Gardening: The time is right to get ready, steady... and sow

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April has finally arrived so it’s all go in the Kitchen Garden at Harlow Carr this month with lots to plant out and sow.

Even though seed packets say you can sow the crop in April, be very aware that we can still get hard frosts to the end of April and early May, extra protection may be needed to protect some crops.

April is a good time to start sowing some crops as the soil should have started to warm up. Seeds germinate at different temperatures but rarely at soil temperatures below 7°C, so before sowing check the temperature of the soil using a soil thermometer, available from most garden centres.

Repeat this a couple times a day to see if you got an accurate reading the first time and try it in other areas of your plot too.

If the reading is under the required temperature, you can warm the soil up by covering the ground with plastic sheets, cloches, straw or even placing bottomless bottles over the soil.

Direct sowing, i.e. directly into the ground, is a method mostly used for root vegetables such as beetroot, carrots, radish, parsnips - none of which can be transplanted easily; broad beans, lettuce, muzuna, salsify and some other hardy crops e.g. peas are also suitable for direct sowing if the soil is warm enough.

There are several techniques used in direct sowing: -

Narrow drills are the standard method for sowing crops such as radish, carrots and beetroot, using a trowel to make a thin drill at an even depth. The seed is then spaced thinly along the drill. Cover the seeds with the soil and firmly tap down to ensure good contact.

Wide drills are used for crops like peas or broad beans that do not require any thinning. The drills are about 10cm wide with a flat bottom. You can create the drills using a swan necked hoe.

Broadcasting is a method used for scattering seed over the surface of the soil, and then firmly raking in just below the surface. Thinly scattering the seed will mean little thinning is required and this method is suitable for crops like Carrots, Green Manures and Radish.

Tap down the soil using the back of a rake to ensure contact with the soil.

-Single sowing is used for crops like broad beans. Make a hole with a dibber and put in the seed to the required depth and cover with soil. The seeds are sown at the correct spacing so no thinning is required.

Station sowing is a technique used where two or three seeds are sown together, at the appropriate distance along the row.

Station sowing is used for larger seed such as beetroot and parsnips which have erratic germination. Once they have germinated select the strongest and discard the weakest.

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