OK, so we still have a few days left of May. But I have finished sowing all the tender veg seeds – like courgettes, sweetcorn, pumpkins, and, apart from the chillies and okra, most have been planted out to their final growing positions. Next month I will start sowing salad leaves that keep going through autumn – the endives, escaroles and pak chois. But for now, there is an opportunity to take stock of what is growing around me, to start harvesting salads and broad beans, and to prepare the soft fruit for picking before the birds and squirrels get to them.
Last week I wrote about the apricot tree producing just one fruit. It has now turned from green to a deep blush, but its skin is still hard and far from ripe. This solitary apricot has become my favourite thing on the plot, out of all the vegetables, leaves, herbs, berries and flowers. It feels wrong to pin such consuming pride on a tiny fruit. But while it is insignificant in size, it is significant in what it means for my little plot: that I can grow this fruit outdoors in the UK, entirely unprotected, and during one of the coldest springs in recent years.
I have four redcurrant bushes – the largest is a variety called ‘Rovada’, and there are already strings of green currants dripping from the branches. In three weeks, they will start to turn red, so I need to throw netting over them soon – as well as the gooseberries, strawberries and raspberries.
In the cold frame, which has had its lid removed for the past couple of weeks, the beans are germinating – this one emerging from the soil in its root-trainer billet is dwarf French bean ‘Delinel’, which has an RHS Award of Garden Merit and produces a large crop. They will be planted out in the next week or two.
I am growing melons for the first time this year – at least the first time I am trying to grow them properly. Last year I raised some seedlings and had them in a mini greenhouse with cucamelons. The cucamelons went crazy and sprawled all over the place. As a result, I think the melons did not have enough room and produced just one small fruit that never ripened.
This year, I am trialling four melon varieties – two will be grown undercover, in the mini-greenhouse – they are ‘Antalya’, a galia melon, and ‘Banana’, a yellow-skinned, pink-fleshed heritage variety, and are at the more tender end of the spectrum; a third, ‘Melba’, an orange-fleshed cantaloupe which is slightly more hardy and will have one plant grown undercover and one outside in a sunny, sheltered spot; a fourth variety, ‘Emir’, is a cantaloupe and is said to be suitable for growing outdoors in southern parts of the UK, as long as they are in a sunny, sheltered spot. I will grow these in front of the playhouse and train them up a bamboo frame. Undercover, the melons will have the whole place to themselves to scramble over hoops made out of the pruned woody stems of the grapevine. They were planted with some fresh compost and rotted manure dug into the planting hole. They will need a fertiliser like tomato food once they’ve produced flowers, plenty of water, and my fingers crossed for a hot summer to let them ripen.
The only veg left to plant out are the chillies, which I’m planning to grow under a mini-polytunnel to get a bumper crop, watermelons, which will go in the wooden mini-greenhouse, and some okra, which will go in the hot outdoor bed next to the melons. It is hard to believe that the only real jobs after that will be keeping on top of weeding, watering and pinching out growing tips of things like tomatoes. This tending phase, in June and July, is a rich reward for the hard slog of spring.
I went to the plot today and the broad beans are very close to being ready – their pods are getting longer, but I am waiting until I can see defined bumps of the beans under the skin before picking. I also spied three strawberries, acid green in colour, which should be ready in a couple of weeks.
The summer brassicas, like calabrese, cauliflowers and summer cabbages, are growing well under Enviromesh – this fine gauge material which keeps out cabbage white butterfly, rampaging pigeons and, mostly, slugs and snails – see picture below.
Back in April I sowed seven varieties of leeks in root-trainers, with a few seeds to each cell. They have grown well and last week, when each leek was the thickness of chives, I transplanted them to more root-trainers – one leek per module.
At this stage they are quite robust to handle – but not quite ready to go into open ground where they will stand through autumn and winter, as a heavy downpour might swamp them. I will leave it another month for them to grow to the thickness of a pencil – or near enough – before they will be planted out to their final position.
Their allium cousins, the onions, are looking pretty good. They are also under Enviromesh to prevent stem eelworm, which attacked my crop last year, leaving the stems deformed and twisted. The mesh covering has made a dramatic difference. Although they will not be ready to harvest until July at the earliest, I can see the bulbs swelling nicely just below the surface of the soil. The only attention they need is gentle hoeing between the plants.