This is the most exciting time of the year when everything really starts to take shape. Perhaps the early potatoes will be ready to dig by the end the month. I will start by feeling around in the soil and picking off the bigger ones, providing there are some and I can do it without collapsing the earthing up. If not I will just dig a plant that has flowered and hope for the best. It is not a foolproof sign when some of them have started to flower. I say this as some do not flower at all and others flower at different stages of ďtuber readinessĒ. Nevertheless I usually reckon itís worth a dabble when flowers appear. I was reading about growing them under hay, and this enables you to literally pick all of them. It seems like a great idea, but the time I tried mulching potatoes with lawn clippings resulted in the mulch encouraging slugs to breed in a place where they were difficult to find and thus control. Sometimes I have found that putting straw under strawberries has had a similar effect. I have searched for large spuds in early June in some previous years but it all depends on the weather conditions: how early they were planted and what has happened since. This year itís all pretty positive really, planting was followed by a subsequent balance between wet and sunny conditions. I planted first and earlies and a few early maincrop (desiree). I once heard Pippa Greenwood say this was her favourite tasting vegetable and I quite agree. I always look forward to the first mouth watering pickings. There is nothing like the earthy flavour of the first bowl of freshly dug and cooked early potatoes.
Self Seeded Chard
The broad beans are flowering and so far free of blackfly. The peas are mostly doing very well the Ambassador are flourishing and so too are the Mange Tout< although covering was necessary as the pigeons made a start on them. I will have to come to terms with covering them earlier as they seem to always have a go these days. The parsnips and carrots have not germinated Ė probably owing to the erratic ( & dry) weather. Redcurrant bushes and goosberries are loaded down with berries and are netted. Strawberries have flowered & stated to set and a good crop looks likely. I have netted them with the net I took off the onion beds, and will have to put down orange halves to attract the slugs. The white onions and shallots are looking good and they have not suffered too badly at the hands of rodents and/or birds. They don't like the dry weather. I planted the red onions as seed this year and they are still very small, as are the leeks. One year the rodents played cat and mouse with the red onions. They took them out, I put them back. They took them out I put them back. I took them out they put them back. I had them netted at first, but the foxes jumped on the mesh netting so I took it down. I now use ordinary netting and have to put up with having loads of spare mesh netting since the foxes use any raised mesh as a racing circuit. Cíest La Vie.
Structure for climbing French Beans
I sowed the French Beans directly under bottle cloches, supplementing by planting some in the greenhouse. I have protected those outside from slug and snail damage by putting them inside a plastic bottle. Unlike with the peas, the bottle has to have a top on it or the snails find the contents so enticing they go in over the top! I am also growing Barlotti Beans: Barlotti di Fuoco. I will let them grow until they are big in the pod and then shell them and cook them to eat, without drying them. Cooking them as dwarf beans was not a success for me, they were mushy, but letting them go to seed is brilliant as they taste so much better than the dried ones or cans you buy. Climbers include the purple Cobra and Blauhilde I have changed the structure for them a little this year. Usually I grow them up wigwams but this time I am trying out a home made framework which has wires for the plants to cling onto as they reach for the sky. I modelled it on the hop structure and took it as high as I can reach. I have planted the tomato plants in the soil in the greenhouse and they are growing well.
transplant from pot when early potatoes lifted dib 15cm hole and puddle in
transplant from pots when 5 or 6 leaves
transplant from pots when 5 or 6 leaves
transplant from pots when 15cm tall
Sowing seeds directly will now be possible with most vegetables and herbs although it is still beneficial to give them a start by starting them off inside or covering them individually with a mini plastic bottle cloche. I shall try direct sowings of salad crops such as lettuce, parsley, beetroot, radishes and spinach. The only proviso for planting direct without a start is that the temperature needs to be above 12į C. for most of the later varieties which it should be now as it has been very warm, even at night. Protections from attack by slugs and snails need to be in place. I am using inverted orange skin halves and it is working a treat. It attracts the tiny little ones that do all the damage to the crops rather than those rather benign big black ones that seem to mainly feast on the debris. Look at the three little blighters in the picture, for example. One is a translucent colourless blob, while next to it is the dreaded and dangerous keeled variety. To its left you may be able to make out the third: a small version of the keeled one I think. You do have to think ahead, though, since it takes a while to catch the preponderance of them in an area. The strawberry beds are reasonably clear but it has taken a lot of commitment (and orange halves!) to achieve this.
Codling Moth Pupa
Various tasks will be completed including gathering slugs, and hoeing and weeding so that the plants and fruits are not eaten or crowded out. The broad bean tips may have to be pinched out to deter blackfly if it is necessary, although this is generally not the case unless the weather is extremely dry. Brassicas would be checked for infestation if I was growing any. While digging I came across this pupa which Cheryl kindly identified as the Codling Moth. Not knowing whether it was friend or foe I did not know whether to destroy it or not. It was under an apple tree which fits when you think about it, and any future discoveries will definitely feel the pinch. My tiny apple tree is usually so laden down with fruit that I have to support the branches. As it is the branches are somewhat deformed by the weight of last yearís crop, and this yearís crop could be even greater. It is a nice problem to have.
