Mid May 2016, tender plants outside, herbs, asparagus, compost 10

The warmth of early May, combined with its long days, has resulted in rapid growth. What a wonderful change after a slow spring.

We removed most of Homeacres fleece covers on May 3rd, even though there was still slight frost at dawn. The important thing is that the cold winds had ceased and the days were becoming warm. Prior to that, all vegetables had benefited from the being covered for 3-6 weeks since planting, from onions and carrots to cabbage, lettuce, coriander, dill and beetroot.

Timing your sowings and plantings

May weather is usually vexing for gardeners with its rapid changes from warm to cold and vice versa. Its why I always respect the sowing timeline, in order to avoid raising plants in adverse or even destructive conditions. In spring, later sowings catch up.  For example its now a good time to sow runner and French beans, courgettes, cucumber and sweetcorn.

We are now passing beyond risk of frost in many areas but can still have spells of cold winds that damage tender plants of courgettes, runner and French beans, sweetcorn and outdoor tomatoes. A fleece cover can help them establish over the next 2-3 weeks, unless it warms up again. We are planting Czar and Borlotti beans this week and shall lay fleece over them for 7-10 days, then remove it and put in the canes.

Annual herbs and watering young plants

Its been a productive spring for coriander and dill which are harvesting now, from February sowings undercover, planted late March and fleeced over. These herbs survive light frost.

They are good to sow again now for summer harvests.

Basil is sensitive to cold and I sowed it on April 6th, over the hotbed, with steady growth since. Most is now in pots for planting undercover next week, and I am careful to underwater the basil plants as the roots can easily rot if sitting in waterlogged compost.

Its the same story for cucumbers and melons – don’t overwater them when in pots!!

Great flavours now

Spring is a wonderful time of new, zesty flavours every week. Spring cabbage are hearting, wild rocket and sorrel are in full flow and its time to pinch out the tops of some tall overwintered broad bean plants. This concentrates their growth into pods, and gives one less place for blackly aphids to land. The bean shoots are a tasty green.

No dig asparagus story

It feels amazing to harvest lovely spears of asparagus, three and a half years after planting crowns on top of weedy pasture, with all its buttercups, dandelions and grasses left in place, with 5in (12cm) compost on top. 

By April 2013 the perennial weeds were growing through and I was helped by Robin & Christina from Shipley to cover the areas between crowns with cardboard, then they laid landscape fabric over to hold it all in place. Through the summer I needed to remove occasional weeds that found gaps to grow through, then in autumn I removed the fabric to find a clean surface.

Since then the area has had a 2in (5cm) mulch every winter, of different composts, and weeding has been quick and easy.

Summer plantings undercover

I find that composting the polytunnel and greenhouse works best in May before planting tomatoes etc, and this year its been great to have Felix’s help for this. We have cleared almost all the winter salads before composting.

Meanwhile the garlic I planted between salads in November is enormous by comparison to the new planting, but I think they are good companions for now.

Compost heaps update

Making one heap and measuring its contents, then turning it and monitoring the temperature every day, has revealed one core thing about making compost in a damp climate with 40-50% green ingredients:

Too much water is a big problem. Water displaces air and I think that is why the heap temperature is only 44C at core, three weeks after starting. The contents ooze water when you squeeze them, and having a pallet underneath the heap is not allowing easy drainage.

And here is some apple blossom to enjoy.

may162 apple blossom

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10 thoughts on “Mid May 2016, tender plants outside, herbs, asparagus, compost

  • Stringfellow

    Your garden is looking fantastic Charles; the view on 14th May from the east really shows it wonderfully with everything in its place.

    I wondered if you were bothering this year with the hotbeds to produce super early harvests (not your propagation hotbed); I’ve seen no mention of them?

  • charles Post author

    That’s nice you like the view, I find it uplifting at this time of year.
    Yes hotbeds outside are not happening this year, we ran out of time to make one.
    Two things hold me back a bit: one is how to contain the heat – you really need some kind of cold frame and proper cover that does not blow away! Then there is the issue of my neighbour using wood shavings for bedding and the hotbed turns into a pile of wood rather than manure!
    For the smaller greenhouse hotbed we select straw-only manure.

  • Stringfellow

    Well, you have managed a few other projects during the year! Time is the issue, or a seeming lack of it. Thanks, you’re compost discoveries are being closely followed 🙂

  • Ian

    Hi Charles, I am interested in your fleece, how did you stop it from tearing? I used 17g/m fleece and it was torn by the April winds at every point it was clamped down. I used homemade clips to attach the fleece to water pipe hoops. I was thinking of moving to a heavier gauge do you think this would be worth a try or is the source of the problem somewhere else. Thanks for your time. Regards, Ian.

    • charles Post author

      Yes go for 25 or 30gsm. Your experience with the 17gsm makes it sound pretty useless!
      More importantly, for spring use I lay it flat on plants, as in the photos, no hoops. It saves time, means the fleece blows less in wind and keeps heat close to the young plants.

  • Rhys

    Charles – I’m interested in what it is you are growing below your apple trees, which has such great colour at this time of year. All I have at the moment are a few chives. It would be nice to undertow all the fruit trees with some colour if possible…..

    Up here in NW London, despite the cold April, fruit set appears very good on the cherry, plum and pear trees. We’ll see what happens with the apples, but the late flowering does suggest we’d have to be unlucky not to get a good fruit set as well…….

    By the way, I was thinning out the parsnips as per your suggestions somewhere or other and the quality of roots is fantastic – long, thin roots going way down. Looking forward to the best crop ever courtesy of no dig…….

    • charles Post author

      Its Honesty, self sown, and escholzia about to flower.
      Try garlic which looks good further up, even overwintered broad beans may work, or spring cabbage.
      Young trees combine with Kuri squash.

  • Gwynne the gardener

    Charles – what protection do you use to prevent pigeon damage? They totally destroy crops on my allotment. Do you protect from other pests eg cabbage whites, carrot fly etc?

    • charles Post author

      I am lucky here that pigeons eat my brassicas only in midwinter, when I use black bird netting on a frame of battens. Or you can cover plants with white mesh and that gives some, not total, protection against carrot root fly, butterflies etc. I use mesh for autumn-hearting cabbages, and over carrots from August onwards.

  • miles4miles

    Thought it was comfrey under the apple tree at first. Comfrey will give you some lovely purple flowers giving you a great contrast of colour against the blossom, plus it will benefit the fruit trees to no end. As many of you know it’s a great all-rounder on many levels.