May 2011


Updates from May 2011.

Vegetable growing in May 2011

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…

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

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.

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.

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.

Tunnel late April, Grenoble Red lettuce is 32 weeks old

Tunnel late April, Grenoble Red lettuce is 32 weeks old

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.

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…

Pussy Willow is determined to be photographed, after her night time rabbit hunting, a vital part of my gardening.

Pussy Willow is determined to be photographed, after her night time rabbit hunting, a vital part of my gardening.

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.