Life on the Veg Patch in April

Elaine Fraser-Gausden

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April is busy, busy, busy on the veg patch. I expect the pigeons will get the kale (again) and the cabbage white caterpillars will sneak a way into the cabbages (again), but somehow in April, I’m full of hope that this year everything will be perfect and the harvest will be fab-u-lous.

I love growing potatoes. There’s something so gloriously ‘earthy’ about harvesting your own spuds, don’t you think? I like to put my seed potatoes in egg-boxes on a sunny windowsill inside to ‘chit’ for a week or so in early spring – that’s when they develop stubby little shoots (‘chits’), before you plant them outside in the soil.

You don’t have to do this, but I quite like to, because then I know to plant them chit-side up in the soil. And if the seed potatoes are anything bigger than a satsuma, I cut them in half lengthways first, then both parts of the spud develop shoots. This means more plants – hurray!

But when to plant them? Well, planted about 15cm (6in) down, the stalks and leaves take about four weeks to emerge, and any frost will damage them. Living in the south as I do, I’d be depressingly unlucky to get a frost after mid-May, so I can plant them in mid-April with a confident smirk (although my sister reports that in Scotland you should delay for at least a further two weeks to be safe).

Today, I planted out some broad beans but I’d already (sort of) got them started anyway. It’s so annoying when you tenderly sow seeds that turn out to be duff, but with broad beans I’ve discovered a brilliant way to make sure each seed earns its place on my rather dodgy structure of canes. I soaked the seeds in plain water for a day, wrapped them in damp kitchen roll, stuck them in a plastic bottle and closed the lid. I then put the bottle somewhere warm for a few days – mine sat among the spare towels near the hot water tank. After a week, any seeds that were showing no inclination to put out some little roots were dumped and never made it to the great outdoors – sorry, darlings, but it’s a cut-throat world.

Broad beans are not climbers as such, but do need some kind of support to keep them heading upwards. These days I always make sure the structure is up first before planting them out. Broad beans can grow really fast once they’ve got the bit between their teeth, and it’s nigh-on impossible to get the canes in the right place once they start flopping about.

Both potatoes and broad beans can be easily grown in containers as well as in the open ground – three seed potatoes or three broad bean plants (plus a structure to tie them to) per large container is about right.

I am such a fan of growing veg in containers. Pots, troughs, big cans, planters, hanging-baskets, old Bags-for-Life all count, as long as they have drainage holes. If the plants are in a container, I can keep a much better handle on all the things that can go wrong – whether that’s getting too wet, too dry, too many aphids or too many weeds. Plus I find harvesting is easier for my poor old back!

Elaine can be found blogging at

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