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.

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