After a cold April, the relative warmth of the first week in May was a real godsend and everything has finally taken off, with plants growing, flowers flowering and little vegetable seedlings poking their noses above the soil. However, a gardener is never happy, and I’ll be anxiously checking the weather forecasts to see what’s in store. (Last year we had sub-zero temperatures as late as the 8th of May.) I usually check the BBC weather forecast for the week, but also find this Norwegian weather forecast to be quite reliable. At the moment, both are predicting reasonable temperatures, but not a lot of rain, so I’ll be planning on hardening plants off outside and starting the endless round of watering.
What’s coming up in my garden in early May (or isn’t)
Until a week or so ago I was beginning to wonder if the cold April weather had killed everything off, but no, it was all just biding its time and my parsnips finally made it, about 5 weeks after I sowed them. However I did have a bit of a disaster with my leeks since I put them out too early, still in their pots, and either the sudden drop in temperature or the exposure to strong sunlight, or both, made them shrivel up and die so I’ve had to sow them again and hope the new seedlings will catch up. I also wrote off my tiny alpine strawberry plants so will treat the next lot with a bit more care. But almost everything else survived and I’m starting to see the fruits of all my efforts in April. The carrots are coming through (with gaps – so annoying!) as are the beetroot. Green and purple cauliflowers have been pricked out into individual pots and after a few days in the shed have graduated to the cold frame. Ditto kale. I also sowed peas (in a tray) and they germinated quicker than I wanted since the space I’d planned for them was still occupied by sprouting broccoli. However, I’ve persuaded the chickens to eat the broccoli to make space. (Actually, they didn’t need much persuading – they love it!)
So now I’ve planted out my little seedlings and rigged up an elaborate netting/fluttering bird scarer arrangement to keep the blackbirds from digging them up. (These decorative but useful pea supports are from Agriframes.)
Dill, sown in a pot, worked well but it remains to be seen if I can successfully transplant the seedlings. Lettuce, sown in a tray, is germinating, and I can just make out the seedlings of salad leaves and coriander, both sown outside. But there’s no sign as yet of lambs lettuce, wild rocket or spinach, although they’re usually all slow. The first lot of potatoes (Anyas), planted in the middle of March, are through, and the Charlottes, planted at the beginning of April, are just poking their noses through the soil, as are the artichokes and the asparagus (planted last year).
What I’ll be sowing in May
Squashes. This recent warm weather made me think about sowing some of the more tender crops, including various members of the squash family, principally courgettes. I bought a new stripy variety this year, so I’ll probably plant one normal and one stripy, since that’s all I’ll have room for. I also acquired some squash seeds from the seed swap, in spite of not having a clue where I’m going to put them and the complete failure of the butternut squash plants I grew last year to produce anything at all. It’s the usual triumph of hope over experience. The same goes for some other seeds I acquired, crystal lemon cucumbers which are supposed to be like little yellow apples. I’ll probably grown just one, together with two mini-cucumber plants, since these have to go into my cold frame which isn’t that big, and I also have to fit in ‘patio’ aubergines. Squashes and cucumbers are usually happy enough in pots until it’s warm enough to plant them out, probably at the beginning of June.
Beans are another crop I’ll be sowing in May. However, unlike the squashes, they germinate quickly then grow like weeds and demand to be planted out, but sulk if it’s cold. So I’ll probably not sow these until the middle of the month. This year I’m growing the usual runner beans – 4 plants up a frame, which is about 2 plants too many. I’ve given up on climbing French beans since, in my hands, they don’t grow or crop that well, so I’ll be sticking to dwarf French beans which seem to do better and are good croppers considering how small they are.
Other late crops to sow include chervil (which I never use so I don’t know why I grow it), purple sprouting broccoli (which will crop early next spring), and more beetroot, radish and spinach – if I can find space. Swede is another vegetable to sow in May. My ‘bible’, ‘The Vegetable and Herb Expert‘ says to sow it in May/June so in the past I always left it until early June. But it never did very well, so last year I decided to sow it in May and that worked. I grow a variety called ‘Tweed’ which is supposed to do well on poor soils (ie, my sandy soil), and it certainly did well last year. It won’t crop until the winter so I’ll be sowing it in my ‘late brassica bed’, which will include other over-wintering brassicas such as sprouts, kale and sprouting broccoli, all of which need protection from cabbage root fly at this time of year and pigeons over the winter. Another May-sowing crop – a bit of an experiment this year – is red orache, yet another vegetable seed I acquired at the seed swap. It’s supposed to be like spinach and I remember growing it once before, but can’t remember actually eating it. However, I know the chickens won’t be turning up their beaks at a bit of orache.
Other jobs to do in May in the vegetable garden
May’s the month for planting stuff out and I’ve already made a start with the peas (see above). My calabrese and sprouts are also now in the ground. I grow these brassicas and others under enviromesh which protects them from cabbage root fly, snails, birds, cats and the wind, so they generally get off to a promising start, although they will need frequent watering. I’m even eying up my tomato plants, which are becoming a bit spindly, and wondering if it’s warm enough to plant them out. Maybe under fleece …?
May in the garden is when everything begins to take shape and if you use your imagination you can see how all that bare earth will turn into nice green vegetables – given the right weather, a bit of luck and a whole lot of work, because this is when the work starts – all that watering and weeding and scaring off the pigeons. (Why do I keep a cat?) But I don’t mind because, right now, everything looks wonderful. Watching seeds turn into seedlings then plants, bulbs come up and flower, or dead twigs developing buds and bursting into leaf and blossom, is an annual miracle. So get out there and enjoy it …