One man and his organic plot - One foot in, one foot out

The one foot in, one foot out month of April brings both the incredible joy of spring but also some important caution as cold snaps can suddenly arrive, and frosts are not uncommon. It is tricky as all the signs of seasonal change are around us, but caution with any tender plant material is still to be practised. Let us enjoy though the wonderful sight of the new season breaking out all around us.
Spring flowers at Ryton gardens

My balcony is flush with the colour of my organic bulb planting and is full of busy, chirpy small birdlife. The magnolias and camellias seem to be having another bumper spring in north London. It has been a few years in a row where their flowering seems to be particularly heavy, and I’m wondering if people see the same in the more northern part of the country. It truly is a magnificent sight and should be absorbed and appreciated whenever the chance presents itself.

This spring also aligns itself with daily life edging back to normality, and everyone agrees that this year’s spring will be particularly poignant. I hope if nothing else, that this strange time has taught us to appreciate nature more than ever, and the uptake in gardening over lockdown is a healthy sign. It is with these thoughts that I get to work with the many tasks that will need doing in April, and my office at home is already a big player in the action - the propagators have been dusted off, my bag of the all-important peat-free seed compost is put into action, and the sowing begins.

The Heritage Seed Library varieties of peppers, chillies and tomatoes are already showing their cotyledons. Towards the end of the month, the more tender crops, such as courgette, squash and beans, will take over the propagators as I look to get a chain of plants on the go to make sure the allotment is fully utilised throughout the summer. Of course, if you really want to maximise your organic practises, you can also make your own seed compost using equal parts of sterilised loam, well-rotted leaf mould and sharp sand. Although this takes effort, it really is incredibly satisfying and will save a few quid too.

As always, one of my first jobs on the allotment is to get my compost bins ship-shape; last year’s compost has been bagged and will be used with precision throughout the season; I really see it as the gold of gardening, and its production is always a priority. Not costing me more than a few nails, I put together those ever-useful old pallets and create two decent sized bays and a leaf mould bay. They sit nicely at the end of the plot and will make sure nothing goes to waste. My next move is to fix an old water butt into position, and this will be used to make a fertiliser tea from the roots of the many pernicious weeds that found their way in when the plot was not being used, thus keeping them out of the compost heap and preventing spreading.

Moving away from the allotment, one of my great balcony pleasures is my salad bar, a large trough that I thickly sow salad leaves, pea shoots, rocket and micro-greens into. Sown in drills and with repeat sowing in-between those drills at regular intervals, this pretty much gives me a fresh supply of salad and sandwich filling material right on my doorstep. Attention to watering and a decent peat-free potting compost are the golden rules, and I reckon this practice saves me a good few pounds over the summer, and it guarantees fresh organic pesticide-free food, a real winner.

Busy but exciting times ahead then, as the new season gets into full flow. I had my first Ryton visit in a while, and it was great to catch up with my fellow gardeners and see the progress of the new space, lots going on, and as always, the satisfaction involved is priceless. Until the next time, happy gardening.