May: such a magical month in the garden. The growth is incredible and each day the garden reveals new delights! When the first strawberries ripen we know summer is on its way.
It’s also a time of letting go of overwintered plants in the polytunnel to create space for summer cropping veg. Before I went to Ireland, I cleared, mulched and replanted the polytunnel – and quite a lot of outdoor planting too. Here in Somerset, mid to the end of May is an ideal time for planting undercover spaces with the next season’s plants, as there should be no frosts. Further north, timings need adjusting by a week or two. Weekend work commitments and my week long trip to Ireland on Sunday 19th gave me a deadline of Friday 17th to get everything I could planted up.
Most of the overwintered plants were in flower, so I cleared almost all of these, leaving a few herbs and two leek plants to flower. This increases biodiversity, feeds insects and encourages beneficial predators into my polytunnel.
During the milder months, the doors are partially open all of the time, which allows freedom of movement for many insects. Birds too pop in from time to time.
Usually I mulch the polytunnel with either homemade compost or composted manure (the same manure that is delivered by George to the allotment), but this year Dalefoot Composts kindly gave me enough of their Lakeland Gold compost to mulch all of the beds – so I am trying it out this year.
The straight sided polytunnel is 12 x 40 ft, comprising two side beds along the whole length approximately 2 ft (60cm) wide, two paths each around 1ft (30cm) and a middle bed of 6ft (180cm) to make the most of the height. I used 19 sacks of compost to mulch the entire space around 1″ (2 cm) or so deep
The one exception is the small area with early potatoes, where the mulch is a mixture of Lakeland Gold and some rehydrated coir blocks, spread when I planted them in March to earth them up a bit against any frosty weather.
After clearing and before mulching, I gave the soil a really thorough watering.
The compost is very easy to use. Light and easy to carry, I emptied out a sack, spread with a rake and then opened the next one until the job was done. It’s tiring lugging 19 sacks of compost about, but quite speedy. Spreading the light, fluffy mulch was a breeze. After spreading, the compost was tamped down by doing the No Dig Dance – a kind of shuffle which lightly firms the mulch.
Lakeland Gold should last as a mulch feeding the soil for two years so all being well there should be no need to mulch the polytunnel next summer which means the initial cost is a two year investment. For sure it is more expensive to mulch with this than George’s Marvellous Manure (approx £10 for the tunnel) but with that I do have the extra time issue of having to fill old compost sacks with it, taking them home a few bags at a time in my tiny car, lug them up 5 steps into the front garden and wheelbarrow to the rear of the house. Homemade compost is of course free and most of mine is made in the back garden – however not everyone has the space for loads of compost heaps, which is why I like to trial alternatives.
Of course one is left with the plastic sacks. These are recyclable, but I am not sure where in Somerset I can do this (trying to find out). In the meantime the sacks have been stored. There are always uses for compost sacks in the garden.
Dalefoot composts are made from composted bracken and sheep wool, so not suitable for veganic growing.
I had grown far too many plants, much more than I could put in here! It’s good to have some spares but I really did get too carried away potting on… Fortunately most have found a good home elsewhere.
Tomatoes, melons and cucumbers, all grown up strings, are mostly planted in the wide middle bed where I can make the most of the height. Aubergines, pepper, chillies and herbs go in the two side beds.
How to grow a tomato up a string!
First of all, make a hole deep enough for the plant’s rootball – a trowel depth works well for my tomatoes.
Next, place the end of the string in a hole – I tie a knot at that end which seems to help the string stay in place.
Pop the tomato into the hole, making sure the string remains under the root ball.
Refill the hole with compost and firm down. Carefully wind the string around the plant and tie on a crop bar or similar. The string needs to be taut but don’t pull too hard as then the string shoots out of the ground and you have to start the process again… I did this twice!
We use baler twine, mostly because I have a huge spool of it so Charles and I share it. It lasts for several years – some of mine is at least 5 years old – and as we already have some, it would be a bit daft not to use it. However if I were setting up a tunnel now I would look for viable natural alternatives. Cheaper natural fibre strings rot and snap, so choose a thicker product which will last the whole season.
There are strings running the full length of the tunnel – Charles uses wire – for fastening the support string onto. In the winter, I use this string to dry my washing on.
As well as my homegrown plants, I had been nurturing two larger tomatoes in the house. One is from a talk I gave a couple of months ago and the other a super sweet variety from the Rob Smith range we were given to try out at the Garden Press Event in February. That has a few trusses of tomatoes already.
I am so looking forward to the harvests ahead! There’s still some more planting to be done in there – more edible flowers, basil and other herbs and a couple of cucumber plants to replace which were nibbled into oblivion by an unwelcome guest whilst I was away, Fortunately I have some spares.
Outside in the wild edges, elderflowers are in bloom. I shall be gathering these fragrant flavoursome blossoms over the next few weeks to make delicious food, drinks and homemade potions. See Elderflower Extravaganza for some recipes and also the current issue of Kitchen Garden Magazine, which features several of my recipes including very delicious white chocolate elderflower truffles. I’m working on a vegan alternative too – the recipe will be posted here.
My guide to what to sow over the next few months for year round harvests with some recipes is in the current issue of Permaculture Magazine – Issue 100!