The weather in May can take us by surprise – we might be basking in the heat of the sun, or we are equally as likely to be jolted, shocked, and stopped in our tracks, as we turn to grab our coats to protect us during periods of rather bleak, chilly weather. It’s the same for our plants – they won’t enjoy a check in their growth if inclement weather strikes, so take care to protect any tender plants in your care this month.
Whatever the weather, summer isn’t far away. There’s a wide range of seeds you can sow this month in your garden or at your allotment.
Swede ‘Magres’ is a fully hardy variety of swede, which can be sown outside directly in the soil where it is to grow now. Swede ‘Magres’ offers good mildew resistance, and produces tasty, purple topped, yellow-fleshed swedes.
There are many wonderful varieties of beetroot that you can sow directly in the soil outside now. ‘Chioggia’ is a wonderful beetroot. When you slice beetroot ‘Chioggia’ in half you’ll be greeted with pretty concentric circles of pink and white beetroot flesh. ‘Burpees Golden’, and ‘Touchstone Gold’ are lovely, yellow beetroot varieties, and ‘White Detroit’, ‘Albino’, and ‘Albina Vereduna’ are beautiful, white varieties of beetroot.
Pumpkins are so much fun to grow! You can sow pumpkin and squash seeds in a greenhouse, on your windowsill, or outside with protection from the elements this month. Pumpkins aren’t fond of cold weather – they won’t tolerate frost. So do ensure you wait for warm weather conditions, and harden your plants off, by gently acclimatising them to life outdoors during the daytime, and then bringing your plants back undercover for extra protection at night for at least two weeks prior to planting outside. Remember to protect your seedlings if cold weather is forecast.
Pumpkin and squash seeds germinate readily in the warmth. Sow each pumpkin seed on its side or vertically – this will help water to run off and prevent the seed from rotting if it doesn’t germinate right away. Pumpkin and squash plants resent having their roots disturbed, so if you’re sowing your seeds in pots prior to planting in the soil outside, ensure your containers are large enough to contain the seedlings, and their roots, until you’re able to plant them outside – these are quick growing plants which need more room than you might expect at every stage of growth.
Pumpkins and squashes don’t grow well in areas of compacted soil, so take time to dig your soil over and loosen any compaction. Double digging would be ideal, but you could find an alternative planting space where the soil isn’t compacted and doesn’t require digging if you prefer! Pumpkins and squash plants thrive in raised beds, but the plants will also take over these precious growing areas and any nearby ground very rapidly!
When planting out your pumpkin plants, or when sowing your seed directly in the soil, make a wide, shallow well in the soil for each pumpkin plant or seed you sow. The well doesn’t need to be deep; just enough of a dip in the ground to provide some shelter for your pumpkin, and to provide a collection point for water when it rains, or when you water your plants.
Pumpkin plants can be surprisingly versatile and accommodating. Most of the varieties that produce small fruits, for example ‘Munchkin’, ‘Jack Be Little’, and ‘Baby Boo’, will happily scramble up tepees, arches, or homemade supports, where they create a beautiful and atmospheric sight as their fruits ripen in autumn. Do please ensure that your pumpkin supports are strong and braced accordingly, in order to be sturdy enough to support the full weight of your growing plants and their harvest of pumpkins. You don’t need to grow these smaller pumpkin plants as climbers – they will happily scramble over the ground.
Larger fruited varieties of pumpkin and squash require more space and will happily and rapidly advance onwards, taking over a vast area of ground in very little time. The minimum space you should offer each pumpkin is 6ft by 6ft, more would be far better, but any less would be unkind, as these cucurbits don’t grow well when faced with competition.
Pumpkins hate windy weather, so choose a sheltered spot, or if you garden on an exposed site, create a windbreak to protect your plants. Jerusalem artichokes grow to be tall plants, which provide a good windbreak, or you could make your own shelter using some fine mesh or netting if you prefer.
One place that pumpkins will be very happy to be planted is on top of your compost heap – the warmth from the decomposing vegetable and plant matter below will aid and comfort your plants no end, resulting in earlier fruit production. Consequently, the compost heap is an ideal place to sow seeds of your largest pumpkin varieties; this is the place to try to break the record for the largest pumpkin at your local show. You might opt for the readily available, Pumpkin ‘Atlantic Giant’, or you might decide to spend a little more money on a few special, giant pumpkin seeds from a champion grower, the choice is yours!
Ideally your compost heap won’t be overflowing and your plant waste and vegetable matter won’t have yet reached the top of your compost heap, so that your pumpkin plants will have some shelter and protection from the surrounding wood, pallets, or whatever your compost heap is constructed or reined in by. Then tip a bucket or two of good quality compost on top of your compost heap, make a shallow well to sow your seed directly into, or plant your pumpkin seedling into this compost if you’ve already started your plants off indoors. I love growing pumpkins, I am sure you will too. Good luck!
This article was first published in the May 2017 edition of Vantage Point Magazine.
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For gardening advice for mid-May to mid-June, please click here.