A Monthly Guide to Vegetable Gardening - May
Articles by Garden Expert John Harrison
May is one of the busiest months in the kitchen garden and allotment plots. The soil is warm and everything should be growing well. Unfortunately the weeds are growing well too so there is no time to relax. Do watch out for a late frost, many growers including me have been caught out and lost their recently planted beans etc. Keep that fleece handy just in case.
If you do not have any horticultural fleece you can use old net curtains, bubble wrap and the traditional newspaper as a method of insulation when a cold night is forecast.
There are two main cultivation jobs you need to keep on top of in May, the first is to keep on top of the weeds. There is nothing as dispiriting as looking down a plot covered with weeds. Try splitting your plot into sections and tackle a section a day for a week. If you do two sections in one day you may have Sunday off!
The other important cultivation job outdoors is to thin out directly sown carrots, parsnips and other root crops. Although you can close space to a degree in containers and raised beds, with normal growing it is important to observe the recommended spacing. These have been calculated to maximise yield, so when you sow a row of carrots and lots come up you need to remove the excess.
You can get an extra crop of carrots by leaving them at half the final spacing and then thinning alternate plants a few weeks later to provide fingerlings. Thinning carrots will bruise foliage and you will notice that carrot smell. So will the carrot fly who's scent detection system guides her radar-like to your crop. Thinning late in the day will help as they are settling down for the night and getting the fleece back on as quickly as possible, of course.
There is a lot to sow this month with some new crops and the successional sowings continued to enjoy fresh vegetables at the peak of perfection. If it is a dry May, it is a good idea to soak your seed drill before sowing and then just water with a fine rose after covering with soil.
French beans sown in rows under cloche will do well in May. If you cannot cloche them then sow towards the end of the month to ensure the seedlings will not be caught by a late frost. Runner beans and climbing French beans can be sown directly as well, drop two seeds per supporting cane to ensure at least one plant per cane eventually.
Successional sowings of the brassicas continues, continually moving on to pot and planting out: Broccoli, Calabrese, Cabbage, Cauliflower & Kale
The maincrop peas are sown towards the end of the month and the beginning of June, these usually climb highest and will need the sturdiest of support. It's worthwhile setting the stakes and netting before sowing because when the plants start growing you may damage them in the erection process.
Continue with successional sowings of beetroot, kohlrabi, turnips, swedes, salad leaves, lettuce, radish and spring onions.
You can sow sweetcorn directly if the soil is warm enough although it will need some protection. If you do not have cloches available then you can use clear plastic lemonade bottles with the base cut off sunk into the ground over the seed, neck end up, to provide a mini-cloche. Planting out sweetcorn started indoors can also take place, but ensure they are protected against frost.
The courgettes, squash, marrows and pumpkins should be started off in May. Sowing in pots in the warm is more successful than direct planting and since you will only want a couple of each plant, the way to go.
They take off quickly so be prepared to pot on if you cannot get them out when ready. Courgettes are very productive and two or three plants will be quite enough to ensure the end of the season is met with a sigh of relief from the family. You can have too much of a good thing.
Planting out of brassicas as they come ready continues and leeks can be planted out in their final home when they are about pencil thickness although usually these are not ready until June.The greenhouse tomatoes, peppers, cucumber and aubergine can go into there final home now, either border, growbags or large pots. It's too early for outdoor tomatoes unless you can keep them under cloche.
Copyright © John Harrison
About the Author
John Harrison is the author of Vegetable Growing, Month by Month and The Essential Allotment Guide amongst others. His home is in Cheshire from where he runs the Allotment Vegetable Growing web site and grows his own fruit and vegetables on his two allotments around the corner.