Welcome to the Marshall’s May newsletter. There’s a hive of activity going on in the world of fruit and vegetables this month. Not only is it a busy time on the veg plot, harvesting and tending to developing crops, there’s lots going on elsewhere too such as the RHS summer shows and trial days.
Why not take a visit to one of these shows where experts will happily give you advice and answer any queries you have. You might even see an interesting and new variety, whose seeds you can get your hands on.
So water your veg plot in the morning, then get out to one of the summer shows for a bit of sun and a lot of inspiration.
Grow Florence Fennel
This is a great vegetable – it looks curious as it’s growing, unusual but certainly not unattractive. Once harvested though, it makes a very versatile ingredient. You can steam it, grill it or boil it.
In its raw state, it has a taste of aniseed and you can add it to salad as a garnish, or even add it to hot water to make a tisane.
You can sow seeds from March to July, depending on when you want to harvest your fennel. For a May harvest, you‘ll want to sow in March outdoors in drills that are 1cm deep. Make sure the drills are well-watered to give the fennel a good start from the off. Thin out the seedlings to 30cm (12in) apart.
Once the young plants start to form a whitish bulb that has attained the size of a ping-pong ball at the base of the plant, earth them up. Continue this process until the bulbs are the size of tennis balls, at which time they’ll be ready to harvest.
It’s a great vegetable to try to grow- just make sure that it’s well-watered as it develops in summer. You can also add a general fertiliser too to raise the nutrient levels in the soil.
Grow Cut Flowers
Now’s a great time to get Kitchen Garden Flowers in the ground. Cut-flower dahlias, spray chrysanthemums and hardy garden ‘mums’ look simply lovely in vases and are great plants to grow in flower beds or indeed on the allotment. For great chrysanthemum blooms, pinch out growing tips to encourage a bushier plant, then on the various growing stems, pinch out some of the buds so more energy goes into producing fewer, larger blooms.
Also support stem with simple canes and protect prize blooms by covering with polythene bags clipped gently onto stems.
Carrots are a really versatile vegetable and can be eaten raw, roasted, boiled, steamed and turned into soups or drinks. The fluffy foliage is edible too and has a carroty flavour. There’s more to carrots than the usual long orange fingers and varieties include spherical and even yellow and purple colours. They’re not a difficult crop to grow if the soil is suitable and although there are some pests and diseases they are fairly easy to combat.
Carrots don’t do well when transplanted so are best sown in situ. Temperatures should be above 5°C (41°F) but germinate faster in temperatures above 10°C (50°F) Sow seeds thinly from March, or more usually April, until June in drills 15cm (6in) apart and 1cm (0.5in) deep.
Thin out during the evening to 5 to 8cm (2 to 3in) apart.
Erect a 60cm (24in) fleece fence around your patch to protect crop from carrot root fly. It’s important to weed regularly when plants are young to avoid competition for light, water and nutrients.
Keep soil moisture consistent as the roots could split if watering is irregular. You should be able to start harvesting from early June.
Grow kohl rabi
This odd looking vegetable is great to try on your veg plot, and it won’t disappoint in the kitchen either. It doesn’t have many requirements when it’s growing and can grow well even in shallow soils. It has a bulbous stem (which grows like a globe) from which tall thin leaf stems rise. Indeed, a strange-looking vegetable, but giving a nice, nutty flavour when grated.
Sow green varieties now thinly in drills that are 2cm deep. They should germinate after about 1 ½ weeks, but you can give them a head start by adding a general fertiliser.
When they are at seedling stage, continue to thin them out until they are 15cm apart. Hoe regularly to avoid weeds taking hold and competing with them for light, water and nutrients.
It’s also worth protecting growing plants from bird damage, as they can be quite partial to this crop.
From mid-to late summer, the crops are ready to harvest. (The bulbous globes should be about the size of tennis balls).
In the kitchen, grate raw for salads. It will add a refreshing flavour of celery and nut.
These fruits are the most associated with summer and of course tennis. You can grow this delicious berry in ornamental beds, in hanging baskets, in containers, in grow bags and in allotments. Home-grown strawberries are superior in flavour and you don’t need to travel far for a rewarding crop.
You can buy strawberries in a number of forms – as young plants or as runners.
Runners look like little pieces of roots. Rest assured, this is how they should look – they are not dead. You can buy runners throughout autumn and winter, and they should be planted in early autumn, or early spring.
The ones that you can get your hands on now tend to be young plants, and these can be planted as soon as you buy them.
As the strawberry fruits start to develop, tuck straw underneath them to prevent the strawberries from rotting on the soil. Otherwise use individual fibre mats if these are not already in position. The straw or matting will also help to suppress weeds so is the most effective mulch you can get.
