BY JOYCE RUSSELL
MAY can bring some of the nicest weather of the year and if we are lucky it will be sunny and warm. This doesn’t necessarily mean that all cold nights are passed, but it does mean that we aren’t far off that point. The May garden can look glorious. It is full of blossom of the fruiting, podding, and ornamental kind. There’s a lot of promise of what is to come and a lot to be enjoyed for the moment too.
Into the ground
Dig some compost, manure, or other nutrient rich feed into any empty beds that haven’t been prepared so far. You need to be ready for getting young plants into the ground at the start of the month. Check forecasts for when night temperatures settle to around 10C and check that this looks like it is a trend that stretches over the following week. Keep coverings somewhere handy just in case they are needed – hopefully they won’t be, but it’s best not to have to hunt them out again if temperatures dip. Tender plants will do better under cover than unprotected outdoors.
• Tomatoes can be planted in a greenhouse or polytunnel now. Add plenty of potash-rich feed to the ground and put each plant into a hole filled with compost. You can use growbags or large containers if you prefer, but be prepared to water and feed more often. Provide a support for each plant and use a watering system to keep the ground damp. A soaking pipe seeps water out slowly and saves you time with a watering can or hose. Remember to plant some French marigolds near your tomato plants. These will help to keep whitefly away and they look bright and cheery along the row.
• Early courgettes can go into large holes filled with compost now. Put one or two in the greenhouse and wait a week or two longer before planting outdoors. You need to cover plants with a cloche, horticultural fleece, or even a cardboard box if nights turn cold.
• Cucumbers need to get roots in the ground soon – large plants left in warm, wet, pots of compost can be prone to root and stem rot. Use a soil warming cable spread on the surface of the soil around plants if you want to maintain a good temperature. This can be plugged into a thermostat or you can turn it on and off as needed.
• French beans can be planted out only when there is no risk of frost.
• Beetroot, peas and broad beans are all pretty hardy and any small plants prefer to be in the ground rather than in pots.
Pick hard and often!
If you still have broccoli plants producing lots of spears or kale plants throwing out shoots in an attempt to flower, then you need to keep picking even if you can’t quite keep up with eating what you harvest. Once a plant starts to flower, the shoots will turn tough and all that delicious potential food will be wasted. Shoots get thinner and thinner as the larger ones are used – they take longer to harvest but still taste delectable. Give bunches away if you have too many. They don’t freeze well and are best when fresh-picked.
Some jobs to do now
Support peas: Twiggy sticks can go either side of a row or use net or wire fencing. Make sure any support is strong and secure enough to bear the weight of growing plants and stay upright in a wind. Trellis is another option if plants are growing near a wall.
Pots of basil: Buy a couple of pots of basil from a supermarket. Choose small plants if possible and split the root ball to give around six clumps per pot.
Put each split section in a new pot of compost to grow on. You will soon have lots of basil plants to put in a warm sunny spot.
Net strawberries: Early varieties can ripen fruit in May. It’s good to leave access for pollinating insects while fruit is in flower, but be sure to net plants against birds before fruit ripens.
Mow and mulch: The mower will be seeing a lot of use from now on. Try to mow before anything starts to seed and you will be able to use the clippings as mulch around plants.
Make sure soil is damp before applying a mulch.
TIME TO SOW
Start runner and French beans in pots and plant out when all risk of frost is passed.
Sow seeds of broccoli, kale, chard and cabbage in tubs or pots too. Sweetcorn goes in individual pots that are deep enough to accommodate long roots.
Spinach, salad leaves, carrots, beetroot and peas can be sown in rows where they will grow. Take care to protect from slugs and snails as seedlings emerge.
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