They call it Mad May and for good reason
They call it “Mad May” and for good reason. May is the month when all the work through the winter and early spring comes to a peak. Everything that was sown in March and April needs to be planted and everything that will be planted through the early summer needs to be sown. Add to this the emergence of slugs, the growth of weeds and the pestilence of pigeons; it does not matter which way you cut it, the simple fact is that for a few weeks in May, every market gardener needs twice the greenhouse space, twice the hours in the day and twice the Zen mastery of calm productivity. But then you burst through the bulge of work and emerge battle hardened, wiser and ready for the summer season.
This May was especially challenging because of the extremes of weather that we’ve all experienced. In April we had frosts most nights and not a drop of rain. Early May finally saw the end of the frosts, but the nighttime temperatures were still dropping to single figures which suppressed growth, even in the polytunnels. And when the drought finally broke it was replaced by torrential rain and high winds. Now, I am determined not to complain about all of this - I work in an industry that is dependent upon the seasons and we simply must get on with it - but spring of 2021 is widely agreed to have been the hardest growing season that anyone can remember. The good news is that we managed to grow through this so now, we can grow through anything!
On top of the plants, we produced for the vegetable beds at Hope Farm Garden, we also produced approximately 3000 additional plants for “Get Growing”. This is a great initiative that enables people who otherwise would not have the opportunity, to get involved in growing their own food. Many of you will have been involved in the delivery or the setup of this great project and it simply would not happen without your help so a massive call out to all our amazing Volunteers. The market garden too would be lost without Volunteers and this week, as we move towards the end of May, we have been bringing thoughts of summer a little closer to home.
As you will remember from my last post, the tomatoes have already gone into the polytunnels and this is a great harbinger of summer, but it is the planting of the courgettes and runner beans without protection, that is the real marker of the season’s change. This week the weather has been changeable at best (and downright autumnal at worst), but the forecasts all agree that this coming bank holiday weekend will see a rise in temperatures that should surely set the tone for the next few months. I am determined to make the most of this good weather by getting the plants in the ground ready. There is still a risk of low nighttime temperatures ruining my positive mood, but I am willing to take that risk.
Courgettes are planted as soon as they have two true leaves (‘true leaves’ are the leaves that follow the pair of ‘seed leaves’ that emerge when the plant first germinates. They are called true leaves because they are the first leaves to take on the shape of the adult plant). Runner beans will also go out when they have two true leaves. The first sowing of beans went out this week and they will crop until midsummer, at which point they will run out of steam and get stringy. I will do a second sowing in a couple of weeks, so we get runner beans all summer long. The second sowing will kick in when the first sowing is running out of puff and I hope not too much before, or we will have a mighty glut! A second sowing is not necessary for courgette as each plant will produce a good crop all the way up to the first frost.
The tomatoes are finally growing strong & healthy after several weeks of very low nighttime temperatures. Despite my efforts to cover them with fleece every night, I think it was touch and go for a few weeks as to whether they would survive. They can handle the odd dip in temperature but as every night dropped to freezing, I think they began to wonder whether it was worth it. But temperatures did rise, and a weekly dose of liquid seaweed perked them up no end. They are now big and strong and getting ready to set their first fruits. This year more than any other, I made sure I removed the first set of flowers on each plant and in some cases even the second set. Even in a good year, the first set of flowers is produced before the plant is big enough to handle it and as a result the tomatoes are small and tough. It is better to channel their energy into good healthy growth and then into flowers and fruit when they are well established. This year the tomatoes would have been better if I had sown them a few weeks later, but last year the opposite was true, and I was kicking myself that I had not sown everything earlier. As gardeners, we soon learn to be relaxed about the things we cannot control.
Liquid Seaweed is a fantastic fertiliser that is packed full of micronutrients that stimulate growth and health, but this year we are experimenting with our own liquid feed. We have made a batch out of stinging nettles which are full of goodness for plants and humans alike. Many of the baddies of the weed world make fantastic compost and fertilizer. In another of mother nature’s crazy symbiotic efficiencies, pioneer weeds – nettles, thistles etc - colonize bare ground, sucking up goodness that is then made available to bigger plants and trees that are not so efficient. We can tap into this superpower by filling a tub with holes in the bottom with nettles and packing it tight. This tub is then inserted into a slightly larger bin so that there is a tight seal between the two. A lid is then placed on top to exclude rain. As the nettles rot, they drip their goodness into the outer bin and create a concentrated liquid feed that does not have the overpowering stink that is associated with traditional comfrey liquid feed. I am experimenting with the dosage now; there is no hard and fast rule for this as each batch will be different, but I am starting with 4ml per litre of water. I will let you know how we get on.
It seems like we are always asking for something and now I have another request. Please bring me your bottle corks and coffee grounds. Bottle corks make great cane toppers and mean we do not have to buy more plastic than is necessary. Wine bottle corks are great, but big champagne corks are the best, so consider this a good excuse to crack open a bottle. Coffee grounds are great in the compost heap and, used neat around plants, they make a great slug deterrent.
If you are not using them yourself, we would be very grateful for your donation and if you are a regular visitor to a café or coffee shop please ask if you can take away a doggy bag of grounds on our behalf.
I look forward to seeing you in the garden soon.