We enter May with the allotment growing calendar in full swing. Now, more than at any other time in the gardening year, our beloved plots have an unquenchable thirst for our time. We are in that exciting period of sowing seeds, planting out, preparing land and yes the inevitable hoeing and weeding. Doubltess there will be plenty of watering requirements too. It is clearly very difficult to go on holiday in May!
For the young half hardy plants in the greenhouse or cold frame, that we rely on later in summer, it is time to begin the hardening off process. This is one of the most important tasks of the year. Plants such as; Courgettes, (outdoor) Cucumbers, French Beans, Runner Beans, Pumpkins, Squash, Sweet Corn are just some examples. Hardening off is a process where we gradually expose the young plants to increasing amounts of weather outdoors. After 10-14 days we can leave our charges uncovered on frost free nights. Hardening off generally takes around two weeks. The plants can then be planted out into their final positions, when the risk of frost has gone in your local area.
It only takes one night of frost to set the plants back or sometimes even kill them. I’ve learned this lesson this year, with a container of potato plants becoming victim to a snap frost in the greenhouse. The plants are recovering now, but vital growing time has been lost.
Potatoes growing outside on the plot are especially vulnerable to frost until the end of May. The young shoots can be literally cut down overnight, so keeping an eye on the weather forecast is important. Cover the plants with fleece to give instant protection. If more than a degree or two of frost is forecast (unusually for the time of year), then earthing up or covering the young shoots with soil in conjunction with fleece is worth doing.
Cloches are the allotment holders’ best friend at this time of year. The protected micro climate environment they provide is hugely beneficial to the newly planted out young plants. Cloches give the plot holder more flexibility during this critical period of often changeable weather. If the weather turns cold after planting, cloches or fleece are handy for avoiding a check in growth. There are many different types of cloche available. The very attractive looking bell cloche is ideal for individual plants. The pop up triangle -large polythene cloche offers tremendous value and covers a larger piece of ground, up to 1.5m in length.
Slugs and snails are the other main threat to new plants. The soft sappy young growth of the transplants offers rich pickings for those voracious molluscs. In wet periods the risk is greater, so do ensure you have adequate slug protection.
The end of May is the last period until autumn where we can sow broad beans. Choose a cooler, semi-shady spot at this time of year. The beans prefer cooler, damp conditions.
Purple sprouting broccoli can be sown this month too. I like the F1 variety ‘blaze’ and also the purple sprouting ‘continuity mix’. This collection contains three different varieties in one packet. They all mature at slightly different times, so cropping is possible over a six month period from November through to the end of April. It is a great way of maximising the yield. I finished harvesting the last of mine at the end of April.
Regular sowings of beetroot, carrot, kohl rabi, salad leaves and turnips can now be made throughout the summer, at three-weekly intervals or as required.
We may be in the so-called hungry gap, but there is the unrivalled promise of an abundance of fresh, tasty, allotment goodies to come very soon, starting with ‘new’ potatoes in a matter of weeks.