May marks a real change in the vegetable garden. Towards the end of the month we can be fairly certain of no frosts, so fleece can be taken off the spring plantings and rolled up for next year. It is a month that more tender plants go in the ground, with the likes of courgettes, squash and corn going outside, and tomatoes, peppers and aubergines being planted under glass or in polytunnels. It is not too late to sow squash, corn and courgettes either, so don’t worry if you haven’t yet done that.
At Trill Farm Garden we are lucky enough to have polytunnels, and we use these mainly for salad and hardy herbs over winter, and then change over to sugarsnap peas, tomatoes, french beans, cucumbers, peppers, a few other salady bits and some plants for seed saving from the end of April onwards. So this month sees a real change in the tunnels as well as outside. We also use the tunnels to extend the season a little, for example by planting garlic, spring onions and sugarsnaps in the autumn we can harvest them earlier than the outdoor grown crops, making the hungry gap slightly shorter. If you have fairly free draining soil you can do this outside too with the use of fleece or cloches to protect the autumn plantings more from the winter weather.
When you are planting new crops in the ground, whether it is in polytunnels or outside it is always a good idea to think about how to maintain good soil health. Rather than using the conventional approach of removing the old crops and double digging, why not consider cutting the old crops down at the soil surface, leaving the roots underground so as to maintain the biological activity in the soil. You can them pull out any perennial weeds and mulch the bed with a couple of inches of compost before planting a new crop. This approach not only saves your back, but also preserves and improves biological activity in the soil. It is always best to try and minimise soil disturbance as much as possible as it will damage any myccorhizal and other biological activity under the ground. This soil life helps plants to access a wide area and range of nutrients as well as water.
WHAT TO SOW THIS MONTH: Courgettes, french beans, squash (early in the month), chard, beetroot, lettuce, winter brassicas, spring onions, swede (end of the month), carrots (or leave until June to avoid the first carrot root fly), parsnips, radish, forcing chicory,
WHAT TO PLANT THIS MONTH:
OUTSIDE: Courgettes, french beans, beetroot
INSIDE: Tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, chillies, aubergines, basil, summer purslane
OTHER IMPORTANT TASKS THIS MONTH: Keep on top of weeds – keep hoeing whenever you get the chance and whenever the weather allows it (ideally on a sunny breezy day). Try to hoe before you even see the weeds germinating – it is much quicker and easier and will knock the weeds back as they are germinating under the soil surface. We usually hoe about a week after planting a bed.