April Newsletter




Dear Fellow Gardeners,

Let’s hope that spring is just around the corner.  We are still waiting for it up here in Leitrim.  At least we haven’t been tempted to sow or plant too early in the year.  We had a course here in Milkwood last week and I was hoping to sow or plant onions, garlic, shallots, broad beans, early potatoes and Jerusalem artichokes but unfortunately it rained – again.

I prepared the beds a couple of days before the course all ready for easy planting but unfortunately it poured buckets since then and I still haven’t got them in the ground.  Luckily there is still plenty of time – the only one I’m a bit concerned about is garlic.  Garlic needs to be exposed to a cold spell so that the cloves form into a bulb.

This month’s newsletter contains the following articles which I hope you’ll find useful:

–          Troublesome lettuce

–          Lifecycle of Vegetables

–          Sow all your brassicas now and get a long harvest

–          Join an exciting experiment

–          Gardening Events in April

There are a couple of places left on our gardening course on the 12th April here in Milkwood.  Information can be found if you click on the following link: Grow your own Vegetables


Troublesome lettuce

Many people have problems with germinating lettuce seeds.

Unfortunately lettuce has two handicaps:  The seeds need light to germinate and they become dormant if it’s too warm.

Sowing lettuce:

Lettuce seeds are best sown into modular trays.  Fill the tray with good seed compost (not multi-purpose compost), tap it a couple of times on the table to firm the compost (I don’t compact it with my hands), add more compost, and level the excess off with your hands or a piece of timber.

Then make the slightest indentation in the middle of each module and sow the seeds into it.  I usually use a piece of paper folded in half, place the seeds onto the paper and push them into the modules with a pencil.  If I want a full head of lettuce I only sow one seed per module and if I use them for picking individual leaves I sow three seeds per module.  Then I put the tiniest sprinkle of compost onto the seeds.  If there is too much soil covering the seeds they will not germinate.

Now the important bit:

If you place your trays into the greenhouse or tunnel and the sun shines for two days, the seeds are unlikely to germinate. It was simply too warm for them.  This happens when the temperature exceeds 24 degrees C.  So you have to move your trays for the first 48 hours into a cooler place – 18 degrees C is the ideal for lettuce.  This means moving them into the house or a cool shed or garage.  After 48 hours the trays can be brought back into the greenhouse or polytunnel.

As soon as they start to germinate the seedlings need full sunlight.  They will remain in the trays for about four weeks in the tunnel or greenhouse.  You should then harden them off for about a week (acclimatise them to outdoor conditions) and then they can be planted out.


Lifecycle of vegetables

On a philosophical note: A seed is the beginning and also the end of a plant’s lifecycle.  Annual and biennial plants die after they have produced seeds.

A few vegetables are annuals but most of them are biennials.  An annual plant completes is lifecycle from seed to seed in one year and a biennial plant takes two years.  There are also a few vegetables that are perennial and live for many years.

Annual vegetables include:

Peas, beans, lettuce, endive, annual spinach, tomatoes, cucumbers, sweetcorn, radish, cress, dill, coriander, chervil.

It’s very easy to save your own pea and bean seeds.  Simply grow a few extra plants or better even a separate tripod or frame.  Only grow one variety of each type to prevent cross pollination and then simply wait.  Do not harvest any peas or beans for eating.  When the pods turn brown and the seeds start to rattle when shaken they are ready to pick and store.

Biennial vegetables include:

Carrots, parsnips, beetroot, perpetual spinach, chard, onions, leeks, cabbage, swede, Brussels sprouts, kale, cauliflower, parsley,

Biennial plants are in the majority and I think it’s quite unfortunate that we never see their full lifecycle.  Maybe try this out next year:  Plant a beetroot, parsnip, carrot, onion, leeks etc. into a separate area in early spring.  I really mean plant the roots or bulbs from the previous year’s crops and choose the best ones for that.  In summer they will all flower and in autumn you’ll be able to harvest seeds for the following year.

Most of them make absolutely beautiful specimen plants that deserve a place in any ornamental garden.  So you can save yourself money and instead of buying expensive flowers and shrubs, just plant your leftover parsnips amongst your flowers.  Onions and leeks are equally beautiful. 

Perennial vegetables include:

Globe artichoke, cardoon, asparagus, rhubarb, yacon are true perennials.  Tuberous vegetables such as potato, Jerusalem artichoke and oca could also be classed as perennials as they reproduce from plant parts (tubers) and not seeds. But obviously we grow them as annuals.

Perennial vegetables are preferred in permaculture gardens.


A few tips

I usually sow most of my brassica seeds in the middle of April.  For example I sow an early cabbage (Hispi F1), a summer variety (Stonehead F1), an autumn variety (Rodynda) and winter varieties (Vertus) all around the middle of April.  This one sowing will provide cabbages from July until February – there is no need to make successional sowings.

Bionet Cloches

In case you haven’t seen my article on bionet cloches before please have a look at the link below – a bionet cloche can protect your newly planted onion sets, save your carrots from the dreaded root fly and will harden off your newly planted seedlings – all from one cloche.

Please click on the following link: Bionet cloche DIY.



Would you like to take part in an experiment?

Last month I recommended watching the lecture by Rupert Sheldrake on the power of the human mind.  I decided to do an experiment this year to find out if the human mind can influence the growth and yield of beetroot.  It’s really simple: we’ll have a fixed number of beetroot plants and half of them are encouraged through positive thought to grow bigger and better and the others are neglected or better even receive negative thoughts (you’ll need to be convincing though).

You’ll need 2 square metres of a bed and plant 40 beetroot seedlings

+ + + + + + + + + + –  –   –  –  –   –  –  –   –  –
Other   crop such as lettuce
 –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  – + + + + + + + + + +

+ = Positive beetroot (2 x 10 modular plants)

– = Negative beetroot (2 x 10 modular plants)

If anyone is interested in trying this out please contact me on milkwood.farm@hotmail.com.  It would be great to have a few replicates of the trial.


Gardening Events

12th April: Course at Milkwood Farm – Growing your own Vegetables

19th April: Talk in Ardcarne Garden Centres Boyle (morning) and Roscommon (afternoon)

26th April Course at the Organic Centre – Growing Unusual Vegetables (071 – 9854338)

27th April Clare Garden Festival in Ennis (we’ll be there as well)

10th May: Course at Milkwood Farm – Growing in Polytunnels and Greenhouses


Enjoy spring!