Sowing swedes – May/June

Swedes (Swedish Turnips) are a really great vegetable. Mashed with lashings of butter and a generous dusting of black pepper – it doesn’t get much better that that! So how about cultivation?

Firstly, let’s deal with the soil and position. Swedes will not tolerate waterlogged soil; it needs to be free-draining. So, if your are down the ‘wet’ end of the allotment site, consider a raised bed or grow them on ‘ridges’ in the soil. Swedes need alkaline soil – so they will do well in the clay soil of the East Riding. Work the soil well and dig in a lot of well rotted compost to improve drainage. A light dusting of general purpose fertiliser two weeks before sowing will also help get the crop off to a good start. Choose a nice sunny spot but remember, the young plants will also benefit from a bit of shelter if we get more of the recent cold winds coming off the North Sea.

Sowing direct

The best time to sow swede is mid-May to mid-June but, since it’s a winter crop, delaying until July won’t matter too much. You can sow direct in rows about 35cm (14″) apart. Sow the seeds (which are quite small) thinly and cover with about 1 cm (1/2″) of soil. As the seedlings emerge thin out to approximately 25cm (10″) apart. Slugs and birds will attack the young plants so you will need to take precautions and net the plants initially.

Sowing in modular trays

Alternatively, you can sow the seeds in modular trays. Fill the tray with compost and put two seeds in each module, again about 1 cm deep. Cover the seeds over, water, and keep the compost moist (but not overwatered) during germination. Plant them out when two proper leaves have formed.

Protection from pests

In addition to slugs, swedes can be susceptible to cabbage root fly and flea beetle – remember they are brassicas! Netting the plants with micro-mesh or using horticultural fleece until the plants are well established should avoid the problem as well as keeping the pigeons at bay.

Swedes will take 5 to 6 months to reach maturity. So some patience is required. But when you add a good dollop of mashed swede to your plate on a cold November or December day, you’ll be glad you stuck to the task.

Sowing beetroot – April/May

You can grow beetroot by sowing directly into well prepared beds, but it is also possible to grow this crop by starting the seed in trays transplanting to their final position after about 4 weeks. The advantage of this approach is that it gives the young seedlings protection from the weather and also birds who will find the young plants are quite a tasty treat. (Young beetroot leaves can be harvested and eaten like spinach).

Beetroots grow best in loose fertile soil which has had a lot of organic matter dug in – but avoid beds where you have recently incorporated manure as this can cause problems with the roots. Beetroot prefers free-draining soil, so planting in raised beds will be better if the soil is heavy and prone to becoming waterlogged.

Beetroot seeds come in ‘clusters’. So each ‘seed’ will actually produce three or four seedlings which you need to thin out after germination.

Sowing seeds for transplanting later…

If you decide to go this route, plant the seeds in modular trays using a seed compost which will be finer and lower in nutrients than a multi-purpose compost. Fill the tray with compost and tap it to let the compost settle rather than pressing it down. Make a hole approximately 2.5 cm deep and drop one seed into each cell. Then cover the seeds with another thin layer of compost. Gently water the seeds in, but avoid overwatering. Keep the compost moist. As the seedlings emerge, select the strongest seedling and remove the others by snipping them out (rather than pulling them which might disturb the roots of the stronger seedling). The young plants should be ready for planting out after 4 weeks. Plant the young beetroots 10 cm apart in rows 20cm apart and water well after planting.

Sowing Direct

Work the soil until you have a fine, granular consistency. Then rake the bed level  and form a trench about 2.5 cm (1″) deep with the edge of a hoe or a trowel. Plant the seeds about 10cm (4″) apart. Space rows about 20cm (8″) apart. Cover the seeds over with soil and water well. As the seedlings emerge remove the weakest and thin out to one plant every 10cm.