Sunshine and more sunshine – has been the story of May in the garden. But the breezes have been cool and some of the nights downright cold. The blossom has been blooming although bees have been in short supply and the pollination (especially) for the plums has been patchy. Our seeds have battled surprisingly well with the cool dry conditions. Indeed the germination of the big carrot crop has been exceptional whilst the tardy parsnips have, as usual, been very slow to get going.
This year I have finally made a sensible plan of the garden – together with the detail of what is planted where. The layout of the garden has several important features – a big south facing wall which is 3 metres high, hedges and paths which provide shelter and all year access, and long beds which make using the rotavator quick and easy. Rainwater run-off from the greenhouse roof goes straight into a big dustbin inside the greenhouse where it soon reaches a comfortable ambient temperature which does not distress the seedlings. Sweetcorn, runner beans, lettuce, sweet peas, courgettes and pumpkins have all been started in the greenhouse. They have all been planted out now so the work-top is now being used to grow 4 big boxes of basil.
Out in the garden, lettuce and rocket have already produced a mass of tasty fresh salad and there are heavy crops of gooseberry and blackcurrant already maturing on their respective bushes. The rhubarb is still struggling because of the dry weather. The potatoes are spreading their copious canopies of leaves over the rows and even the peas are now about 1 foot high. This year I had a blitz on the peas which are always such a serious temptation for the mice and the birds. I made new wire protections which are 100 percent bird-proof, then I soaked the peas in petrol before planting and mounted 3 mousetraps under the wire (so birds don't get caught). The traps are carefully baited with fabulous pieces of Mars bar. I caught 2 or 3 mice every day for the first week or so – numbers have dropped off now and so the precious peas are almost safe!
This year I planted the important French bean crop under netting to keep the birds off. This seems to work because once the seedlings have set their proper leaves the birds have no further interest and the net can be removed. Also this year (for the first time) we planted the runner bean crop in individual pots in the greenhouse, hardening them off outside when their 2 big leaves appeared. Now the plants are in the ground under their secure “loom” of strings and already the vigorous tendrils are winding their way up at amazing speed.
Against the outside greenhouse wall the strawberries and the thornless blackberry are in full blossom with fruits already forming. The crop should be a good one. There are 6 tomato plants now growing rapidly in the greenhouse under the rampant vine (which needs almost daily pruning to keep it under control). The olive tree which we planted against the south facing wall has done very well – despite the cold of winter – whether it will ever produce olives is another matter (I think the only one in England producing olives is in the Physic Garden in Chelsea).
Inside the greenhouse we now have 4 big boxes of basil – all pricked out and growing fast, ready for a mass harvesting in August so we can make a bumper batch of fine home-made pesto (it keeps well in the fridge).
Out in the woodland and orchard it's the scything season once again – always a pleasant way to enjoy productive exercise on a sunny day! I must apologise to those waiting to take delivery of new scythes because I have not yet been able to find a practical way to deliver them – a sharp scythe is not an easy thing to parcel up and transport.
My unexpected discovery this month has been the extra-ordinary effectiveness of an old pattern hoe I discovered in the old barn here. The hoe must date from 50 years back – I had to polish off the rust and grind away some ragged edges before sanding down and varnishing the old worn shaft. Here's a photo. Not only does the hoe work just like a conventional hoe – pushing backwards and forwards under well tilled soil – but the pointed ends allow the user to pick off the tiniest seedling weed right next to one of the crop plants. As I have repeated many times over, the efficient gardener should never have to bend down to pull up a weed. May is the month of constant hoeing, keeping all weeds at bay until the crop plants can hold their own by the middle of June. In fact I'm off to hoe in the garden right now – and water the long-suffering plants in this blistering dry weather.