Clumber Gardener: Growing your own vegetables is richly rewarding

Chris Margrave, head gardener at Clumber Park
Chris Margrave, head gardener at Clumber Park

One of the many rewards of growing your own vegetables is the satisfaction of producing early crops.

In a walled garden like Clumber’s, and with our very light, sandy soil, this is made easy.

The walls provide shelter from cold winds and the soil is free draining and warms up much earlier than heavier loam or clay soils, so early sowings and plantings can be made.

Early crops are still possible on more exposed sites and heavier soils.

Glass and polythene tunnel cloches and frames prove their worth at this time of year.

Placed over the soil two or three weeks before you intend sowing or planting, they will act like a mini-greenhouse, keeping out cold wind and rain.

They can also be left in place to protect emerging seedlings and young transplants.

In suitably warmed soil, direct sowings of peas and broad beans can be made.

Round seeded pea varieties, such as Meteor and Feltham First are hardier and quicker maturing, though less sweet than the wrinkled seeded varieties.

They should be ready, late spring and early summer, weather permitting, late June to early July.

Broad beans can also be direct sown into prepared soil.

I still favour the compact growing The Sutton for early sowings and a July harvest.

For the earliest ‘new’ potatoes, choose a very early variety such as the aptly named Rocket or Swift, which can be planted now.

If you cover prepared soil with clear polythene two or three weeks before planting, this will help to warm the soil.

Once the potato foliage has emerged from below soil, it will need protecting from night time frosts and can be covered with fleece.

We can expect frosts right up until the end of May.

For early brassicas – cauliflowers, broccoli or cabbages – you will need to sow seeds in pots or modules in a greenhouse, choosing a quick maturing variety.

Cauliflower Snowball and cabbage Greyhound are reliable favourites.

For summer broccoli, also known as calabrese, try Marathon or Bordeaux.

Sow early April and brassica seedlings can be planted out at the beginning of May under cloches or into frames, which will help prevent any check in growth.

It’s important to ventilate on warm, sunny days, so open up the top of glass frames or lift the sides of polythene cloche tunnels to let the air in.

You can also produce earlier tender crops by sowing under glass.

Sweet corn is a tender crop, so seed is best sown in a heated propagator at the end of April.

Degradable peat-free pots are ideal, as sweet corn resents having its roots disturbed.

Plant out towards the end of May and cover the plants with a polythene tunnel cloche to protect them from damaging wind and frosts.

The cloche can be removed either early June, after the last frost, or left in place until the sweet corn leaves are touching the sides and top of the cloche.

The other satisfaction of growing your own is the taste of freshly harvested crops.

Peas picked from the garden and cooked within minutes of harvesting taste wonderful, so too the sweet corn, whosec obs are at their sweetest when cooked and consumed straight after picking.

April is a busy month and the pace of growth quickens as temperatures rise.

Mulch the soil to keep weeds in check and conserve water. Bark chippings, spent mushroom compost and well-rotted manure are ideal for this.

Prune early flowering shrubs such as forsythias and flowering currants after they have finished flowering.

Lawns now need mowing and for the first few cuts of the season set the mower blades at a height of around one inch.

As the soil warms, weed seeds will begin germinating.

On sunny days these can be controlled with a hoe, still the greenest way to weed, and good exercise too.

Remove the faded flower heads from early spring flowering daffodils.