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This month in the garden - 2023

April in the Garden

The garden comes alive in April to the sounds of frogs, birds and crickets and to the colours of the fruit tree blossoms. We still hope for more rain but the acequias are running and its time to get down to serious work.

Continue sowing seeds for the summer garden and potting on the seedlings that were sown last month. Keep frost protection in place, just to be safe and do not allow the young tender seedlings to dry out. Be especially vigilant on warm windy days. Seeds can be sown in seed trays for aubergines, chillies, peppers, tomatoes, courgettes, pumpkins, melons, watermelons, cucumbers, leeks, lettuce, coriander and basil. Direct sow all kinds of beans; climbing and dwarf French, runner, soya, yard long, adzuki and mung; beetroot, radish, turnip, carrots, spinach, parsnips, peanuts and okra.

As we harvest our gardens we are extracting nutrients in the form of the fruits and vegetables that we eat. Its important to replace this fertility to allow the land to continue to provide for us. In a natural ecosystem, the leaves and fruit of the plants growing there get eaten by animals that then return the nutrients to the ground through their excrement and finally their dead bodies. The fruits that don't get eaten from the plants fall to the ground and decompose with the help of the little ground dwelling creatures. The act of harvesting interupts these cycles as food is exported from the system and so to have a healthy vibrant garden, we must make up for these losses.

There are many ways to add fertility to the soil. Grow green manures such as oats and alfalfa. These can be broadcast and cut down before they flower and left to be absorbed back into the soil. Leguminous cover crops such as lentils fix nitrogen in the soil. Nettle and comfrey leaves can be made into feeds that can be used on specific parts of the garden, normally the vegetables to give targeted nutrition. A worm farm can be fed with kitchen scraps and the liquid that is produced used as a feed.

Well rotted garden compost really is the best but its difficult to make enough to satisfy the needs of the garden without importing material. Consider collecting compost bins from neighbours, restaurants or grocers shops to increase your home compost supply. Animal manures are a great source of fertility and you can use your own chicken, duck, rabbit, goat, sheep, horse, donkey or mule manure, if you keep any of these animals. Fresh manure can be too strong to put directly on the garden. If it is collected together with the straw from the animal bedding, it can be composted for a few months to make a really delicious addition to the soil. We are very fortunate here in the Alpujarras that animal manures are widely available.

Not all manures are equal though. Goat manure can contain fleas. Covering the pile with plastic and leaving it to rot down for a few months will solve that problem. Horse manure can import many weeds as the seeds pass straight through the horse's digestive system. Composting it for a few months again solves the problem. Adding biomass to the soil is also important. This can be done by shredding rather than burning tree prunings and adding them back to the soil. Grass clippings and fallen leaves can be gathered and added directly back onto the beds or composted. The creepy-crawlies that do a lot of our work for us, turning our leaf piles into leaf mulch and aerating our soil, need places to stay. Encourage them by leaving a few piles of sticks here and there to provide a habitat.

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