May 2009

Updates from May 2009.

Gardening for food May 2009

The cold winter is now a distant memory as spring rushes on. It was an excellent April with gentle warmth and almost no frost, encouraging steady growth and allowing fruit blossom to set healthily. An apricot tree against a west facing wall has already developed baby fruit the size of peas. I shall be thinning them through May and also pruning the tree, when sap flowing out of the cuts should prevent entry of silverleaf disease. Plum, cherry, peach and nectarine trees are also best pruned in May and June.

May is an excellent month for sowing summer beans, and for best results it often pays to wait until near the end, because runner and french beans need steady warmth to grow well. Or they can be sown indoors in pots or modules.

As I write this in late April, the greenhouse it at its fullest with frost sensitive vegetable plants – courgettes, squashes, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, chillies, aubergines, melons and basil, as well as celeriac and some flowering annuals. First to be planted are tomatoes in a polytunnel, as winter salad plants are cleared, following which I spread compost and well rotted horse manure, about 5cm (2″) on top of the soil, and then plant through that. Cucumbers and melons will go in after mid month when, hopefully, nights are warmer.

Courgettes will be planted outside in early May, under fleece to protect them from cold winds and the worst of any late frost. Leaves may be damaged at their tips where in contact with fleece but it usually provides enough reserve of warmth to help tender plants through cold nights at this time of year, when strong daytime sun has left a reservoir of warmth in the soil.

Squash plants will be ready to go out by mid May this year and will also benefit from a couple of weeks under fleece if I have enough. I may move it across from some calabrese plants which are starting to grow strongly, after struggling with slugs at first. Beetroot plants have also established well after three weeks under fleece and should be ready to pick by early June.

Salad ingredients are changing now from the mustards, cornsalad and purslane of winter to glossy leaves of spring sown lettuce, spinach and pea shoots. The latter require quite a lot of space but return the favour with a gorgeous taste of summer and are a sure sign that winter is now behind us.

Weeds certainly know this and are growing strongly. Keep your hoe busy on seedlings of annual weeds, when they are still small and easily disturbed. If hoed through on a dry day, they should die in situ. Perennials need careful digging out with a trowel, unless the soil is matted with their roots and requires heavy mulching, see past months for advice on that.

Cropping in May

Lettuce for leaves, spinach, spring cabbage, last purple sprouting and leeks, spring onions, radish, asparagus, rhubarb; also sorrel, parsley, dill, coriander. Not a long list at this time of year when there is a relative shortage of vegetables unless you have been organised enough to sow early lettuce and spinach, to overwinter cabbages and spring onions, and to have beds of rhubarb and asparagus.

Charles Dowding.

Current Salad Ingredients

Lettuce Grenoble Red mostly Lettuce Grenoble Red Lettuce Grenoble Red
Sorrel Buckler, broad leaf Lettuce Freckles Lettuce Freckles
Spinach green and red stemmed Lettuce Bijou Lettuce Bijou
Endives scarole and frisee Lettuce Rosemoor, Bergamo etc. Lettuce Rosemoor, Bergamo etc.
Mustards red, green – 4 types Sorrel Buckler, broad leaf Sorrel Buckler, broad leaf
Winter purslane Spinach green Spinach green
Lambs lettuce Chard ruby and yellow Chard ruby and yellow
Parsley flat and curly leaved Rocket wild Endive da Taglio Bianca
Chard ruby and yellow Pea shoots Pea shoots
Kale red russian and scarlet Parsley flat and curly leaved Parsley flat and curly leaved
Mizuna Dill Dill
Rocket salad and wild Coriander just a hint Coriander just a hint
Chervil Broad bean occasional tops Basil first shoots

On sale at:
Bill the Butcher, The Organic Shop and The Olive Bowl, all in Bruton
Lush’s in Castle Cary

And on menus at:
The Montague Inn, Shepton Montague
The Chapel, Bruton
True, Castle Cary
Pilgrims Rest, Lovington