turn the pile to help activate it, and make sure it doesn’t dry out.
MANAGE PESTS AND DISEASES
Check soft fruit and broad beans for the first broods of aphids; spray the plant with soapy water (diluted washing up liquid), squish the flies, or wait for the ladybirds! Don’t be tempted to use insecticides as this will kill beneficial insects and bugs as well.
Protect early strawberries from birds with netting that is wide enough to allow pollinators in.
Allotments are very popular with pigeons, good netting for brassicas is essential, otherwise those pesky pigeons will eat the lot! And of course the cabbage white butterfly is another problem so the netting needs to fine grade. Try making homemade hoop tunnels, stick short bamboo stakes either side of the bed, put hosepipe over the top to form the hoops, and then cover with mesh netting, using tent pegs to hold it dow. Alternatively, we have a 10% WAHGA discount with https://www.gardenskill.com - the pop-up netting cages have proved to be very successful on the allotments.
Tidy up slug hidey-holes – slugs and snails love the allotments (as many will attest to!) but a good tidy up of “stuff” - pots, old compost bags - helps to limit numbers as they have nowhere to hide. Try a beer trap and let us know how you get on! Another, more expensive, option is using nematodes - have a look on-line.
Make brassica collars to help prevent cabbage root fly. This is a job to do whilst sitting in the sun. Cut cardboard into 10cm discs, make a single cut from the edge to the circle and place around brassica stems as soon as they’re planted out.
We are well into nesting season so watch out for activity in trees and hedges near you and don’t disturb.
Leave water dishes and for the bees and the birds.
Sow a few wild flowers in a section on your plot or garden to encourage pollinators. Try planting asters, camomile, marigolds, oregano, sage, sunflowers, thyme, yarrow and zinnias. The entire Compositae or “daisy” family will attract a number of beneficials including ladybirds.
You may be lucky to still have some broccoli, kale and chard, but the plant of the month is rhubarb! Pull the ripe stalks, compost the leaves. Don't forget to cut any flower stalks off.
Don’t forget to harvest your compost. Check you heap and you might be surprised what you can use.