MY next visit to The Journal allotment in Gibside’s walled garden was after the bumper Bank Holiday weekend. While many of the staff and volunteers were recovering from a hectic few days at work, Sue Adamson and I both had time off and were excited to see what’s been growing (if anything).
We’re not disappointed – the potatoes are up and there are tiny lettuce plants as well as half a row of radishes. In the greenhouse there are small pots of leeks which at the moment look like stems of grass with a black seed on the top.
There is no sign yet of the carrots or parsnips planted last month but as these take longer to germinate, we don’t need to worry about that just now. The butternut squash or peas unfortunately haven’t been planted yet. Things never go exactly to plan, so they’ll go in this month.
The sight of the new shoots growing gives me hope for my garden. I have spent time laying a new lawn and planting new flowers. My patch for vegetables isn’t quite cleared yet but I have started off some herbs – coriander, basil and parsley – in pots on the windowsill indoors. These, sadly, are not showing any signs of life as yet, so it’s back to Gibside’s walled garden where things are looking a little more promising.
This month, there are runner beans and climbing French beans to plant as well as one of my favourites – purple sprouting broccoli.
SUE'S TOP TIPS FOR MAY
:: Water regularly; if the hot dry weather we've experienced during April continues, the ground will be very dry so remember to water crops regularly. As fruit begins to grow it is important not to let the plants dry out.
:: Keep an eye on overnight temperatures; it's not too late for a last frost so if temperatures start to drop too close to zero for comfort, cover your crops with horticultural fleece to keep them protected.
:: Add a little colour; Sue and allotment buddy Judy will plant flowers around their patch this year – not just for aesthetic reasons but to attract beneficial wildlife such as bees! This month you could try sweet peas or sun flowers.
PLANTING GUIDANCE FOR BEANS AND BROCCOLI
HERE are a few top planting tips for veg – and do remember to water the ground/compost well before planting the seeds.
RUNNER BEANS: It's best to start these off in pots in the greenhouse or on a windowsill rather than planting direct into the soil. Fill a 3½in pot with compost then water well before planting two beans per pot. To plant, push the beans into the compost as far down as the first knuckle on your finger. Once the beans are strong enough to plant outside (after the plants have their true leaves and all danger of frost has passed) you'll need to build a frame for them – see instructions below for French beans.
FRENCH BEANS: We are planting climbers so you'll need to build a frame for them before planting out. The good news is these are hardier than runner beans so you can plant these straight into the ground. To build the frame, push five canes into the ground in a circular shape and tie them together at the top with string. Be sure you choose long canes as they need to pushed quite deep into the ground to able to support the weight of the beans once they start cropping.
Plant two beans at the bottom of each cane, again one knuckle deep into the soil. You could plant a couple of French bean pots in the greenhouse as insurance just in case the ones outside are eaten by mice or slugs!
PURPLE SPROUTING BROCCOLI: As Sue points out to me, you pay a lot of money in the supermarket for young stem broccoli plants, so growing your own is a great option, and, they're easier to grow than the traditional variety you find in the shops. Again it's best to start these off indoors in 3½in pots. The seeds are very small so once you've filled the pot with compost and watered well, place two seeds in each pot and cover with a very fine layer of sieved compost.
SALAD CROPS: With lettuce, radish and other salad crops, to get a continual supply throughout the year, plant a row every two to three weeks. You can also get ‘cut and come again’ varieties of salad leaves.