April is one of the busiest months of the sowing calendar; it’s a seed sowing frenzy!
With the soil warming up, it’s possible to direct sow, but given previous experience I sow a lot of seeds at home. This speeds up germination and gives the seedlings a bit of a head start. The seedlings are transplanted when they are sufficiently developed. This helps protect them from all the pesky pests such as slugs, snails, mice and birds, and adverse weather such as late frosts.
We are sowing in April:
Whilst it’s much easier to grow shallots and onions from sets I thought it would be worth trying to grow some from seed this year. There are varieties of onions and shallots available in seed that are not available in sets so it enables us to try unusual varieties.
Also last year our shallots bolted due to the warm weather, we had grown them from set. This was a common problem across the allotment, except for those shallots grown from seed.
I have chosen shallot Zebrune seeds, whilst these are available to buy as sets, I like a long shallots. Much easier to peel. They have a mild sweet flavour.
The onion seeds I have chosen are Borettana and these are unavailable as sets. They are an Italian heirloom variety, they are small, flattened sphere, mild, sweet flavoured onions. They are perfect for roasting or using fresh in salads.
Finally, I LOVE leeks so we are going to grow loads this year. I have chosen the Blue Solaise leek for the second year. It’s an old French winter variety and extremely hardy and cold resistant so it over winters brilliantly. It’s also tastes good and leekie.
Legumes, I have to restrain myself, there are so many to choose from. I have chosen four types of legume….so far. I haven’t even looked at French beans yet.
Peas – Champion of England form the Real Seed Catalogue.
We grew these last year and they were amazing, probably the best pea I have tasted in years. Sweet and tender.
This is a very rare variety, rescued from extinction thanks to Robert Woodridge who kindly sent some seeds from his families seed bank to the RSC in 2007. It took 4 years to get the seeds viable to sell. This variety dates back to the 1840′s and is a tall pea, growing up to 8ft to 10 ft high. I have sown 60 seeds and plan to sow more shortly to ensure an extended crop. Hoping for a glut, they freeze well.
Runner Beans – Greek Gigantes from The Real Seed Catalogue
This is a new variety to the RSC and I just had to have some seeds to try. This is another rare legume it originates from the mountains in Northern Greece.
As the name suggests the runner beans are ENORMOUS. This runner bean isn’t grown for it’s pod but the large buttery beans inside the pod. The RSC describe the seeds as alarmingly large! They can be used in stews, salads or to make a type of hummus. They can also be dried. I’m so excited to be trying this. I’m just debating what size growing module I shall use, the usual 3 inch pot probably won’t be big enough …. the seeds are over an inch long. This is going to be one monster of a plant.
Runner Beans – Moonlight
I was reading the latest copy of The Kitchen Garden magazine, my favourite gardening magazine, and they had an interesting article about runner beans.
Runner beans typically have bright coloured flowers as they are dependent on bees and insects to pollinate their flowers. French beans however, are self pollinating.
The Moonlight runner bean is the first self pollinating runner bean, developed by the British seed company Tozer. They crossed a runner bean with a French bean. Crops are far more reliable and the beans are extra smooth skinned, stringless and fleshy with a proper runner bean taste… what can go wrong?!
Borlotti Beans – Lingua di Fuoco
Think small Italian version of Greek Gigantes…
These are delicious eaten fresh when the pod is semi mature, as flageolets; or fresh as haricots, when the pod is fully matured. These seeds can also be dried.
Celeriac – Bianco del Veneto
I LOVE celeriac, I use it as a flavoursome substitute for potatoes.
This particular variety comes from the Veneto region in Italy. The seeds are tiny, and the seedling are miniscule; it’s hard to believe they grow into such large root vegetables. Seed germination isn’t easy, so I have sowed plenty.
I have grown celeriac before, but I bought seedlings from the garden centre. They weren’t a great success, I ended up with some gnarly odd shaped roots that housed woodlice. So lets see what happens this time.
