Possibly the coldest April for three decades with snow flurries in London (known as ‘thunder snow’ –snow and thunderstorms combined) sleet and icy morning frosts, has not been very conducive to the risk of sowing seeds and planting cuttings. However the Met Office forecast for May - in the South at least - is for above average sunshine. So now looks like a good time to take the plunge, especially keeping in mind that it takes a couple of weeks for most seeds to germinate and emerge from the protection of the soil.
If you are growing vegetables on the plot, choose ones that don’t take up too much space (as the plots are small), that don’t take too long to grow, are what you most enjoy, are more delicious home-grown or more expensive to buy.
Some starter suggestions include salad leaves and herbs which are expensive to buy and are useful every day. Salad leaves can be kept going through the growing season (and even through winter if you go onto a ‘winter mix’) by just sowing a few seeds every three weeks and always leaving a few of the leaves at the base when picking. This will usually give you three pickings from each plant.
If you buy potted herbs from the market or a garden centre, check that they haven’t been grown for ornamental use and been sprayed with insecticides. The supermarket ones grown for eating are completely safe but may be on the tender side and need hardening off.
Fresh home-grown strawberries are incomparably delicious. Buy a few plants and you are all set up for the future as they will throw out rooted runners which can be snipped off for more plants next year. The original plants are usually replaced every three years when they run out of steam. The scent alone of a freshly picked tomato warmed by the sun a real summer treat. Tomatoes are dead easy to grow from a small plant, just needing a warm sheltered spot and a weekly feed.
As Culpeper is strictly organic, it is best to net or cover your produce to protect it from slugs and snails and other pests. A further defence is to confuse flying pests by both sight and smell. The pungent aromatic scent of the Mediterranean rosemaries , sages and lavenders is good protection as is a planting of strong smelling French marigolds. Nasturtiums will draw slug and snails away from your produce and a further benefit is that the leaves and petals are good in salads. Garlic is said to ward off aphids, while carrots interplanted with leeks make a very happy partnership indeed. The carrots repel both onion fly and the leek moth and the leeks repel carrot fly. Growing flowers amongst the vegetables will further confuse pests which go by sight and will make Culpeper even more enjoyable for visitors than it is.