When harvesting, you are wise to do so in the midday-sun. The fruits are at their most flavoursome and sweetest at this time of day and are best eaten as soon as you can.
Mulching is a fantastic way of looking after various ornamental plants and fruit and vegetable crops. Mulching is basically adding a thick layer of some form of material around plants. This has the primary purpose of keeping soil warm, so there’s a good root environment, and keeping moisture levels at an optimum.
Mulching also suppresses weeds which means there’s less competition for light, water and nutrients as your prize plants are busy flowering and fruiting.
You can mulch using old carpet, newspaper or other man-made materials. However if you mulch with some bulky compost or manure you’ll also be feeding the soil to an extent – which is yet another benefit.
When mulching make sure that the mulch doesn’t touch the stems of the fruiting plants as this might burn the bark. Leaving space directly around stems is advisable.
Plant of the month - Broad Beans
Grown for their shelled beans but can also be eaten, albeit less commonly, whole or dried broad beans are very easy to grow and are the first beans to harvest. There are both standard (1.2m (4ft)) and dwarf (30cm (12in)) varieties and they form Longpod, Windsor and Dwarf pods.
Although broad beans will grow in any soil it should ideally be fertile and well draining. Avoid very acid or waterlogged soil as well as ground that has had beans growing the previous season. Choose a fairly sunny spot and prepare the ground in the autumn prior to a spring planting by adding manure if needed. One week before sowing apply a general fertiliser.
There are two times to sow broad bean seeds: autumn sowing in November and spring sowing from February to the end of May. Although they are fully hardy spring sowing is best in colder regions of the country. For autumn sowing and until March it’s best to sow under a cloche, then from March onwards regular sowing can be carried out. Sow one batch a month for succession cropping.
Avoid sowing any seeds that have holes in them. These are made by bean weevils and often don’t germinate. For each row create a double drill 5cm (2in) deep and 20cm (8in) apart. In the first drill sow seeds 20cm (8in) apart, do the same for the second drill but stagger the sowing. Each row should be 60cm (24in) apart.
Beans are ready to pick from the end of May to the beginning of October and should be harvest according to type. Within reason, the smaller the pod, the better the texture. For eating green harvest the pods before the beans are visible. Pick beans for shelling when they are visible through the pods; usable beans are those whose scar is still white or green, not brown. Pick often and store by freezing.
Broad bean De Monica De Monica is so fast growing and quick to mature it will be amongst your earliest cropping broad beans too
Broad bean The Sutton compact plants only grow 15-18in/35-45cm tall, producing an abundance of delicious, tender beans
Broad bean Meteor Vroma produce long, well-filled pods with tender beans of good flavour. It is also a good early cropping variety.
Broad bean Stereo So tender and sweet when young, the whole pod can be eaten
Broad bean Aquadulce Claudia ‘Claudia' produces very long glossy pods up to 9in, with tender light coloured beans.
Sow this month
Harvest this month
Pest watch – pigeons
Pigeon populations are on the up. One pigeon will cause a fair bit of damage to your allotment and a flock can cause serious damage.
You’ll notice damage predominantly to your cabbage plants, but pigeons will not be so fussy and will peck at a range of brassicas including sprouts and cauliflowers. They also go for your peas.
It’s the striped leaves you’ll notice first, they tend to leave the hard mid-vein of brassica leaves, and you’ll be left with a skeleton of a plant.
So how do you control them?
Scaring devices offer a temporary measure, but pigeons soon wise up to deceptive deterrents, and so you’ll have to keep changing the method of deterring and scaring them.
The best and most permanent means of control the situation is putting up netting of investing in fruit cages. These can be pricey, so netting might suffice, depending on how extensive your crop is.
*Visit the RHS Malvern Spring Festival, 7-10 May, and have a look at some of the great floral and vegetable exhibits at the show set by the beautiful Malvern Hills. You’ll be able to buy delicious local and international food and drink, and see some big names like Raymond Blanc and Gregg Wallace.
*Have you seen our new Veg Trug Poppy Ladder range of planters that you can grow bedding, fruit, vegetables and herbs in? They come in a range of bright and cheery colours, are light and easy to position and look great on a patio or balcony. Perfect for all garden sizes.
*It’s National Asparagus Month this May. Help us celebrate this great crop, and introduce it to your vegetable plot. Plant crown in the ground and get lovely spears for you to harvest without having to go to the supermarket, and without the heavy price tag. Get great recipes for this beautiful perennial vegetable and see some of the many health benefits this crop offers.