May 2011 Newsletter

Greenhouse crops can be started in earnest now

Sow Sweetcorn in pots in the greenhouse this month, they will produce strong plants ready to plant out in June. Courgettes, Marrows and outdoor Cucumbers can be sown in situ from the middle of the month provided the weather is warm enough, if it is still a bit cold start them off in the greenhouse or on your kitchen windowsill, or plant them out and give some protection with fleece or a cloche. Make sure you keep all emerging seedlings and young plants well watered. Sweetcorn is wind pollinated and best planted in large blocks, so the male flowers at the top of the plant can pollinate the female tassels lower down.

If you are gardening in the north of the country bear in mind you may need to sow everything a bit later, be led by the weather and the condition of your soil, not what it necessarily says on the packet. Please don't be tempted to transplant outside too early, there is nothing more disheartening than growing lovely little plants only to have them wiped out by a late frost – it could put you off growing forever - so be warned! If in doubt wait a week or two.

Now the soil is warming up

You can really get on with sowing your outdoor crops now including Kale, Sprouting Broccoli, Summer Cabbage, Beetroot, Dwarf French Beans and many others. If it happens to be cold and wet in your part of the country delay sowing until the weather is more clement. Mangetout and Sugar Snap Peas can also be sown outside now. Keep sowing short rows of lettuce and cut and come again salad leaves every couple of weeks to ensure a continuous supply throughout the summer, these can be inter-planted between slower growing plants like brassicas to maximise space. As you plant your Brassica Plants protect them against cabbage root fly with Brassica Collars to prevent the fly laying her eggs close to the stem of your plants, where maggots will emerge after about 6 days and begin feeding on the roots before tunnelling up the main stem causing the plant to collapse. You can also cover the bed with a Cloche or Insect Mesh to create a complete barrier against all insects.

If you do not have the space for a vegetable plot

Those pesky garden Pests will be out and about in force now so don't be too lax in dealing with them early. It also pays remember that a lot of good garden visitors will be eating them for lunch or dinner! You want to encourage birds, ladybirds, lacewings and more into your garden as they can keep pest numbers down in a big way and are obviously much better for the environment. In my garden I have a resident thrush that consumes vast amounts of snails – she whacks them on one particular paving slab and leaves the empty shells (and a certain amount of nasty mess!) for me just to prove just how many she has eaten! However the natural predators may not be quite up to the job if there is a really bad infestation, I don't want to destroy ladybirds and other good visitors so I only use Biological Control which I have found to be really effective – especially against slugs! Nemaslug and other Nemasys products do not harm any other wildlife, children or pets and it is really effective.

The other ace I have up my sleeve is Insect Netting - I had such a devastating attack of Cabbage White Caterpillars a few years ago - I woke up one morning and my plants were alive with the horrible green things and my brassica leaves were all lacy! It's not just the holes in the leaves that I hate but the horrible 'frass' (that's caterpillar poo to you and me!) and I just couldn't bring myself to eat any even after washing! So now as soon as they're planted they get covered with Netting so the butterflies can't get near to lay their eggs. Prevention is always better than cure!

Spring is the perfect time to get children interested in gardening

Chrysanthemums can be planted out towards the end of the month when they should start to grow away quickly. Pinching out the growing tip will give you a well branched, stronger plant. Avoid over feeding them as this can produce soft, lanky plants with lush foliage at the expense of flowers and the stems will be very soft. At the end of summer just as everything else in the garden is beginning to get a little tired and jaded Chrysanthemums are starting to look their best. They can always be relied upon to give a great show of colour in late summer and well into autumn, outlasting just about everything else in the border. In a mild winter they may even be in flower at Christmas!

Herbs are a magnet for bees and pollinating insects

Planting up of hanging baskets and containers can begin in earnest now. If you potted on your young Basket and Container Plants last month, they should have made good root growth by now. Pinch the tips out of any plants that are beginning to get a bit leggy this will give a much better well branched and bushy plant. Transplant them to their final containers incorporating Water-Retaining Gel and Slow Release Fertiliser into the compost to help water retention and feeding over the summer months. Give them a week or two to establish before placing them outside. If you like to see hanging baskets but are not sure how to plant your own there are some useful tips in our Growing Guide - 'Plant a Hanging Basket' Bedding plants will also be growing away nicely but however good they look don’t be tempted to plant them into your borders just yet, even if we are having a mild sunny spell. The last thing you need is for all your patient potting and growing on to be wiped out by one late night frost! Begin to harden them off by placing them outside during the day but return them to the shelter of the greenhouse or cover them with fleece overnight. Don’t be tempted to place them in their final position until you are sure all risk of frost is past.