Parsnips – Gladiator F1
Parsnip seeds have to be sowed directly into soil as they don’t transplant well. The life of a parsnip seed is very short lived, seeds older than a year will typically fail to germinate. And then there’s the issue of the young seedling making it’s way through the soils crust as it germinates. It’s foliage is very weak and lacks the strength to push through overly ‘crusty’ soil, which sadly we have at the allotment. So yet again the Kitchen Garden magazine has come to the rescue. Using a dibber make a large hole in the soil, much the same as you would when planting leeks. Fill the hole with a mixture of grit and a good quality compost. Then sow the seed into the hole, 2 cm deep. Germination can be terribly slow, up to 30 days.
This particular variety is described as having a super smooth, blemish free white skin… I somehow fail to believe that, but we will see. The Gladiator F1 has a lovely sweet flavour and a good resistance to canker.
I’m a little late in sowing chilli’s but I’m hoping they will catch up. This is what I currently have on the go…
Lemon Drop – Hot Citrus Pepper – from the Real Seed Catalogue
This is a rare variety of chilli from Peru, and as its name suggests these chilli’s have a strong lemon flavour. Delicious in salsa’s or a lemony citrus chilli sauce.
Alberto’s Locoto – from the Real Seed Catalogue
Couldn’t resist this unusual seed. It’s a very, very, very rare chilli and the RSC only have limited stock, I know!
It has fuzzy leaves, purple flowers which develop into 1.5 inch red pendant shaped fruits. The seeds inside are black. It’s a hot chilli, but adds more of a lovely warmth to food than the sort of chilli that burns ones tonsils.
It can be treated as a perennial, providing it’s overwintered indoors. The plant should produce fruit for up to 7 years.
Habanero Chocolate – from More Veg
I was seduced by the word chocolate. I failed to read further than the word chocolate. Habanero Chocolate chilli’s are reported to be one of the hottest chilli’s in the world, with around 425,000 Scoville units.. wowser! As a comparison, Scotch Bonnets have a heat rating of between 100,000 to 350,000.
Saying that, this chilli has a unique rich flavour which develops as the fruits mature from a bright green to a chocolate brown. I’m pleased to be trying this chilli, but will be wearing industrial strength gloves when handling it.
Guindilla Roja – From More Veg
A typical mild to medium chilli from northern Spain. It’s curved! It turns red when mature and has a lovely sweet flavour. Perfect for all things tapas.
Spinach – Mikado F1
I love this spinach, it’s actually an oriental leaf and has delicious tender leaves. It can be grown throughout the summer as it’s bolt resistant.
Kale – Sutherland Kale – from the Real Seed Catalogue.
This is my absolute favourite kale. It’s tastes? Imagine a cross between spinach and a spring green. It has pale green, flat interesting shaped leaves which are not tough or bitter. It’s fairly prolific, and best of all it’s pretty trouble free. I grew some last year and it was one of my favourite crops. So I’m definitely growing more this year.
The Real Seed Catalogue were sent a sample of these seeds back in 2003. It came from a 93 year old lady called Elizabeth Woolcombe of Drummie, in Sutherland. It had been given to Elizabeth some 50 years earlier by Angus Simmonds. He was doing research on Kale at Edinburgh University at the time. I say how lucky for us to be able to enjoy this incredible vegetable.
When it bolts, typically in spring, it sends up a flower shoot which looks like sprouting broccoli. I’ve not tried this yet, but these shoots are also supposed to taste very good.
I can’t recommend this kale enough. Please try it.
Kale – Lacinato – from More Veg and Franchi
This is an Italian Heirloom variety, with a blue green strap leaf. Also known as Cavolo Nero.
Pick the leaves when they are young otherwise they turn very tough.
Sweet corn – Swift F1
We LOVE LOVE LOVE sweetcorn and plan to grow loads this year.
Our allotment neighbour, Darrin, grew this variety last year and it looked amazing. Most of the plants had at least two cobs. So we thought we would give this a go.