Jobs for the month: May 2010

Published: 10:53AM Apr 1st, 2010
By: Web Editor

May is the busiest month on the veg plot as we fill every available space with the bulk of our sowings for summer harvests. Try not to get carried away however – it is best to sow fast-growing crops in small batches to avoid gluts later on and leave some space for the tender crops that will be planted out next month.

Jobs for the month: May 2010

Rake down the soil to form a fine tilth prior to sowing

Carrots

Although carrots can be sown from March onwards, we prefer to wait until now to sow this useful crop on the KG plot. In our experience, even with cloches, at best the seeds lie dormant until April and at worst simply rot. But sown now it is a different story and they usually come up with few problems or gaps in the rows.

It is important to sow thinly so as not to attract carrot fly when thinning and although low barriers are often recommended we prefer the belt and braces approach and cover the crop completely with crop protection fleece or netting to keep the little blighters out. This doesn't work of course if carrots were grown on the same patch last year and are pupating in the soil already – rotate your crops to avoid such problems.

As an added precaution you could also sow a carrot fly resistant variety. They are not so tasty in our opinion, but are less liable to serious damage even without protection.

Sow your seeds 6mm (1⁄4in) deep in well prepared soil to which you've added some balanced fertiliser, but no manure.

Dwarf French beans

These tender but highly productive crops can at last be sown this month for planting out when the frosts are over. If sowing indoors early in the month, sow one seed to a small pot or large cell in a cell tray and place in a heated propagator set to a minimum of 10C (50F). However, if you prefer to sow direct into the ground it is best to delay until the middle of the month so that the plants are emerging in early June when frosts should be far less likely (adjust timings for your area).

Traditionally dwarf beans are sown in rows 45cm (18in) apart allowing 10cm (4in) between the seeds. Make a drill with the edge of a hoe and bury the seeds 5cm (2in) deep. However, these heavy cropping little plants, which grow on a single stem, can become top heavy and require staking on windy sites. To help get over this problem sow in triple rows 30cm (12in) apart, staggering the sowings in the rows to give each plant a little more room. In this way they should be close enough to provide mutual support when cropping, but not so close that air cannot flow around the leaves. Some stakes to the outer plants may still be required.

With regard to varieties there are many on offer in the seed catalogues with green, yellow and purple pods, all of which are delicious when harvested young. Our favourites include 'Safari' (green), 'Purple Teepee' (purple), 'Duel' (green) 'Valdor' and 'Golden Teepee’ (yellow). For something different try 'Borlotto' (Firetongue).

Of course runner beans and climbing French beans can also be sown this month. See Joe Maiden's feature starting on page 16 for further details.

Chicory and radicchio

Resembling lettuce these crops have never been as popular in the UK as they are on the Continent, particularly in Italy, but deserve to be more widely grown. There are two types, forcing, such as witloof chicory  'Zoom F1' and non-forcing types such as 'Sugar Loaf'. A characteristic of the non-forcing types is a bitter taste, too bitter for some, but a few leaves in a green salad can give it a welcome lift. These are usually sown next month while the forcing types are sown now for lifting and forcing in November. Forcing gives them a sweeter taste and they can be used raw in salads or steamed and eaten hot at a time when little else is available.

Sow thinly in rows in a sunny, sheltered site on reasonably fertile soil. Allow 30-35cm (12-14in) between the rows and thin, using the thinnings as a salad vegetable, until there is 30cm (12in) between the plants. Keep the rows well watered in the summer. Plants can be lifted, the heads removed and the roots potted into large pots, five roots per pot and placed in the dark from November onwards in a temperature of 10-15C (50-60F).

Radicchios resemble round-headed lettuce and come in green and red varieties, the red types obtaining their best colour as temperatures fall in the autumn. They can be sown from now until August and either allowed to mature to form heads or used as a salad leaf. As with chicory they are bitter so only a few leaves are required to add sharpness and colour to summer salads. They are then, best sown in short rows or planted among other slow-growing crops as you won't need very many unless you have a passion for the flavour.

Courgettes and marrows

More frost-tender crops can be sown now that the long winter is finally a memory. They are of course best sown indoors although they can be sown direct at the end of the month and covered with a cloche or a glass jar placed over the soil.

If sowing in pots sow one seed per 7cm (3in) pot or alternatively sow into large cells in a cell tray. Some gardeners like to sow the large, flat seeds on their edge to ensure that water drains off in the soil and does not cause the seed to rot, but this is not essential.

Sow using fresh, free-draining seed compost, placing the seeds 1.5cm (3⁄4in) deep and keep in a warm propagator set at a minimum of 18C (65F). Germination is usually rapid (7-10 days) and as soon as the seedlings have emerged the propagator lid can be removed to avoid the plants from stretching. For the same reason, give the young plants as much light as possible.

As mentioned, seeds can be sown direct into the soil from the middle of the month if the weather allows. In this case it is best to sow the seeds on a mound of soil to which some well-rotted garden compost has been added. Sowing in this way ensures that water runs away from both the seed and the stem of the growing plant should the weather turn wet. Sow two seeds 5cm (2in) apart in the top of the mound and water well. Sprinkle some slug pellets thinly over the top of the mound and cover with a cloche. When the seeds germinate, thin to the strongest.

Sowing top tips for May

•     Rake the soil to break down any clods to form a fine, level seedbed prior to sowing your seeds. Rake in some general purpose fertiliser such as pelleted chicken or sheep manure or Growmore at the rate of around 112g (2oz) per square metre or yard, preferably a week prior to sowing.
•     Try and keep things neat; use a garden line to ensure that your rows are kept on the straight and narrow. Wandering rows use up more space and don't look very attractive. It is also easier to see which seedlings are weeds and which are crops if you have sown in neat rows.
•     When sowing brassicas or planting onions, both of which prefer firm soil, walk over the seed bed on a board or tread with the feet applying even pressure to the soil prior to sowing. Even out any slight dips or bumps by raking very lightly afterwards.
•     Large stones should be removed when raking, but don't be tempted to try and remove too many as small stones can aid drainage on heavy soils.
•     Sow your seeds as thinly as possible to avoid the need for thinning later on, however those crops the thinnings of which can be eaten, such as lettuce and rocket, can be sown a little closer together to provide some tender, young pickings.
•     If you are short of space to sow your veggies, you can save space by growing some fast-growing crops such as lettuce and radish among slower-growing types such as leeks and sweetcorn, or consider growing some space-hungry crops such as potatoes in containers.

May at a glance

Sowing now…
• Runner beans
• Dwarf and climbing French beans
• Courgettes, marrows, squashes
• Lettuces
• Chicory
• Radicchio
• Carrots
• Radish
• Coriander
• Sage
• Thyme
• Parsley
• Summer cabbage
    (early in the month)
• Winter cabbage
• Broccoli
• Brussels sprouts
• Cauliflowers
• Kale
• Spring onions
• Salad leaves
• Cucumbers
• Melons
• Sweetcorn
• Beetroot
• Swiss chard
• Swede
• Turnips

Planting now…

• Tomatoes
• Peppers
• Aubergines
• Potatoes (early in the month)
• Brussels sprouts
• Celery
• Celeriac
• Pot-grown cane fruit
• Strawberries
• Lettuces (below)

Harvesting now…

• Salad leaves
• Radish
• Swiss chard
• Lettuce
• Early peas

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