The memory of last July is seared into my mind. Recalled through a painful cringe.
It’s May. The month us gardeners seem to pin our hope’s on. The last frosts (for me anyway) the warmer temperature. The sunny days and the promise of more to come. It’s also my birthday month and so as I grow another year older, I will forget the numbers and embrace the green shoots and early radishes instead.
What I’m sowing this month
This year, my seed sowing schedule is aligned to that of Charles Dowding. Charles provides a free sowing timeline on his website where he lists all of the vegetable seeds he sows each month.
It’s a fantastic resource for two reasons. One, having a sowing schedule allows me to distribute the work and the organisation of sowing and growing the crops in a much more manageable way. I’m not an expert and using an experienced growers schedule and one whose growing climate is similar to mine is extremely helpful. Secondly, it works. Remember Charles runs a market garden and for him to be commercially successful, knowing the optimum time to sow and grow the crops that he sells is important.
One thing I have realised is often many of us are in a rush to sow as many of the crops as we can as soon as the New Year comes along. The problem I find is it requires space and energy to manage many crops sown early in the year to ensure they receive the right amount of heat and light and have the climate to protect them from cold weather and short daylight. Sowing early might scratch that gardening itch, but it places a burden upon us too. And the thing is, sowing early isn’t actually necessary. Sowing at the right time – the most appropriate time is.
I’m growing many crops in modules this year. I’ll write a blog about this soon but the key benefit is the growing conditions are much more controlled in comparison to sowing seeds directly in the bed outside. It’s surprising how many crops can be grown in modules and I give the plants a head start too.
The seeds I’m sowing now include many more tender vegetables or those which really don’t like the cold. This is as much about managing them appropriately as it is about giving them a kick start in much more amenable temperatures.
Beans: Tall, long ‘A’ frames or towering wigwams overflowing with runner beans are a quintessential sight on British allotment gardens. And I used to grow them religiously. I love runner beans but when Hannah and I moved into our home and I took on our current allotment – I went French.
I’m the only one that really likes runner beans and when you grow such prolific cropping plants, there’s only so many one can manage. We all enjoy French Beans and by growing these instead, I still get my essential allotment feature and we all share in the eating.
French beans are perhaps a more refined crop than runner beans. They are wonderful to eat and if you only have a small space they are ideal as a few plants will reward you handsomely. My go-to variety has been the RHS AGM Cobra. It has a fantastic flavour and produces masses of stringless pods which are up to 8” long.
This year I’m adding a bit of colour to the usually all green bean frames with Blauhilde a climbing French bean from Germany producing lots of very dark purple pods that turn green when cooked. It’s disease resistant and apparently exquisite in taste.
Beans, French or Runners, are joyous. I can’t help but smile when I return to the plot a day or so after picking a sack full to be greeted with yet another bounty to harvest. Whichever variety you choose to grow in your garden, remember that less is more (or certainly more than enough!).
I have my eye on the autumn and winter too and I’m also growing a Borlotto Bean Lingua Di Fuoco. These pretty pods, splashed with red and white, can be eaten young like any bean, but I’m after the large colourful beans inside to pack out a stew when the colder temperatures arrive.
Courgette: The crop that always produces abundantly and often results in a glut no matter how frugal I am with the number of plants I grow. This year I’m just growing the one variety Romanesco, an attractive variety with unusual raised ridges.
There will be a point in summer when we are sick of the sight of another courgette, but before that happens I’ll make sure to enjoy them sliced and fried with garlic or as a delicious addition to pasta dishes.
Chard: Not only is this another plant that goes quite the distance, standing strong late into the year, it also looks so pretty. Last year I grew the bright red ‘Rhubarb’ chard, this year I want to play that colour card even more with a ‘Rainbow Mix’ which promises its namesake of stems with colours of gold, crimson, pink, pink-and-white striped, purple, orange, scarlet, white and green.
Beetroot: One crop I have to grow each year is beetroot. I find it an easy vegetable grow and it looks and tastes delicious. I’ve already sown and planted out a few ‘Boltardy’ which is a power horse of a beet. Hardy and earthy in flavour. I’m also growing the beautiful yellow variety ‘Burpees Golden’ which provides sweet, golden globes which roast beautifully.
Instead of sowing these singularly, this year I’m sowing multiple seeds (around 4) into one module. The plants grow in clusters and can be planted out as such and around 9 inches apart.
Winter Brassicas: Yes, even before the summer arrives, I’m thinking about the winter garden. I have a plan for producing winter salads for much of the winter and early spring using the polytunnel beds after the summer crops of tomatoes and cucumbers. But they will be sown in late August through to October. The traditional, hardy crops for winter I’m sowing now. A few Savoy Cabbages and I’m aiming for the Brussel Sprouts to crop just in time for Christmas. This year I’m growing ‘Bedford Darkmar 21’.
I’ll sow another row or two of carrots, radish and I as my leeks haven’t germinated very well this year, I’ll sow some more of these too.
The great budget polytunnel experiment of 2018 ended in disaster. A successful summer came to a stormy demise and a polytunnel crumpled and torn way over on my neighbour’s plot. If you do want to try the same approach, the key thing to focus on is how well you anchor the frame.
This year I have a new polytunnel and I don’t mind saying it is already the envy of the allotment site. It’s all thanks to my dad who as a retired cabinet maker, offered to build a tunnel using his skills with timber.
The tunnel is beautiful and it was almost a shame to cover the timber frame in plastic. This is anchored on thick wooden pegs which are hammered into the ground for two feet. The frame is heavy and the plastic has been trenched in around the frame and I’ve also secured it to the frame with wooden batons. I do not wish to tempt fate, but I have high hopes this will last for a good few years.
Inside, I have built beds running the length of the frame. The one will house the tomatoes for the year whilst the other will be spilt with a six-foot workbench for growing chillies in pots and for providing a propagating space in the spring.
The remaining bed will be home for a few cucumber plants this year. This year will see me utilise the polytunnel to grow salads and suitable varieties of vegetable to provide harvests for the table during the winter and through the ‘hungry gap’ of spring. The idea of a garden providing food for as much of the year as possible is hugely exciting.
That then is my focus of jobs for May. This is all about balancing the number of tasks that move you forward with the gardening plans and maintaining a level of control. The sowing plan has really helped keep those scales in line and I feel comfortable and positive too.
What have you got planned on your allotment or garden this month? Let me know in the comments below.
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