Charles potting cucumber seedlings

May 2019 spring garden beware late frosts, potting on, small spaces, perennial veg

At last it’s May, a wonderful month. Just go steady though with plantings of any frost sensitive plants, be aware of your last frost date.

For example it is almost freezing as I write this, and we are forecast a ground frost on 5th May. I need to cover the early potatoes on the evening before. April was warmer and you can see the lushness of spring in this video.

Seedlings which need warmth

Many fast-growing summer vegetables need steady warmth. I had most of mine on the greenhouse hotbed until 29th April, then we potted them on and now they take up nearby space as well. The manure pile has been and is emitting enough heat upwards, through the module trays, for germination and early growth to be steady.

I was pleased that 25/25 cucumbers germinated. The next new sowing here is French and climbing beans on 10th May. I have some soybeans almost ready to plant and they will be under fleece for about three weeks.

Potting on

Why bother with this?

  • modules are smaller, so precious warmth is available to hundreds of seedlings in modules, compared to tens of seedlings in pots
  • seedlings grow better in small amounts of compost where there is less waterlogging and more air – be careful not to overwater cucumber, melon and basil especially – roots need air too
  • seedlings are closer to their friends.

Then you need to pot on before they become crowded and with elongating stems.

Potatoes and no dig

There is still time to plant potatoes. See how my Charlotte are barely showing any leaves, which I am happy about because of late frost. I am trialling two different composts there.

Compost heaps

With more additions because of spring growth, your heaps should be filling and warming up. Any lack of heat may be from too many air pockets, due to long stems: best cut everything to 4-6in/10-15cm.

I put bindweed roots and seeds of annual weeds on my heaps. The latter decompose without heat (they are not invincible!!) but seeds need about 55C/129F or higher to be killed.

surface of compost heap
Surface of two month old heap in late April, with groundsel seeds visible middle right

Spreading new compost under cover

After clearing the last winter vegetable/salad plants under cover, I rake level then spread compost, mostly home made, horse manure and mushroom compost this year.

It’s the only application of compost all year, for two crops.

Even under cover there is a slight risk of frost here until mid May, so I use fleece before cold nights.


By about May 10th we are in the hungry gap, with leeks finished and overwintered broccoli giving less, while stored vegetables lose quality.

New harvests are mostly green and leafy! Perhaps by late May there can be beetroot and broad beans.

Perennial veg

These perennials come into their own in the spring, when annuals are mostly growing but not ready to give harvests.

Small spaces

The photos give an idea of my plantings. One small bed is more challenging than the 25sqm of what I call the small garden, though I know it would be large for many. I crop it in twelve blocks.

Both the bed and the small garden are featured with cropping examples and plans, through a whole year, in my online course about no dig gardening.

Pest protection

A reader reminded me to warn about pigeons – he took his fleece off some lovely brassicas and suddenly now they are shredded by birds who found them. Uv treated bird netting is handy to have ready, see Pest Prevention video.


We have had lovely groups here, and on the weekend course we harvested salad and planted beetroot on the last morning. It was a special pleasure to welcome Olaf and Arnie from Iceland, and Mia plus Emma from Stockholm.

Pea supports

These are just two of the many ways to support peas!

24 thoughts on “May 2019 spring garden beware late frosts, potting on, small spaces, perennial veg

  1. Thank you for another very informative post!
    I followed the advice you gave me back in March, and covered my beds with aged horse and chicken manure – it’s my second year growing veggies and no-dig has already made a huge difference compared with same time last year! I couldn’t be happier! Also, I am following your sowing timeline and advice from your Veg Journal (allowing for some adjustments, since I am in Northern Poland, zone 7a I think) and already have harvested radish and gorgeous spinach leaves and am the envy of all my neighbours :)…
    The spinach, however, is the reason I am writing this – 3 plants have bolted already. I planted them out in clumps on the 7th of April and they have been under fleece, together with the lettuce, since then. We’re still having very cold nights, but some days have been quite warm… I wonder if the fleece was actually too much for the spinach, creating too much heat? Or was it that, in my newbie eagerness, I started taking leaves too early – 4 weeks after planting out? What do you think?

    1. Nice to hear this Sara.
      I suspect it’s the spinach variety, some bolt earlier.
      Picking method and timing is not relevant, nor the fleece unless the roots got very dry.

      1. Yes, I hadn’t thought of that. Somehow knowing it’s likely not something I did wrong does not make me feel better… Well, anyway, I cut the bolting plants (leaving the roots behind) and have picked a different variety for end of summer planting – Matador. At least in name it definitely sounds hardier than Greta! 😀
        Thanks again for all your help!

    2. Hello Sara, I am also in Northern Poland – near Bytow to be exact, using many of Charles’s methods in my garden, trying to be self sufficient and also sell stuff. Would you be interested in getting in touch to share ideas and experiences? My e mail is [email protected]. Best wishes, Ewa

  2. I’ve got very slow growth with the seedlings in my makeshift cold frame ( it’s an old trailer with raised sides which gives a little protection from the sun & is a nice height to work at) I put them out after germinating inside & I’ve potted them on once, I have fleece & polytunnel plastic over them but no source of heat which I’m thinking maybe part of the problem. I’m thinking the wind whistling below the trailer might be taking away any residual heat after the sunny days.

