In our new magazine series, Great Dixter’s gardener chef focuses on monthly gardening in a kitchen garden. Here’s a snippet of his expertise, which can be seen in full in May’s Gardens Illustrated. Subscribe here.
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Gardening jobs for May
Plants such as tomatoes and climbing beans need to be in the ground in May if they are to have sufficient time to mature and produce a crop. Temperatures can still drop at this time of year though, and a sudden move from a sheltered environment to the garden may prove fatal. Harden plants off by gradually increasing their exposure to the elements each day for a week or so before you plant them out, and wait until night-time temperatures have stopped dipping below around 7°C.
Maincrop peas should be in the ground now, whether in your vegetable patch or in a container. Good sturdy supports are essential – I like to use pea sticks for the plants to scramble up – and these should be put in place before you sow so that you don’t subsequently damage the seedlings.
Keep sowing salad, to ensure a succession right through the summer and into the autumn. Sowing a small amount every three to four weeks should do the trick, but remember, there is no point growing more than you can eat or give away, and no point having lots of crops
going to seed if you’re going to be away for half the summer.
Sow sweet corn. Last year I outwitted the badgers by growing it in a large fabric bag outside the kitchen door. It worked brilliantly, and meant I had all the fun of watching it grow, too.
If you haven’t already done so, this is your last chance to sow pumpkins, squash and courgettes. They really need to be in the ground by mid-May if they are to have time to grow and ripen properly. They can also work very well grown in a pot, given adequate space, a good rich compost and regular feeding with something like liquid seaweed.
This is the perfect time to sow winter brassicas. In my view, there is little point in doing it any earlier, otherwise you will have more greens coming through while the summer crops are still going strong. I also find that crops such as a cabbages and kale taste better after a cold snap, which raises the levels of sugar in their leaves.
As the weather warms up and plants enter a period of vigorous growth, you must be diligent about watering and, for plants in containers in particular, feeding. A dose of liquid seaweed once a week will work wonders. With watering, the mantra is, as ever, water well, not often. A really good soak will encourage the plants to reach their roots right down into the soil and make them less vulnerable in a dry spell.