Once the early potatoes have been dug I will plant out the leeks into the space they have occupied. Up until this point the leeks Carentan, will be growing in a large pot. Iíll be transplanting them later in the month, which is quite a late start. I find this is not too much of a disadvantage because vegetables are seasonal, and I tend to eat the leeks when most other vegetables are finished. My later transplanting means they donít grow too large, I prefer them to be smaller as I think they are tastier. When I transplant the leeks I dib 6Ē (15cm) deep holes 8Ē (20cm) apart using a piece of tree branch I keep for the purpose. Before dropping the plants into the hole I use my thumb nail to trim the roots to 2-3Ē (5-8cm) and, if the longest leaf is very long, I trim this back to the length of the next longest. Finally I carefully fill the hole with water, and, as with all transplants, keep filling until the water does not clear quickly. One time I thought Iíd give them a boost by using nettle juice, and this was before I realised that it needs to be greatly diluted. If youíve tried making nettle juice, and I would recommend its use as a liquid feed, you will know it absolutely stinks. The following day the newly transplanted leek bed looked like World War III. Soil all over the place, with bits of leek plants sticking out here and there: leaves, roots and even bits I didnít recognise.
Every year something happens to my poor leeks. A few years ago they were Maisied in the back garden by my granddaughter, who had a great time digging them out from the pot using the labels I had carefully inserted next to the different varieties. The next year, with Maisie in Australia, when I sowed the seeds I thought my little prodigies would be safe. But no! The pot vanished. How could this be? A tentative inquiry of Mrs Digmyplot received the usual brusque retort. Sometime later I noticed a pot containing a geranium in the centre surrounded by tiny little leek plants. I wonder how that could have happened?
Many vegetables will be ready to be harvested, including broad beans, potatoes, peas, and of course salad crops: radishes, spring onions and lettuce. Early next month the french beans and carrots may be ready.
I have had to resow the carrots because they did not germinate. This matched many previous years when they showed and then died, maybe because of the cold nights or perhaps they all fell prey to the gastropods, I am not sure. I cannot think of any other reason. When I lost the lot one year Dawn reliably informed me that it is slugs which fasten onto the foliage as it pops through and decimate the young plants.
I have not bothered with brassicas this year as we donít eat enough to justify all the effort to protect them from their long list of ailments and predators. In previous years I would be planting out the brassicas which would have been raised inside to get them started as a protection against slugs and clubroot. They would each be transplanted with a collar at ground level to stop the cabbage root fly crawling down to lay its eggs. I made the collars myself out of old pondliner scraps. Basically each one is about 5cm across with a cut to the centre and a further short cut at 90į to enable it to fit snugly round the stem of the plant. For each transplant I inserted a trowel and created a deep wedge shaped hole into which I put some lime (to help against clubroot) and drop the roots down to the bottom. Then I pack down the soil around each plant, perhaps removing the bottom two leaves and putting the plant in deeper to give it more support. Finally I cover with mesh to try to stop butterflies etc entering and doing their dastardly deed. Sage is a good companion.
Protection for Gooseberries and Redcurrants
Soft fruits such as strawberries, raspberries, redcurrants and gooseberries will hopefuly be begging to be picked this month. These gooseberries from a previous year looked very promising. The birds were already feasting on them, so I netted them soon after the photo was taken. The year before last I delayed to watch out for the sawfly and the pigeons got in first for a massive gorge. They left the bushes totally flattened and all new growth broken. Seemingly they are oblivious to the prickles so their skin must be very thick!
These Red Currants are dear to me since I created this bush from a cutting. This photo is from the first year when I had a decent crop. These lovely great berries weighed the bush down so much that I needed to support it. Netting is essential as I discovered one year when I lost virtually the lot. The pigeons love them and once they find a bush they return until the lot have gone.
If you have Asparagus it usually needs to rest now. What happens next this year is anybodyís guess as some poked through in March and that was it until recently. I donít think I am going to be able to crop any. I had a great bed of them and then I planted the raspeberries too close and they (the asparagus) didnít like them or perhaps didn't like the competition for subterranean water. Big mistake. Lost the Lot. However I do have some seedlings coming through although it is very late.
When the sunflowers begin to die back the birds have a feast on the seeds, and some of them scatter. As long as you know what the plants look like when they come through they can be allowed to grow, either where they are, or transplanted. This is what they look like.
Nettles are a very useful weed. I let them grow wherever I can because they produce a substance which enhances the growth of plants with roots nearby. Of course it canít be allowed to take over vast areas, but a few nettles dotted here and there are beneficial. It is claimed that herbs grown in proximity to nettles are more pungent. They also attract insects. Best of all, nettles make an excellent liquid feed. Wearing gloves, I pull them out, put them into a bucket, cover with water and leave for a couple of weeks. It needs to be diluted before use, about a pint or so to a watering can, as my French Beans learned to their cost a few years ago.
These Lupins self seeded. If they are not in the way I let them grow. Arenít they a joy?