May 2014


A look at Homeacres in May 2014.

Unusual Warmth

It has been another amazingly warm month, particularly by night with no frost at all and only 2011 was warmer in the last sixteen years. 

April 2013 2014
Max Temp C (F) 12.5 (56) 14.7 (58)
Min Temp C (F) 2.9 (37) 6.1 (43)
Rainfall mm 31.7 64.2
Frosts 10 0

However the air has often been damp and, following the wet, warm winter, this has meant an explosion of slug growth, and other pests too, including brassica butterflies and leatherjackets. A possible, slight frost this weekend will not make much difference.

Undercover Growing

It is changeover time, with many winter salads and vegetables finishing. After clearing the remains, just by twisting (not pulling) them out and leaving most roots in, it is a good time to spread the annual dose of compost, between two and three inches, enough to feed all summer and winter growth. It is easier to plant tomatoes, cucumber, pepper, basil etc into new compost now, than small salad and other plants in October. Also during summer when the surface is often dry, you can use feet to break any larger lumps, and thus results in an even, weed free surface for planting and growth in the winter months. Germination of new weeds is reduced at all times by watering less often, say twice a week through summer or three times if hot, a decent amount to soak in.

Perennial kale, Taunton

Perennial vegetables are great for their continuity but have extensive root systems and I have noticed, from smaller plants on one side, that roots of perennial kale have been spreading into the no dig bed of my experiment. I removed the two closest plants, and fortunately they are easy to propagate from the many new stemmy sideshoots they keep growing, and I have put in some new plants elsewhere. This Taunton kale has been yielding wonderful amounts of tender, tasty leaves for Bruton Wholefoods shop since mid February, and many meals here all winter and spring.

New sowings in May

You can now sow summer beans of all kinds, but undercover only until mid month, after that outside is possible. Runner and French beans need steady warmth to prosper, whereas in cold soil they become weak and vulnerable to slug damage, so later sowings into warmer soil tend to catch up. Courgette and squash want sowing now, again undercover, while sweetcorn can be sown outdoors – although it transplants well too. 

Brassicas for autumn are good to sow in May, such as cabbages for hearting in October, Brussels sprouts, kale and purple sprouting for either summer or next spring. Also you can wait until June for sowing kale and purple sprouting, then plant them after clearing early potatoes for example. 

Pests

Many pests have been surviving and thriving in the warmth, it is not an easy spring for new plantings and sowings which are liked by molluscs. I have already lost many carrot seedlings and am resowing, but at leastt parsnips survive better, if not completely. Another bad pest here is leatherjackets, the larvae of cranefly, whose favourite food is roots of lettuce, spinach and beetroot in that order, in this garden at least. Damage is worst to new plantings because they have too few roots to regrow, but the larvae are present under older plants too. I have found they eat just a few brassica roots but do not trouble legumes and alliums, thank goodness. This is the first year that I have suffered such damage, normally it is a few plants and most gaps are filled by replanting, after rummaging in compost to find the culprits. I watered on some expensive nematodes three weeks ago and am still waiting to see a worthwhile difference, but some beds are fine with healthy lettuce and spinach, and Batavian lettuces are showing resistance.

More weeds

Weeds have been growing fast in the warmth and you need to keep abreast of them by hoeing seedlings on a dry day, and when tiny if possible, which is much easier than dealing with larger weeds.

And use a trowel for perennials’ roots, as in the photos.

Salads

Its a fast changing time and the photos show the end of winter in the salad bowl.  My most recent pick had the first colourful leaves of outdoor lettuce and more pea shoots, also some broad bean tops.

Update May 15th

Warming continues, the last-frost date is past and tender plants can go out at last. Still no rush though, any time until early June is good for planting squash, courgette, runner or French beans and sweetcorn outside. None of my tender plants are quite ready yet, although I just set out some pretty plants of oca and module-seedlings are loving the warmth. 

Polytunnel

Undercover it is changeover time from winter salads to summer vegetables. Now finished are oriental leaves, land cress and winter purslane but lettuce and spinach are still going well.

New planting by the canes is climbing French beans.

Seed saving in the polytunnel

Also in the polytunnel mostly I am letting a few plants flower for collecting seed. Breaking the rules a bit too, for example brassicas are “outbreeders” and are best maintained with a broad genetic pool, by allowing cross pollination between ten or more plants. Problem is, this needs a lot of precious space. Two years ago I saved mustard seed from one plant of each variety and it has grown beautifully, however this may not be possible every time, see “Back Garden Seed Saving” by Sue Stickland, Eco-logic books. Sue was head gardener at Garden Organic when they were more serious about growing vegetables and worked with the Heritage Seed Library too. 

Planting, sowing, slugs

A big help to tender plants is covering with fleece or cloches for their first two or three weeks in the ground, to shelter them from wind and to make a warmer environment for faster growth of new roots. Until that happens, they are more vulnerable to damage from slugs, compared to established plants which are more able to grow away from losing bits of leaf.

Here it has been consistently damp and it is now clear that every slug and snail survived the winter with great hunger. I have been doing occasional forays with torch and knife, at dusk or dawn. Last night when reducing their number on a hunt around the hotbed I found a large toad under some leaves, I wish he was hungry too.  Most damage has been to spinach, beet and carrot leaves, however only carrots have been wiped out completely in some places, mostly where I sowed into beds with wooden sides. 

Lettuce

On the other hand, some good lettuce with no leatherjacket damage is in a wooden sided bed. They are still eating the roots of some spinach, beets and lettuce but all other vegetables are looking good including onions, early Greyhound cabbage, potatoes, broad beans and peas. Although the latter two suffered in the high winds of last weekend, and need good support when growing so fast. 

Garlic

Garlic is showing some early rust here and I suspect it is going to cause an early harvest as leaves turn yellow prematurely. At least there has been lots of growth already, plants from autumn sowing have fat stems and should make a fair harvest at some point in June. If you have a few rows together it is time to make a sowing or planting between them, such as carrots, beetroot and brassicas. 

Visit to Nottingham

On a Saturday in Nottingham I gave a talk to the Organic gardeners group (NOG) and we all chatted lots afterwards, and ate well too. Before the talk we were shown atound the huge allotment site of St Anns which is like a woodland.