Timely jobs for the month | April

2018 is the Year of the Pepper

2018, has been designated by Fleuroselect, ‘The Year of the Pepper’. You can sow pepper and chilli seeds on a warm windowsill – it takes 14-21 days for them to sprout but at temperatures of 18-25C seeds this can be reduced to 7-10 days. Once they sprout treat them like your tomatoes from potting up to harvest, growing them in greenhouse or in pots on a sunny patio.

Both Thompson & Morgan and Mr Fothergill’s wants gardeners to forget about the fire and explore the wide range of flavours in the chilli kingdom. Just as sweet peppers have different flavours (orange cultivars are sweeter than red ones, and green ones have a level of bitterness) so too do chillies

mr-fothergills.co.uk new and exclusive products for this season include milder Pepper Curry Pepper and Pepper Havana Gold. The testing team claim that the popular chilli Trinidad Perfume has virtually no heat and is grown just for flavour, so give it a try.

If you can take the heat then check out suttons.co.uk who offer plugs and potted plants of 30 varieties.

To take the heat out of chillis when cooking, always remove the inner membranes and seeds, which is where the majority of the heat resides. The amount of capsaicin, the active component in chilli peppers, varies with the variety and maturity of the pepper. Habanero peppers are always extremely hot while ancho and paprika peppers can be as mild as a bell pepper

Sow and grow marigolds Mr Fothergill’s is also celebrating marigolds this year and suggest we grow them in pots and borders to add some sunshine to our summer gardens. You need to start the half-hardy annual French and African varieties in the warmth but they are well worth the effort. They have 33 varieties on offer, 5 of which are brand new this year.

French variety Alumia Creme Brûlée has proved to be so popular that Mr Fothergill’s have already sold out, so you’ll need to get your orders in double quick when the 2019 catalogues come out in this autumn

When sowing always take care to sow seed thinly and don’t over water. Overcrowded seedlings and damp conditions will encourage the fungal disease ‘damping off’, which causes seedlings to rot.

Keep on top of emerging weeds Hoeing regularly will keep annual weeds in check. Choose a sunny or windy day to hoe and leave the weed seedlings to wither on the ground then spread a 5-10cm layer of mulch to suppress further weed growth. Before you wield your hoe though, you might want to consider what you’re throwing away.

Chickweed for example, is a cool-season weed that can cover bare soil with a green carpet in a matter of weeks and if left undisturbed will produce thousands of seeds. You can use it to check the fertility of your soil as it is a good indicator that the soil has high potassium and nitrogen levels but is low in phosphate and lime. It is absent from the most acidic soils. Already you are probably thinking that chickweed might not be so bad and the better news is that the plant is also quite nutritious and Chickweed Tea, taken before meals, can help keep you slim!

Many food foragers look for bittercress too and know its value. The leaves taste like mild watercress and can be used as a parsley substitute when a dish needs sprucing up with a sprinkling of chopped greens. You also can use pureed bittercress as a pesto base.

Large weedy areas that have become overrun with difficult perennials like nettles and ground elder though are more difficult to control but you can begin now by covering weedy areas with black plastic or thick cardboard to smother the plants as they emerge and kill them off. It usually takes several years to clear a plot, so bear this in mind if taking on an overgrown allotment.

Bring in bees Fill your borders with flowers to bring in the bees whatever the time of year. Sprinkle seeds of hardy annuals where you want them to flower. Draw up a plan on paper and then mark out your sowing scheme on the bare soil with silver sand, so you have a record of what’s been put where.

 thompson-morgan.com have launched this annual variety of Poppy Album as their Flower of 2018

From June to September, Poppy Album bears its long-stemmed open, cup-shaped flowers above rosettes of blue-green foliage. Each delicate bloom, which is palest pink with contrasting lilac blotches at their centre is a magnet to bees and hoverflies that will munch on aphids like there’s no tomorrow. As the flowers fade, they are replaced by attractive seed capsules, which are filled with edible seeds that can be used when making breads and cakes.

Sow modern kitchen staples such as sugar snap peas and spinach under cloches to give you a head start on the season. Also sow pumpkins in pots on a warm windowsill indoors, so that they are ready to plant out after the last frost as most varieties will need 75 – 100 days to be ready for harvesting.

Cash in on carrots As far as sowing and harvesting dates are concerned there are two basic types of carrots, earlies and maincrop. Earlies are normally sown this month and take 12 weeks to reach maturity. Maincrop carrots are sown around May time and take 16 weeks to reach maturity.

It is quite possible to sow both types in April, however in general, early carrots are considered to be more tender and tasty compared to maincrops, making them more expensive to buy in the shops. Maincrop carrots however, will store for far longer than early varieties and are better suited to maturing later in the year.

This year why not try something new. Carrot Sweet Imperator Mix (thompson-morgan.com) is the perfect choice for growing in a deep patio container. These colourful F1 hybrids produce slender, tapering roots up to 25cm long if sown quite thickly. The sweet, flavoursome roots are crisp and juicy and come in a fabulous array of colours.

Whilst nutient-packed, the different coloured carrots provide a range of taste experiences and health benefits. Red carrots for example, are higher in lycopene and beta-carotene pigment, which is linked to a lower risk of certain cancers, including prostate cancer. Yellow carrots contain high amounts of xanthophyll and lutein, associated with cancer prevention and eye health. White or pale-yellow carrots tend to be milder, with high fibre content, whilst purple carrots contain higher amounts of anthocyanin, beta- and alpha-carotenes, and have a sweeter and sometimes peppery flavour

Sow and grow for wildlife The RSPB, the country’s largest nature conservation charity, is inspiring everyone to give nature a home and help protect British wildlife. All varieties in the Mr Fothergoll’s RSPB range are a valuable source of pollen for pollinators or a great source of food for birds. Among the most distinctive plants are the hummingbird hawk-moth’s favourite Valerian and Verbena bonariensis, which are also loved by butterflies, bees and birds and Teasel with its spiky seed heads that you’ll find birds pick clean.

Hummingbird hawkmoths can be spotted in the UK anytime from June to September

Speed up germination You will improve your sowing success rate with Mr Fothergill’s range of seeds that have been treated with Optigrow. This unique process helps to produce more vigorous seedlings, more uniform crops and better end results. In their own comparison trials, nearly 80 per cent of Optigrow treated Carrot Amsterdam seed germinated within 50 hours from sowing, compared to 90 hours for the same percentage of standard seed.

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