Vegetable growing in May 2011
this page updated 18th May
A little tour of the garden in pictures, on an afternoon of rare dampness, in this exceptionally early spring
Dryness is the theme for most of us so any kind of mulching is useful, but no mulch can make soil moist once it is dry, so watering may be unavoidable, especially for salads and vegetables close to maturity. We are already eating small broad beans from plants sown late October, they have not been watered but are sucking the ground extremely dry, I am lucky to be on clay. This is the year for outdoor tomatoes and melons...
Boltardy beetroot was planted on 21st March and covered with fleece for six weeks
bed of peas, Tall Sugar Snap, has been picked several times for pea shoots and should crop for another month
A small heading variety of calabrese (Brokali) making its first little head, just in time for some caterpillars?
These calabrese plants have been covered with a light mesh to exclude butterflies, we shall see
Wonderful spinach, variety Toscane, was sown 17th March two days before full moon and cropping freely
This year it paid off sowing parsnips in February
undug bed in front, dug behind, potatoes on left then carrots, which were part eaten by slugs on the dug bed's slippery clay
the earliest outdoor courgette I have grown, planted 23 March and covered with two layers of fleece
Mortons Secret Mix of lettuce from Real Seeds, some lovely shapes and colours
carrots on left sown two days before full moon, then carrots on right sown one day after on 20 March, but rather eaten...
Late April and there are lilac and allium flowers already, and the Judas tree flowering too
It is an amazingly forward spring. Temptingly so, too tempting, in case of a late ground frost. I am itching to plant courgettes and squashes which have come on so fast in the warm sunshine of this last fortnight.
the orchard in late April with blossom almost finished, whereas apples normally flower through May in this part of Britain; over-wintered broad beans on the left are in full flower
Weeds are in abeyance, thanks to the dry weather of April, BUT keep a look out for small seedlings which are almost invisible because their leaves are so dry. Then if it rains, they suddenly swell up and lots of weeding is needed. So it is better to do a light hoeing now, when any slight dislodging of weeds’ dry roots will be enough to finish them off.
1 bed of carrot seedlings, eaten by rabbit
2 bed covered with mesh, no hoops
Mesh covers are starting to be useful. Recently I covered two carrot beds to prevent rabbits eating the leaves, also the mesh should keep carrot fly out and conserve some moisture; it is simply laid on top of the carrot seedlings which push it up as they grow.
Half of my beds are still bare, though I am about to plant at least some of the courgettes and squashes, trusting that the last frost (on 28th April) has happened; if a ground frost is forecast, I shall have some fleece ready.
planting a courgette on a slightly warm compost heap
Also it is now time for sowing summer beans undercover, to plant out after mid May, at which time you can plant celeriac and sweetcorn whose plants should be a reasonable size. Any time in May is good for sowing beetroot and chard, with less risk of bolting than if they were sown earlier and exposed to cold nights.
courgette plant running short of nitrogen (yellowing)
Something you don’t need to do, but which is often suggested as necessary, is to ‘prepare a deep trench and add plenty of organic matter for climbing beans’. I simply plant them in the same soil as for other vegetables and find that summer beans grow well in surface composted, undug soil.
Potatoes are perhaps the only vegetable that need different treatment because it is useful to have plenty of loose soil for tubers to swell in. I achieve this by using a hoe to pull the surface compost and soil around plants, whose tubers are developing partly in the undug soil and partly in the new ridge being created, to which I add some extra compost if it looks too meagre. Then after harvesting the potatoes - which can be at the end of May for first earlies - one has a bed of rich growing medium for a second planting of many other vegetables such as swede, beetroot, leek and winter brassicas.
tunnel late April, Grenoble Red lettuce is 32 weeks old
I am about to sow brussels sprouts but am holding off from sowing kale, savoy cabbage, flower sprouts and swede until early June, so as to plant them after clearing beds of early salads, spinach and carrots.
At the moment most soil is dry but undug, surface composted soil can hold onto a fair amount of moisture until, sooner or later, rain or watering are needed for growth to continue. See the forum topic 'slugs, watering and copper for an intriguing calculation on how much water you need to store (a lot!), for giving plants a worthwhile amount in really dry conditions...
new outdoor lettuce, Mottistone, Fristina, Red Sails
this is why I advise against sowing oriental leaves & rocket in spring: flea beetle damage on mustard, but spinach is healthy (like the lettuce above)
I am applying water to all salad plants, garlic, spinach, radish and to any plants that have been recently set out. I have not yet watered some well established cauliflower and calabrese, but hope to be able to (or that it rains) a fortnight or so before they start to crop, the point at which water will make most difference. Likewise peas, beans and courgettes in flower will give much more to eat if rained on or watered at that point, also beetroot and carrots as their roots start to swell. But sooner or later one has to favour some plants over others, unless water is unlimited.
I do all my watering by hand, with a can or holding a hose, rather than using wasteful sprinklers. It is better to water thoroughly and less frequently than to give daily sprinklings. Soil with a higher content of organic matter can hold onto moisture for longer, so all the earlier work of spreading compost and manure is vindicated in summer.
Pussy Willow is determined to be photographed, after her night time rabbit hunting, a vital part of my gardening.