May can start to feel like spring – long days, warm sun, everything blossoming and growing; a time to firstly enjoy our gardens and growing areas and spend time sowing, potting on, building supporting structures and starting to dealing with pests and weeds.
In fact, we tend to get carried away and end up with hundreds of seedlings that we don’t really have the heart to get rid of – it might be a good chance to swap your seedlings at the ‘seedling swaps’ happening around the city this month and start pacing ourselves and sow a little bit less and a little more often. Having said that, anything new and fresh can be eaten raw and there’s nothing like mixed leaves, pea shoots and rocket to make our first BBQs a real spring treat.
Sow, plant, propagate
- It’s not too late to sow Brussel sprouts and cauliflowers – sow directly into the ground or in a prepared seedbed for transplanting at a later stage.
- There’s so much to sow outside now so pick out your favourites from the following list: French beans and runner beans, cabbages, cauliflowers, peas, kale, Swiss chard, carrots, parsnips, scorzonera, broccoli, kohl rabi and lettuce.
- Plant out squashes and courgette seedlings when they have a few true leaves and make sure you give them plenty of organic matter as they are heavy feeders. Planting them directly on your compost might increase the likelihood of you growing the biggest pumpkin in Brighton & Hove.
- Stagger sowings of vegetables such as mange tout, peas, beans, carrots, kohl rabi, beetroot, lettuces and radishes. Sowing a little of each crop every few weeks will spread your supply of fresh vegetables over the summer and avoid you having a glut of vegetables at one particular time.
- In early May sow sweetcorn, pumpkins, French beans, courgettes, and cucumbers under cover. You can also sow them all straight into the ground in late May when the soil warms up. If the weather is particularly wet protect your bean seedlings with cloches or cut plastic bottles to prevent slugs and snails from savaging them.
- Towards the end of the month and beginning of June start planting out your young, frost-sensitive plants such as courgettes, French beans, celeriac, pumpkins, tomatoes and oca.
- Sow herbs: basil, borage, coriander, dill, parsley, chamomile, sorrel and whatever other herb you like. Raise them in pots or modules and gradually harden them off as it gets hotter. Protect them if the weather is not particularly warm and choose the hottest and sunniest place in your garden. If you want to sow directly into the ground wait until it warms up towards the end of the month or at the beginning of June; create a herb garden or plant out your herbs amongst your veg. A lot of herbs are good companion plants and will benefit other produce in your growing areas. Borage is normally good with Brassicas and basil with tomatoes and peppers. Read more about this topic.
- Keep sowing your leaf vegetables in succession to ensure a steady supply throughout the summer. If the weather gets hot be prepared to choose a semi-shaded spot for your salad leaves as they are prone to bolting. Choose anywhere that is overshadowed by other plants like beans, tomatoes or cabbages – salad leaves are not heavy feeders and don’t have a strong root system, which means that they can be happily planted anywhere.
- There is still time to sow half hardy annuals, nasturtiums and marigolds – they all have edible flowers and you can snack on Nigella and sunflower seeds. Let a few of your winter crops flower too, parsnips and leeks produce stunning flowers and they will all attract beneficial insects.
- Enjoy spring cabbages and harvest them before they go to flower.
- Harvest early salad leaves, rhubarb, spinach and asparagus this month.
- Cut off flowering stalks from rhubarb crowns as it weakens the plant and reduces the crop.
- Remove any unwanted raspberry canes from the area you have set aside for them. If uncontrolled they’ll take over your plot, so unless you’re planning a raspberry farm dig them up, pot them up and give them to a friend.
- Keep the base of your fruit bushes, canes and trees free from weeds to avoid them competing with your fruit and apply a thick mulch of organic matter to keep the weeds at bay, feed the soil and help the plants retain moisture.
- Take particular care of your young trees as this is when they need the most attention. Their root system is not well developed so they’ll need to be kept watered in dry periods and particularly at flower and fruit set.
- Remove strawberry flowers from young plants as they are not supposed to give fruit in their first year of life. The same applies to young fruit trees – remove any blossom and allow them to use all their energy to grow and develop a strong and healthy root system this year.
- If you’re growing a large area with soft fruit and don’t want to ‘donate’ all your produce to your local birds make sure you protect them with netting. Try to make a fruit cage with netting by the end of the month.
- Check and inspect your plants carefully against pests and diseases that are likely to develop as the weather gets warmer. Cut any diseased leaves and burn them promptly.
Jobs to do
- Harden off your seedlings before planting them directly into the ground – this means gradually getting them used to the outdoors by taking them out during the day and bringing them indoors in the evening and gradually increasing their outdoor time until they’re fully ready to cope with he weather. Simply open the cold frame if that’s where they’ve been growing.
- Make the most of your herbs; propagate sage, rosemary, marjoram and cotton lavender by taking softwood cuttings. See the RHS page on herbs for details of how and when to do it.
- Keep on top of your weeds as they are now fierce and could take over a bed if left in the ground. Weeds compete with our plants for food, water and nutrients and are best kept at bay as soon as you can. A hoe is the most effective tool that will help you do the job particularly on dry sunny days. Leaving your weeds to dry in the sun before putting them in the compost is always a good idea.
- Observe your plants, stems, shoots and leaves and check whether you see any sign of pests and diseases – pinch out broad beans shoots if they get attacked by black bean aphids; protect carrots from carrot root flies and interplant them with members of the onion family; start your battle against slugs and snails.
- As long as temperatures stay low, protect any vulnerable crops with cloches, fleece or net curtains until the end of the month.
Attract beneficial insects into your garden and get them to work with you in keeping on top of pests – create spaces for wildlife and think of different ways in which you can provide food, water and shelter to our miniature friends. Check the Wildlife Trust website and see what jobs can be done this month to make our food growing area a little more wildlife friendly.
Top Tips: Try growing pea shoots
- These are expensive to buy in the shops but easy and cheap to grow and give a delicious, nutty taste to your salads.
- Plant peas about 1 inch deep and 2 inch inches apart in good soil, either in the ground or in a pot.
- Keep the peas moist.
- When the plants are 8 inches high cut off the top two inches. This will encourage side shoots to grow. As the plants grow, keep harvesting the top 2-6 inches of the peas every 3-4 weeks. When the shoots start to get a little tough and bitter this is the point to stop harvesting.