    2 -4 weeks of growth doesn’t seem to have come to much.I’m hoping they might take a spurt on soon as I need space to sow more seeds but they still look too small to plant outside.

    I live in the outer hebrides & though we had a spell of sun for about ten days I think the average temperature has been too low.

    I’m wondering about picking up a 5mm rubber mat to use as a base thinking it could insulate the trays from the cold below & keep in any heat in the compost from the sun. If it works in wetsuits in the sea no doubt it might help. Maybe with slates on top to absorb the heat & give a slow release. Also I was wondering about vermiculite & whether that absorbs the warmth from the sun as well.

    Any ideas would be much appreciated!

    In the parallel style to no dig it would be great to go down an off grid / no electric solutions. But my compost isn’t hot enough to help so far. A hotbed might be my best solution as I really don’t want to use power.

    1. Hi Rose, I am impressed, you have Hebridean wind to contend with.
      The rubber mat idea is good because low night temperatures take away a lot of the speed of growth. Just be sure that it has holes/slits so that water can drain away, or a wooden trellis on it which plant trays sit on
      A hotbed under your trailer would be amazing if you have access to fresh stable manure, which I rather doubt.
      Vermiculite would be no improvement over compost and would reduce nutrient availability.
      However I wonder if you may be over watering – compost in trays does not want to be soggy wet, even just after watering. Roots need air too.

  3. Dear Charles
    Just listened to, (enjoyed and helpful as usual) ‘Spring Vegetable Garden’ video 28th April.
    Your wonderful compost is something I aspire to and so keep working to improve my own. One day, hopefully, I shall shovel out that rich dark structure to spread.
    Also the bird song on the video was a pleasure to hear.
    Many thanks

    1. Many thanks Hilary and it has taken me a while, always learning too and a fascinating process.

  4. Hi Charles, what netting do you use against flea beetle and is it effective? Just having a coffee break here in Durham after planting out leeks and beetroot 😀.

    1. Hi Liz

      I have found no mesh that can stop flea beetle completely but normal enviromesh reduces damage.
      I don’t sow rocket or mustards until August, from now. Fewer beetles then.

  5. May I give three topical tips…
    1. Hold on to any spare lettuce plants rather than give them to friends. Pot them up singly or in little clumps. Then a week before setting out beans or courgettes at the lettuce close by. I call these sacrificial lettuce. It’s a way of judging how many slugs are around and killing them before precious new plants are set out.

    2. I am harvesting sweetheart type cabbage in my poly tunnel. I cut a cross on the stem after cutting off the cabbage. It quickly sprouts a few little bunches of new leaves – spring greens. I will use theses before removing the cabbage stalks to plant tomatoes in about four weeks time.

    Incidentally Charles wrote about the lovely sprouts on Sea kale just now. I have the same on my Russian Red kale – again growing in the poly tunnel prior to planting summer crops.

    3. It’s natural to be pleased about getting something for nothing! And many gardeners consider the potato plants that are shooting up now from tubers that missed being harvested last year as a bonus. These are sometimetimes referred to as “volunteers”. Trojan horses would be more appropriate as they can be carrying blight and so it is best practice to remove any that are seen as quickly as possible.

    1. thanks lynn as a newbie it’s really great to get these experience based words of wisdom! All advice is hugely appreciated

  6. We got 3 inches of snow in Colorado Springs, Colorado this morning. Springtime in the Rockies! My plants are still in their grow chamber in the house, safe and sound. The only thing out under cover is my artic King lettuce, and it should be fine. Other chores will have to wait in my zone 5 garden until later. I am always happy for moisture in the high desert in any form. Do you harden plants off before you put them out? Our sun here is so intense, and I am wondering if I am better off just planting under cover as opposed to hardening off.

    1. Wow so different to here Mary and yes, no need to harden off, just plant from the greenhouse, fleece over say for a week according to weather

      1. I was curious about the hardening off part of planting, thanks much!
        And of course, all that snow is already melted. 🙂

  7. Thanks Charles! I’m lead volunteer for the Wimbledon Guild Community Garden and two of us heard you speak at Kew (and bought your books) in early 2017. We are a No Dig site and were promoting it at our opening for The BIG ‘No’ DIG Day last Saturday (another local community garden even set up a trial No Dig bed after hearing me go on about it when I visited and having seen my brief promotional videos for the WG).

    I had an idea – your logo would make a great enamelled lapel pin, with something like “I follow NO DIG ask me how”. You could give them out to your course participants and the followers of No Dig Gardening – Undug or I’m sure many of us would be happy to buy them. We could wear them at gardening events to id each other and also to get people talking about No Dig!

      1. Hi Dawn and Charles of the UK- from the state of Wyoming in the U.S. ! I have to say that is a great idea! I would love to buy one and encourage others here in the U.S., to look into this No Dig way of gardening. It is fantastic! Can’t wait to get gardening. As of today, it is cold and snowy again. :{ I do have my beds ready to go, just waiting for warmer weather. Which will be in about 3 weeks or so. Have my windowsill full of starts. Thanks so much Charles, for your writings, videos and the No Dig Newsletters! Look forward to receiving them. Happy Spring and planting year!

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