Oh Mister Sun, Sun

Organic gardener Kitty Scully prays for rays as the peak growth period of summer is almost upon us.

Prolific croppers, early sown courgettes should be shooting up in the garden.

Crop rotation is all about putting the right family of plants in the right place for maximum return.

Mister Golden Sun, Please shine down…This is surely the mantra our garden soil is singing in the hope that May will mark the end of cold temperatures and launch the season of summer sunshine to boost plant growth and our mental health. May certainly heralds the busiest month in the vegetable garden. Soil temperatures should start warming up sufficiently to sow and plant nearly all edibles. This is the month for catching up on the seed-sowing you never quite managed to do.

DIRECT SOWING OUTSIDE

There is still time to plant maincrop potatoes, and if you have spare onion sets left over from planting still sitting in their bags (I always do), plant some close together in a pot and use them like spring onions later in the season. You can direct sow peas, mangetout, broadbeans, carrots, parsnips, radishes, swedes, turnips, beetroot, runner beans perpetual spinach and chard directly into the ground if conditions are suitable.

TRANSPLANTING OUTSIDE

If seeds sown in modules or pots earlier last month are now strong enough plants, harden them off and transplant outside: salads, spinach, calabrese, chard, scallions etc. If you’re feeling guilty that you never quite got those seeds into pots, there is always a fine array of fabulous transplants available to buy at local farmers’ markets and good garden centres. My advice is to buy Irish grown transplants as they tend to be healthier and hardy enough to thrive in our climate. Watch out for plant sales/swaps in your area.

CROP ROTATION

Before you get too stir crazy with your seeds and plants it is good gardening advice to plan where you are going to plant things or to use the ominous words —crop rotation. Why? Well, vegetables belonging to the same botanical family tend to have the same nutrient requirements and tend to be affected by the same pests and disease, and if the same crops are grown in the same piece of ground for several years the soil becomes exhausted and the levels of soil-borne pests will build up.

A 3-4 year rotation is what is recommended, and a very basic, easy to remember 4-year rotation is simply BASL: Brassicas (Broccoli, Cabbage, Radish, Swede, Turnip), Alliums (Garlic, Leek, Onion, Shallot, Spring onions), Solanaceae or simply Spuds and Legumes (Peas & Beans).

If you’ve got the space, it’s great to leave a few garden beds for miscellaneous use such as growing roots, etc. The good news is that some edibles such as lettuce, swiss chard, spinach and squash aren’t as susceptible to soil borne diseases and can go pretty much anywhere you have the space.

Remember containers are a great way of getting around rotations and in reality effective rotations are notoriously difficult in small gardens so don’t lose sleep over them, simply keep those veggies on the move as much as you can.

CROP MAINTENANCE

If your early potatoes are up, make sure to earth them up and continue to do this every week or so. Top growth will develop fast and by pulling loose soil around the haulm (shoot), you are not only giving support to the stalk, you are also preventing the dreaded ‘greening’ and protecting your crop from any late frosts.

As you mound up the soil over the emerging shoots, take the opportunity to remove any weeds too.

Growth may seem slow but weeds will always thrive. Keep your hoe and rake on the move as it is much easier to remove weeds when they are at a seedling stage as opposed to letting their roots take hold.

COURGETTE’S AND SQUASHES

Now is a good time to sow courgettes, pumpkins, squash and climbing beans in pots for later transplanting. Courgettes are very easy to grow and are prolific producers so be warned 2 -3 plants should be sufficient for a family. Sow courgette seeds in 7cm pots filled with seed compost. I water my pots before sowing and then place one seed on its edge in each pot about 2cm deep. Next cover the top with a sprinkle of compost and voila, ready to go. Place the pot in a warm, ventilated and protected spot and once seed leaves appear, ensure the seedling has access to even light.

Even if you only want 2 or 3 plants, put on few extra seeds just in case some fail to germinate and if you have a few extra plants, they make great gifts for garden friendly foodie friends. All going good, your courgettes should be sturdy plants with a few true leaves ready for planting in about a months time.


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