As summer fast approaches the garden erupts into life. Although a busy and somewhat stressful month for the gardener, all of this is far outweighed by our excitement for the blossoms, bees and bountiful spring crops headed our way. The first peas, broad beans, carrots and radish find their way into the kitchens to be lightly cooked or eaten raw for a sweetness we’ve been missing all winter.
I find it wise to become reacquainted with the hoe at this time of year - regular hoeing on dry days will reduce weed growth and save a lot of hand-weeding down the line. Sowing your seeds in well-marked rows will give you good indication of newly emerging seedlings and help to prevent any accidents.
Be aware of the dreaded late frost; it is still a risk at this time of year, so protect tender plants with fleece or a cold frame, hardening them off during warmer nights. Haulms of early potatoes will require earthing up. Once they have reached ten inches high, draw up the soil over the leaves until completely covered, forming a flat topped ridge - it should, once finished, resemble a newly ploughed field, protecting the leaves from any late frosts and allowing a greater depth of soil for tuber growth.
Asparagus fever has struck! We check our asparagus beds every morning for new growth – it may seem like an obsession, but the spears can put on six inches of growth overnight and are best if eaten straight away. If they have been left too long, the spears can become woody. Keep an eye out for asparagus beetle and pick off, if present.
Our summer brassicas are ready to plant out. Planting in fertile, free draining soil will give you the best chance of success. Planting deep and firming in will encourage sturdy root growth preventing the brassicas from rocking in the wind.
Our polytunnels are undergoing a transition period. Clearing the last of the overwintering crops makes way for tomatoes, chillies, aubergines and peppers. It is now warm enough to move them from the safety of the propagation tunnel and into their final home. Whenever planting in a covered growing area, water will be the main issue. Too much? Not enough? These are always the questions we ask. Incorporating lots of well-rotted organic matter will help with water retention and of course plant health. I find watering little and often to be ineffective, as most of the water will evaporate with the early summer heat. I water once a week in spring and twice a week in summer soaking very well, making sure the water penetrates the soil fully. Frequently damping-down paths and the walls of your poly- or glasshouse will increase the humidity and lessen the transpiration rate of your plants, and in turn the need for water is lessened.
As your broad beans start flowering, blackfly becomes a real threat – an infestation can destroy a crop in a matter of days. To prevent, pinch out the top three inches of growth, removing the breeding habitat and promoting branching of the plant, in turn increasing yield. A strong jet of water, or simply removing blackfly by hand, can also be effective. Companion planting with edible flowers like nasturtiums and calendula will lure the aphid away from your precious crop.