What can we busy ourselves on the smallholding with this month?

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At last we can sow seeds outdoors. Think of summer colour and scents and start sowing sweet peas, poppies, nasturtiums, sunflowers, marigolds, asters, cornflowers, nicotiana, lupins and more.

The soil needs to be moist and warm for the best germination. Gently rake the surface of the soil to make a crumbly tilth. Make sure that there are no weeds to compete for light and nutrients. If you want a straight line drill it’s easy to use a beanpole to make the channel. Lay it flat on the bed and push then remove, and a straight drill is left. Note the distance that rows need to be from eachother.

Water the drills before you scatter the seeds as thinly as you can. Cover the seeds over with soil, label the row and cover with fleece to stop birds feasting.         

If you have the space, even a small area of wildflower meadow will play its part in feeding bees, butterflies and other pollinators. Clear the area of weeds and dig it over, removing stones. Use a rake to make shallow drills, bearing in mind that slight curves are more natural than straight lines. Sow the seeds as thinly as you can, mixing the seed with sand makes this easier. Cover over, water and cover for the first couple of days if you think birds or mice could be a pest.  

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There are two ways of helping to keep nutrients in bulbs after flowering. Either dehead frequently or leave the leaves for a couple of months after flowering to die back.

It’s time to plant summer bulbs so start thinking alliums, freesia, lilies and gladioli.

If your forced flower bulbs such as hyacinths and daffodils have finished flowering, they can be planted outdoors now.


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Mulch around the bases of fruit trees with well-rotted compost. This month they will start to flower so if a frost is forecast protect the flowers with fleece.

To encourage early strawberries, cover plants with a cloche.

Asparagus

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Think carefully before planting asparagus as the bed you choose will be a permanent one. Because of this it is important to plant with plenty of well-rotted compost or manure to make sure the soil has plenty of nutrients to keep it going.

Asparagus plants take years to produce enough spears for a worthy harvest since it is best to leave all of the first year’s crop unpicked and to only pick one or two from each crown in the second year’s harvest so that the plants can fully establish themselves.

Your patience will certainly be rewarded, though, as a single plant is likely to produce delicious spears for up to 20 years!

Asparagus prefer a sunny, well-draining area that will allow the foliage to reach its full height.

This month plant crowns by digging a small trench around 10 inches deep and 12 inches wide and almost fill it with compost or manure. Top this with the top soil you’ve dug out and space the asparagus crowns out about 15 inches apart. Cover with soil so that just the top of the buds can be seen. Water and add a layer of mulch.

It’s important to keep the bed weed free as asparagus have shallow roots and so can do without weeds as competition for nutrients and moisture.

Asparagus foliage grows tall so be prepared to provide support.  

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Pumpkin 'Paton Twins Giant' (Cucurbita maxima) by Thompson & Morgan

Why not have a go at being a record breaker by growing pumpkins from seed taken from a pumpkin weighing over 1200lb!

Ian Paton and his twin brother Stuart currently hold the record for the heaviest pumpkin grown in the UK with a pumpkin they grew that weighed in at 2269lbs/ 162 stone!

Sow pumpkin seed indoors from April to May for transplanting later on. Sow pumpkins seeds on their sides in small 7.5cm/3” pots of seed compost at a depth of about 2.5cm/1”. Place in a propagator or seal pots inside a clear plastic bag at a temperature of 20-25C (68-77F) until germination, which takes 5-7 days.

Once germinated, grow pumpkins on in cooler conditions until all risk of frost has passed and pumpkin plants are large enough to be transplanted outdoors.

Gradually acclimatise them to outdoor conditions over 7 - 10 days before planting pumpkins outdoors in warm, well drained, humus rich soil in full sun, with shelter from winds. Choose a spot that receives at least 6 hours of direct sun per day.

Feed and water pumpkins regularly. When growing pumpkins, a thick mulch of organic matter spread around the plants will help to conserve moisture at the roots. Hoe between plants regularly to prevent weeds from establishing. Pumpkins will begin to produce long stems which can be trained in a circle around the plant to prevent them spreading too far.

Pondlife

Algae starts to grow again in the spring so the water may turn green. If it carries on for a few weeks think about introducing more oxygenating plants.

If the pond is suffering with pondweed remove by hand, rake or with a net. Many pond owners report that a rotting log helps deter pondweed and certainly its deterioration can add valuable nutrients for wildlife, although conifer wood is best avoided.

This month is a good time to introduce new plants to the pond as the water has warmed up slightly. It is also time to split and propagate waterlilies by cutting a three-inch piece of the waterlily’s rhizome and potting it up.

Vegetables to sow

Outdoors: beans, beetroot, carrot, peas, spinach, Swiss chard

Undercover: Brussels sprouts, kale, purple sprouting broccoli, sweetcorn, tomatoes, cucumbers, courgettes, squash

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This article was first published in Smallholder magazine. If you would like to keep up to date on what to plant each month, get your copy here.