It's battle stations on all fronts for the GIYer
There's lots to do in the garden in May, but all this hard work will banish your everyday cares, says Michael Kelly
THESE are busy, busy times for the GIYer. There are things to be done on all fronts – seed sowing, pricking out, planting out, hardening off, watering and weeding – and an increasing sense that there are not enough hours in the day to get it all done.
Thankfully, we are now getting some proper settled weather with good heat by day, and the added benefit of bright early mornings and long evenings. This being May (and especially this May), there's still the risk of frosts at night, so it pays to tune in to the weather forecast every day. Potato plants that are emerging from the soil around now are particularly vulnerable – a harsh frost could damage or even kill off the plants.
Until the danger of frost passes, I think it's best to keep them covered with fleece and/or earth them up with soil as they emerge. Not only does this protect the plants from the elements, it also encourages plant and tuber growth, as the plant is forced to grow taller to emerge out of the soil. If you were to think too deeply about it, you could actually decide that it's a mean trick to play on an unsuspecting little potato plant.
I did a bit of an experiment this year with my early spuds, where I covered one bed with fleece and left the other uncovered – the potato plants have emerged from the soil in the covered bed, but no sign of them yet in the uncovered bed. These little experiments make me feel far more analytical and scientifically minded than I really am. I really should write it down in a notebook somewhere.
This week I also finally got around to sowing my main crop potatoes (Setanta variety), so that's it for me and potato planting for this year. All told, I have four beds planted up with potatoes (three planted with earlies and the other with main crop) with a total of 160 individual seed potatoes. As a guide, each plant should produce approximately 0.5 to 1kg of spuds, so that's a total potential yield of 160kg of potatoes. That's the equivalent of about 65 of the small bags of spuds you would buy in the supermarket, with a current retail value of about €260. To put that in context, the seed potatoes cost me just €22. Of course, there are all sorts of factors that could impact on this utopian yield, such as weather, blight, laziness, or my growing skills!
You might recall I made a decision (spurred on by my friend Monty Don on 'Gardeners' World' – well okay, he's not really my friend) to sow my onions indoors in module trays because of the cold weather in April. Having spent about two hours transplanting them this week, I am sorry I didn't just wait to sow them direct. Instead of simply popping the set in to the soil as you normally do (which is a relatively easy and pleasant task), I literally had to use a trowel to dig 200 little planting holes for the onion sets/seedlings. Two words for you, Monty: not fun.
While doing it I got a little confused about how deeply I should sow the sets.
Normally when planting sets direct you push them down in to the soil, leaving the tip of the set just above the soil surface. It doesn't seem so obvious when planting sets that have sprouted and taken root in a module tray. I confess I am a little worried about whether I've got it right, and when you're talking 200 onions, there's the potential for a pretty major calamity. I planted a few spare sets that I had left over directly in the soil, just to be on the safe side.
I also sowed my shallots (such a pleasure after all that messing around with the onion sets) and peas. Each year, I do two sowings of main crop peas. One around now, and then a second one at the end of May. This year, I am growing peas in a 4m-long raised bed in which I will be able to fit two rows – so this week I did the first sowing, a single 4m row with the Greenshaft and Sugarsnap varieties. I enjoy sowing peas. With a draw hoe, I make a relatively shallow trench (about 5cm deep and 15cm wide), and dot the peas along it in a zig-zag line about 5cm apart and then rake the soil back over. Job done.
There's a short, simple video tutorial on our website which shows you how to do this.
I also did a good bit of planting out this week in the polytunnel, so from a point where the tunnel was quite bare, it is suddenly looking more interesting.
I can move seedlings direct from the potting shed to the polytunnel without hardening off, since the temperatures in the two places are roughly the same, which is handy.
I planted out about 10 lettuce seedlings, six spring cabbage, chard, annual spinach, coriander and turnip. In the potting shed, I also sowed some kale plants (six) and my main crop beetroot and swede in module trays.
There's so much work to do, in fact, that this week I've been out GIYing before and after work (which is no great hardship, let's be honest). I spent a pleasurable hour one evening pricking out celeriac seedlings from a pot to a module tray (another job that makes me feel like a forensic scientist) and another moving tomato plants in to bigger pots.
Heading back in to the house in the dark, I was again struck by just how relaxing GIYing can be. The cares of the day were magically lifted. And there's the irony, I guess – while it's a busy time, once you're immersed in it, it somehow doesn't feel busy. In fact, it feels very nice indeed.
Michael Kelly is author of 'Trading Paces' and 'Tales from the Home Farm', and founder of GIY.