Plant Lettuce

STEP-BY-STEP

1 Remove each lettuce from its cell or pot and plant along a 2cm (1in) drill made with a hoe. Be careful not to bury the plants too deep as they can rot. A good guide is to bury them up to the line of compost in their growing cell, but no higher 2 Water well to help their roots establish quickly. These are 'Little Gem'. To protect them from the attentions of pigeons and also April showers or icy winds, cover the young plants with cloches or modules to give them enough space to grow on to be ready for planting out in May.

Hot tip

Giving onions more 'breathing space', by allowing greater spacing (I allowed 38cm/15in between rows last year), helps to prevent problems with downy mildew.

Salsify and scorzonera These fairly unusual and delicious vegetables can be treated much like parsnips, although they don't take quite so long to germinate -generally about 10 days to two weeks. Salsify is white rooted and scorzonera has a black papery jacket (which easily peels off when cooked) and they share a 'smoky' flavour which is sometimes described as 'like oysters'. Sow 1cm (V2in) deep in rows 30cm (12in) apart from the middle of April.

Spinach Sow 1cm (Min) deep in rows 30cm (1ft) apart.

Hot tip

Spinach is a cooler weather vegetable and conditions up until late April/early May are ideal for sowing. After that it's best to wait until mid to late August to sow, for a late crop.

Turnips These need growing quickly for the finest flavour and tenderness and I find April the best month for the finest crops. Sow 1cm (Miin) deep in rows 30cm (1ft) apart and immediately cover with fleece or garden mesh to stop flea beetle damage to the young seedlings.

WHAT TO PLANT

Onion sets which have been heat-treated to stop them bolting, can be planted in April; indeed they should not be planted before. Plant 10cm (4in) apart for average-sized onions or 15cm (6in) apart for larger bulbs.

Set rows a good 30cm (1ft) apart.

Herbs April is a really good time to plant herbs. Many garden centres and nurseries now offer a good selection including bay, lavender, mint, hyssop, rosemary, thyme and sage. Don't plant out basil and other tender herbs such as lemon verbena until after your last frost. Although the pots may look small, remember they'll need plenty of room to grow. As a rough guide allow at least 30cm (1ft) between plants. Herbs such as rosemary, hyssop and sage develop into very large bushes unless regularly cut back and if you've got the space, you'll probably want to plant them 90cm (3ft) apart.

Carefully remove the herb from its pot and plant in a hole deep enough to ensure that the surface of the rootball is level with that of the surrounding soil.

Hot tip

Plant a herb basket to hang near your kitchen door. Choose your favourite herbs and keep on picking them to stop them outgrowing the basket.

Potatoes If March was too wet and cold and your soil conditions were not suitable, you'll probably be able to plant all your spuds in April.

All should be planted with most of their growing shoots or 'chits' uppermost in trenches 12cm (5in) deep. Space first and second early varieties 30cm (1ft) apart and allow 60cm (2ft) between rows. Space maincrop tubers 37cm (15in) apart and allow 60-75cm (24-30in) between rows. I like to add well-rotted manure or compost to the bottom of the trench, or chicken pellets, being careful not to let them come into contact with the chits as the high-nitrogen can burn them. On really cold nights be ready to cover any foliage with newspapers or a double layer of fleece.

Shallots Finish planting shallots early in April. As new shallots form outwards from the bulb you plant, allow 18cm (7in) between shallots. Set rows at least 30cm (1ft) apart.

Under* cover with Joyce Russell

April is a busy month under cover, with sowing, potting on and planting out all being juggled to fit around fluctuating temperatures, increasing pest problems, and allocation of vacant space. Boxes of seedlings need plenty of light and some plants are big enough to plant out before conditions are perfect for them. We also have to choose the moment to evict over-wintered crops in order to make way for summer plantings.

These plants will be planted into the tunnel when conditions allow

Tomatoes You can still sow tomato seed in April, for slightly later crops. Alternatively, many garden centres offer a wide variety of plants.

