Well, it is the merry month of May and that exciting time of the year when things start to really happen for the vegetable gardener. There has not been much happening over the Winter months but I have been cleaning my front and back yards and I have built a new raised vegetable bed and changed all the soil/compost in all the containers.
Apart from the raised bed, I am entirely a container gardener these days. Both my front and back yards are to hardstanding. I don’t regard this as a disadvantage at all. I maximise all the space and it is surprising how much produce I get. All this, and my urban farm has to function as an aesthetic garden, social area and a clothes drying area, too.
I have seeded all my produce in the new greenhouse I built last year. I find my plants grow quicker in the greenhouse and therefore, they are further on when I plant them out. Of course, this also means that I will get my harvest quicker.
The first thing to get going in my garden tends to be the herbs, except for basil, which I keep in the greenhouse because it is not hardy. I will be bringing that outside next month as the temperature rises towards Summer.
In early April, I like to get my flowers on the go to attract bees and other pollinators to the gardens as early as possible. This year I have gone for strong colours to achieve this purpose and to brighten up the growing areas.
In the raised bed, I have gone for broad beans: two rows. I have planted them successionally to spread my crop longer over the season. I have also planted some broad beans (fava beans in USA) in a spare container or two.
In between the rows of broad beans I have put two rows of strawberry plants and the wall at the back of the bed I will be enjoying a row of French beans this year. I grew runner beans last year but Mrs Ball expressed a preference for French beans this time. A couple of rogue potato plants have put there heads above the parapet in the raised bed. I suspect this is because of the contents of the compost bin which I have dug in below the soil and compost.
To the front of the bed are large pots with courgette plants. Each pot also has three strawberry plants and a sowing of carrot seeds around the courgettes. The courgette plants are just common Zucchini variety.
The tomato plants are exceeding my expectations in the greenhouse. They seem to be much higher at this stage compared to previous years. The varieties I am growing this year are Beefsteak, Gardener’s Delight, Sun Gold, Moneymaker and Alicante. All tasty, heavy cropping and reliable. I have some San Marzano tomatoes growing outside as an experiment. I am busy feeding them once a week with plant food, tying them up to supports as they grow, taking off about have of the leaves to provide more air and light, and provide easier access for me. If I miss the rare side shoot that grows quite big, I have picked it off and stuck it outside into the odd unused pot to grow outside. My plants are flowering readily, much earlier than in previous years.
I had grown some chillies myself, in the greenhouse, but a mate of mine who is an allotment gardener has given me more. So, I have double the plants I expected. The chilli varieties I have this year are Jalapeno, Marconi, Cayenne, Hungarian Wax, Trinidad P, Fregno, Apache and the ominously titled Ring Of Fire! They are flowering already, also.
A new addition to the greenhouse are my two mushroom beds. I put about ten inches of compost, emptied the spores on top and covered with three inches of compost and covered with damp newspaper. I sprayed the paper every day to keep the compost moist. The paper is used to keep the mycelia in the dark. When the white strands of mycelia appear I remove the paper and put an inch of soil around to form a casing. I spray the casing once a day and am awaiting my first bunch of mushrooms after a few weeks.
I am seeding cucumber, French beans, basil plants and some Japanese Shiso leaves. Shiso is a type of mint plant and is used over there to wrap raw fish in etc. They are absolutely delicious. They are difficult to start off but when up and running they are probably the hardiest annual in the garden. The secret is keeping the seeds warm and wet until germination. As already mentioned, my basil plants are in there too, for now.
I have plenty of potatoes growing in large containers. As they grown 5 or 6 centimetres, I earth them up and just cover the top of the plant. When they grow another few centimetres I repeat the process. Once again, as every year, I am growing Charlotte but have half the pots with Maris Piper potatoes in this year too. I have changed all the soil in the containers, as one should every year to avoid blight etc.
I have planted all the extra strawberry plants my beds produced last year and am very excited about what appears to be a very heavy cropping year. I have made use of every available container and all the hanging baskets, even the ones with flowers, have strawberries in.
As mentioned, I have planted carrot seeds with the baby courgette plants but I also have a large pot with carrot seedlings in which appear to be doing well.
The only bad sign so far is this mushroom infestation (poisonous ones, this time!) in both my peppermint and apple mint. For now I am breaking off the caps and raking the soil over when they appear. Hopefully this will contain the problem and eventually eradicate it but any suggestions from readers will be much appreciated…