I love April. We are officially into spring, the ground is nice and warm, seeds germinate quickly and plugs take almost overnight. It is just as well; we have lots to do this month. Before we look at all the jobs, just a quick update on the herb garden, we have planned and planted over the last three months.
The shrubby herbs, sage, rosemary, thyme and marjoram are all showing healthy new growth. They can be cut as and when you need them now. Try to garner all your herbs in the cool of the early morning for best flavour. Of the perennial herbs, the mint is growing strongly and can be used as required. The ginger, turmeric, lemon grass and horseradish still have some way to go before they are ready. The chives will be ready this month whilst the fennel, lovage, hyssop and sorrel are only just getting started. The annuals were only sown at the back end of March so we will have to be patient. The herb garden occupies about 80 square metres of ground, so I need some sort of path to reach the herbs in the middle. I found some round concrete slabs in a skip, all about 1/2 metre diameter — just the job. You can use old flooring tiles or even wooden planks. I prefer something that can be moved because I will, inevitably, want to change the plan as the garden develops.
Now to April. You should be sowing seed in well-dug ground. Everything this month can go into ground that was manured or composted for a previous crop. Keep the soil damp until the seeds germinate and then cut back the watering so that the surface dries out between doses of water. On a drip feed, one hour per night is enough at the moment. Sow beetroot, a variety called Detroit 7 works well, and carrots. I sow Chantenay at this time of year. I think they are the best-flavoured carrots ever. The first sowing of string beans should be made during this month.
Many plants can be planted as plugs and I prefer this method to seeds for some plants such as lettuce and red onions, both of which should go in now. You should also be putting in potatoes. I have tried various English varieties with little success; they just cannot cope with the heat. It is good that I enjoy the plain old Spanish reds and whites, the variety names of which are lost in the mists of time. The whites are particularly suitable for salads. They are nice and waxy and can be dug whilst young for wonderful sweet new potatoes. The reds are floury, perfect for mash, chips and roasting.
While you have your spade in hand dig over a good patch and throw in as much compost and manure as you can lay your hands on. This will be for your butternut squash, marrows, courgettes, melons and cucumbers, the seeds of which can be sown anytime during the month. Cover the compost with a few centimetres of soil and make small mounds at 1-metre spacings. Put two seeds 5 cms deep in each mound. The flattish seeds should be sown on their sides rather than flat to the ground. Don’t ask why, it’s the way my grandad did it and it worked for him. Water well and then do not water again until the seeds germinate. Remove the weaker seedling and water again. Let the ground dry out between waterings. It is a fine balance watering the cucurbit family. Too much and they rot, too little and they die back. When the first flowers set, you can increase watering. If you think about it, a cucumber or squash is just packed with water.
Don’t put your spade away; it will be busy next month as well.
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