Gardening Tips
As you get down to sowing and planting in earnest

Beans are perfect for growing in a sunny, well-drained spot and if you haven’t already sown your Runner Beans, French Beans and Dwarf Beans indoors in pots you can now sow them outside directly in the soil where you want them to grow. Prepare a deep trench and add plenty of organic matter – compost, grass clippings, kitchen peelings or even shredded newspaper – then cover with a good layer of soil and you will help retain moisture to the roots. Put your canes in position and sow two seeds per cane. If the weather is still a bit cold you can still start them off in the greenhouse or kitchen windowsill. Rootrainers work really well for sowing beans of all types as they like a deep root run which Rootrainers provide. Each cell opens for easier transplanting with minimal root disturbance and they are re-usable too. The cardboard inner of toilet rolls make an ideal bio-degradable pot for sowing runner beans. Stand the rolls together in a tray to keep them upright, fill with compost and sow your beans as normal. When they have grown on to about 4 inches plant them out – still in their toilet roll pot, this will prevent any root disturbance and the cardboard will help retain moisture as it gradually breaks down in the soil.

Before planting your beans place 4 canes about 2 feet apart in a square and join the canes at the top to form a ‘wigwam’, the canes can be tied with string or joined using Figo Frame Connectors. Figo can be used for all sorts of garden support structures. Use them to build a frame over raised beds to support insect or bird netting to protect your precious plants as they grow.

Slugs and Snails will really be getting active now

Avoid Carrot Root Fly when thinning your carrots they are attracted by the smell of the bruised foliage when you pull out the thinnings. Do this job in the evening when there are less insects flying, they are drawn by the smell and lay their eggs in cracks in the soil close to the plants. When they hatch they burrow their way under the soil and feed on the roots. These horrible little insects can be a real nuisance, but there are ways to outfox them! They are low flying so growing in Raised Beds and placing a barrier of Insect Netting or Fleece at least 60cm high around the bed should help keep them out, make sure you tuck it well down to the soil with no gaps for the fly to get in (or cover the complete bed). A mulch of grass cuttings over the seedlings makes it harder for the fly to find a good spot to lay her eggs and plants with a strong smell of their own such as Sage, Rosemary, Coriander and Onions or Garlic sown close to the carrot row will also help deter them. Try growing a variety with good resistance to the pest such as Resistafly Planting carrots in the same location year after year will allow the fly to get a strong hold and multiply, so crop rotation is very important. Carrot Root Fly also likes to snack on Parsnips, Parsley (and cow parsley!) and Celery so avoid growing these crops in areas which have previously grown carrots. Another solution is Nemasys Grow Your Own Biological Control it is a unique mix of different nematode species to target a broad range of pests including Carrot Root Fly and is extremely effective especially when used as a regular programme.

Once your young tomato plants are large enough to plant

Keep earthing up your potatoes as they grow to encourage more tuber growth and protect the tops from any late frost which can kill off the foliage. If you planted a very early variety such as Swift you may even be lucky enough to be harvesting a few tasty new potatoes from the end of the month! Nothing beats the first freshly dug new potatoes, boiled with a large sprig of mint and served with a knob of butter melting over them – my mouth’s watering already! Slugs love potatoes and the little grey ones that live in the ground will be highly active now. To prevent them nibbling away at your crop water the ground around your precious plants with Nemaslug which contains millions of naturally occurring nematodes which kill slugs above and below ground. They are completely harmless to birds, animals and children.

If you make your own compost

Don’t forget that gardening is something the whole family can share children just love to grow things - encourage yours to grow something other than Sunflowers or Radishes . Entertain your children with a range of seeds that are easy for them to grow in pots or in a little patch of their own. The most important thing to remember when gardening with children is that they must have quick results! Quick cropping salads – mixed cut and come again salad leaves are a perfect quick growing starter to get them interested and they can pop up in days. Red leaved lettuce Amaze is a small Little Gem type perfect for kids to grow. Courgette plants grow quickly in a large pot or a grow bag and a variety such as Atena Newsletter is such a bright colour and can be cut at only four inches long, once they start to fruit you can pick them almost every day, they seem to grow before your eyes! Runner Beans are easy for children to handle and they are so fast, kids love to see them racing away up the canes. Carrots seem to be the one vegetable that most children like to eat, they love pulling their own and eating them raw straight from their plot - so exciting!

Once children find the pleasure and joy of gardening and growing their own food it can stay with them forever.