Gardening Magazine

Starting Early Salad Crops

By Notcuttsuk @notcuttsuk
I have grown vegetables for years but have had to give up my allotments through lack of time – the stress of being unable to fit the work around other commitments and the early spring weather made it a chore rather than a hobby so for now, this is how it has to be. 
Taking pity on me and knowing full well that I will miss our home grown vegetables my husband has made me two small raised beds in a sunny spot in our back garden. They are small because our garden is small but they will be better than nothing!
The finishing touches of coloured wood stain are going onto the wooden surrounds now and the compost heap has been emptied to help make up the soil levels. Soon they will be ready for me to start planting and sowing seeds. 
One job that I can be getting on with is sowing seed of loose leaved lettuce into modules ready to plant out later once their roots have established. I have always sown lettuce into plastic modules and grow them on, before planting out when they are large enough to fend off attacks from slugs and snails! A few seeds are placed in each cell and thinned to a single plant once they are large enough to handle. I sow mixed packets of lettuce so need to be careful that I don’t always remove the slower growing varieties which often have the prettiest leaves! 
Broad beans are a must in our household and I am sowing some of these in pots to plant out later. My allotment was in an exposed but sunny position so I have always opted for ‘The Sutton’ an old favorite which only grows to about 45cms and crops prolifically. Nothing beats the hum of contented bees on an early summers evening as they go about their work pollinating the scented black and white flowers on broad bean plants - apart from the sight of Ladybird larvae about their business destroying the Black Bean Aphid which are such a pest to this crop!
I usually sow peas directly into shallow trenches the width of a spade and often lament the loss of them to mice. The Field Mice in our area seem particularly fond of Mange Tout seeds, decimating rows of these on my allotment, so we will see how they fare in the garden with our enormous cat keeping watch! For now, I need to get some peas ready to plant out as soon as I can so these too will be sown into pots. 
Radish, Mustard, Rocket and Lambs Lettuce along with Parsley and Coriander will be sown directly into the soil when the time comes but I still think it is early for direct sowings. I like to wait until plenty of weed seedlings are visible - a sign that the soil is warming up - and then sow a short row of Radish which will come up in a few days if the soil is warm enough. Once the Radish raise their heads, it is action stations and all sorts of seeds can go in! 
I am of the old school when it comes to Parsnips and Beetroot, shunning early sowings in cold, wet soil which these plants seem to hate. Better to wait until May when the soil is much warmer – I have always had excellent results with Parsnips sown early in May month and although there are varieties of beetroot that are resistant to ‘bolting’ (flowering instead of producing a tasty beet) I still think they prefer warmer weather and will germinate more quickly and make a better crop if sowings are begun in May.
Apart from Beetroot, I am wary of planting root crops in the raised beds this year – the soil has had so much compost added to make up the levels that I think it will be too rich and the roots will ‘fork’ and grow into all sorts of shapes!
News Flash! After pondering how I am going to fit all of these vegetables into two small raised beds, a farmer friend of mine who lives very close by contacted me having heard of my allotment plight. He is downsizing on his raised beds and has offered me one to ‘look after’ so it looks as though I have lost two allotments but gained three raised beds – I can’t wait to get started!

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