Seed sown in late February, or early March, should have produced strong young plants about 15-20cm (6-8in) tall by late April. These are ready for planting out as soon as night time temperatures improve. Ideally, minimum temperatures shouldn't fall below 10C (50F), to ensure good crops from your plants in the months ahead.

In practice, I usually plant my tomatoes out in the last week of April, provided nights aren't frosty. If night temperatures dip below 8C (47F), I wrap the plants in fleece and they don't suffer.

To prepare for planting, dig holes 45cm (18in) apart in rows 76cm (30in) apart, about one week before plants go out. Fill the holes with water, so that it drains down to soak the subsoil. Refill the holes several times to ensure a thorough soaking.

Push sticks, or canes to support the plants down into the bottom of the holes until firm (watch that they don't rub against polythene at the top.) Fill the holes with compost, or well rotted manure, cover with soil and firm gently.

Put the plants in, at each prepared site, when the weather permits.

Cucumbers These can be sown until well into May. 'Burpless Tasty Green' grows fast and is a prolific cropper from late sowings. April sown cucumbers will get away to a fast start and soon produce as many leaves as those sown in earlier months. The difference is that the early sowings may start flowering in April and will fruit next month with a little care.

Cucumbers are very susceptible to root rot and they hate low temperatures, so need more minding than most crops. Don't leave cucumber plants in an unheated structure overnight until well into next month. Don't over water - keep compost just damp enough to supply the needs of a greedy plant, without leading to rot.

Courgettes Plants from seed sown last month, can go out into their permanent home by the end of April. Courgettes aren't frost hardy, but they do seem able to survive quite low temperatures under cover. Throw an extra layer of fleece, newspaper, or a cardboard box, over plants, if a frost threatens. Soil temperatures should be plenty high enough in your polytunnel, or greenhouse, to have a stabilising effect on plants that are close to the ground.

Courgette plants love to get their roots into the border soil and they will grow rapidly to produce really early crops.

Strawberries If you brought pots of strawberry plants under cover earlier in the year, these will begin flowering in April. Keep them well watered and only feed if the nutrient supply in the pot is inadequate. Roots will poke through to the border soil, so this can be dampened to provide a stable water supply. Trays of damp gravel, can also be used to support pots. I>-

Strawberries under cover are flowering now

Check under leaves for signs of whitefly and destroy any that you see. If a really hard frost is forecast, cover plants, or the flowers may blacken.

KEEP SOWING

Melons These can still be sown this month. Choose fast growing early varieties and ensure high temperatures for germination.

Sweetcorn Start off in pots this month. Try an early maturing supersweet variety in early April and follow with a midseason variety sown a couple of weeks later. For something more exotic, try the variety 'Indian Summer', which gives a mixture of coloured kernels and is really delicious. Sweetcorn needs a high germination temperature of 20-24C (68-75F), and should be grown on at a minimum of I5C (59F) for the next few weeks, if possible, to ensure strong young plants.

Pumpkins and squash Sow this month at a temperature of 20-25C (68-77F). Sow seed on their side, about 2.5cm (lin) deep, in I3cm (5in) pots. I always grow a couple of these on in the polytunnel to twine around my sweetcorn plants.

French beans Make the first sowing

Peppers growing well in pots

Flood the subsoil by watering into holes one week before planting tomatoes

ABOVE Sugar snap peas begin cropping prolifically

Peppers growing well in pots under cover in early April. These can be in individual cells, or directly into the border soil.

KEEP GROWING

Sugar snap peas should be cropping well this month. Pick regularly to encourage more flowers and more pods. You should have an ample supply until the outdoor crops take over.

Salad, tiny carrots and kohl rabi All will be thriving now, so pick as often as you want.

Over-wintered greens Evict any that are trying to go to seed - they will be much tougher than the tender young spring sowings.

Spring cabbage Pick the last now, if you need to make way for May plantings.

ABOVE Sugar snap peas begin cropping prolifically

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