April growing with Rachel

Rachel Bull is prepping her veg plot ready for planting out seedlings
Rachel Bull has planted out her rocket seedlings and is getting ready for more seed sowing

I count down to April with the same excitement my children have heading towards Christmas – though my to-grow list is arguably longer than their requests for Santa.


It’s one of the busiest months in my vegetable garden. The days are getting longer and the soil is warming up, which brings the opportunity to sow some seed directly outside and free up some much-needed windowsill space.

I've been growing vegetables and flowers across our garden and allotment for 15 years, and this year I'm growing the free edible seeds that come with BBC Gardeners’ World Magazine. I'll be sharing my advice and experiences with you every month.

Harvested beetroot
Beetroot should be ready to harvest from June onwards, pull up while still young and tender

Homegrown beetroot is a firm favourite in our house. It’s really easy to grow from seed, and in the kitchen it's versatile and utterly delicious: I particularly love it grated raw in summer salads. A winning recipe with our family is pink pancakes – roasted beetroot whizzed up with egg, a little flour and milk, and if you’re feeling fancy, once cooked, smothered with cream cheese and smoked salmon. As a bonus, you can use the leafy green tops much as you would spinach.

I find beetroot grows best in soil that's fertile, with good drainage, and that's been raked or sieved well. At the allotment, I’ve prepared a bed by topping it up with peat-free multi-purpose compost. Beetroot is suited to container growing too. You’ll get a harvest of golf-ball sized roots in a pot – just make sure it’s deep enough for the beetroot to form.

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Sow with me

Sowing beetroot seeds
Beetroot grows best in rich fertile soil, with good drainage

Beetroot like a sunny spot, and they don’t like having their roots disturbed. For that reason I prefer to sow directly rather than transplant seedlings from trays. Beetroot also don’t like competing for nutrients, so try to keep the growing area free of weeds.

Using a stick, I’ll make an drill in the soil around 1.5cm deep and place the beetroot seeds directly in, spacing them about 10cm apart, before covering back over and watering well. Beetroot seeds are quite big and in fact most beetroot seeds, including the ones that you get with your copy of this magazine are ‘multigerm’ (where each seed is in fact a cluster of seeds) – meaning that when they germinate there could be between two to four plants. By spacing them out, you’ll give the plants enough space to grow so that when it comes to harvesting you can take one from each clump, and leave the others to grow on.

My top tip for April

With all of March’s rain, I’m keeping an eye on our garden’s slug population – a few slimy parties have been seen in the remnants of the daffodils. I’ll spend some time removing any slugs and snails by hand, particularly on wet evenings when they come out in droves.

Rocket update

Rocket seedlings ready to plant out
Rocket seedlings, growing in modules, are being hardened off ready to plant out

January’s rocket was hardened off over the course of a fortnight to prepare the plants for life at the allotment – I was pleased with the strong root structures that had developed in the module trays. I topped up the bed with homemade compost and planted the rocket out in rows; fingers crossed, we’ll soon be harvesting the individual leaves for our first salads. If you’ve still got seeds left in your packet, you can sow these directly outside from now all the way through to September. Make a drill about 1cm deep and lightly scatter the seeds before covering over: seedlings should pop up within a few days.

Tomato update

Rachel's tomato seedlings
Rachel's tomato seedlings are ready to prick out into individual pots

The ‘Sun Baby’ tomato seeds from March are growing well with the first set of true leaves showing, so I’m now pricking them out of their shared pot. Holding the leaves gently, I like to use a small spoon to scoop up the seedling – making sure I don’t damage the root or stem. I’ll be replanting the seedlings deeply into individual pots. Tomatoes will form roots from their stem if planted deep, so that means you can help the plants create a strong root system – especially beneficial if your plants have become a bit leggy from March’s gloomy weather!


Basil update

I promised I’d share the highs and the lows, and unfortunately my basil seedlings suffered some slight neglect in the juggle of life! The second round is now popping up from the pot, and I am optimistic they have a more promising future. But I guess the lesson there is that no gardening season ever goes completely to plan, which is why we have to enjoy the process – and nothing beats it!