By Keith Jordan
The cold easterly winds have finally subsided and wet, south westerly winds have brought a complete (and welcome) change in conditions. Farmers have been reporting serious problems with crops that overwinter, and growth of garden plants have been greatly delayed. It’s unlikely that many seeds sown earlier in the spring have germinated or survived the cold weather.
It was so good to finally hear the first summer migrant bird, the Chiff Chaff, ‘chiff-chaffing’ near my allotment site during the first week of April – nearly 3 weeks later than usual. The cold, desiccating winds, direct from central Europe, had dried off the soil surface, so even weed growth (e.g. speedwells, cleavers, chickweed, etc.) has been suppressed, but with some precipitation and higher temperatures there will be a quick burst of growth. This a key sign that the soil is warm enough to sow many outdoor seeds – the ones that you didn’t get to sow in February and March, and for April sowing – all the root crops, chard, salad crops, brassicas and potatoes.
It’s also time to think about sowing more tender crops indoors, for planting out later in May. Although seed packets have alot of useful information on the back, I think it would be useful if they had the crop’s country of origin and the average temperature range they usually grow – this would be useful especially for novice gardeners who might be tempted to sow or plant out ‘half hardy’ crops from semi-tropical lands too early (French & runner beans, tomatoes, courgettes & squashes, chillies, sweetcorn, etc.).
East Anglia often has cold clear nights (following sunny clear days) during April and middle/end of May that can wipe out young seedlings plunged or sown outside too soon. The stems of potatoes are also sensitive to frost damage so earth up with soil as they grow. Tomatoes for outdoor growing should be sown now without delay, but faster growing courgettes and squashes might be best sown later this month, unless you have polytunnels or other protection to keep them warmer when planting out in May. Fruit tree blossom is also vulnerable to frost damage so if you have small or wall-trained trees, these can be protected with fleece overnight. The next 6-7 weeks are a critical time for these frost sensitive plants so keep a close eye on the weather forecast and get ready to cover plants with fleece, old net curtain, etc. It’s another example of where raising the temperature by a just a few degrees can make a big difference to your crops.