We have endured a cold, dry April that was terrible for sowing seeds outside and now we are in May we have the sort of softer days and showers we would have expected last month. The good news is that, with less cold nights and plenty of moisture in the soil, it is perfect for seed germination. You may have noticed this because of the weeds popping up everywhere!
Most vegetables can be sown now, including beet, carrots, peas and beans. French and runner beans are very sensitive to cold soil temperatures and now that the soil is warmer, they can be sown direct where they are to grow. Late sowings usually catch up with early sowings that struggle at first so never be reluctant to sow in May or even early June. You will get a crop, just a little later. It is worth sowing courgettes too, because these late-sown plants will be coming into peak cropping as early-sown plants may be suffering from mildew and running out of steam.
I like French beans as a garden crop because they crop well, set pods easily, can be grown in patio pots, raised beds and the open garden. And, most importantly, they need little preparation in the kitchen – no scrubbing and peeling.
If growing in raised beds, sow two seeds, about 1-2cm deep, every 20cm in rows about 40cm apart. If you are growing in pots on the patio, fill your container with multipurpose compost. I would add some controlled-release (season-long) fertiliser too, just to add extra nutrients to keep them growing well, and sow two seeds in each station, 15cm apart. the closer planting is countered by the fact that the plants can flop over the sides of the pots so they have more room. In fact, the way they will flop over the sides makes picking the beans easy and keeps them clean of soil.
Keep plants moist, wherever you grow them. French beans are self-fertile so every flower should produce a bean.
You can get dwarf or climbing French beans. The dwarf kinds crop most quickly and you get a heavy crop over a short period – they need no support. Climbing French beans tale longer to crop but the beans are produced over a longer period. You need to provide canes for support because the plants will grow to 2m high.
Both kinds have varieties with green, purple or yellow pods and both have varieties that are grown for their dried beans (haricot). If you dont pick all the pods of any French beans the dried, mature pods can be picked to harvest haricot beans.
To be sure of a regular supply of salads all summer, remember to sow more every month. Rocket has a tendency to run to seed in hot weather so, when you are picking some, remember to sow some more!
Jobs for the week
Check your roses for signs of blackspot and spray if necessary
Plant up patio pots and hanging baskets. If the compost was added in autumn you can refresh it by moving in some controlled-release fertiliser. If the compost is older it is best to replace it with fresh. Use the old compost as a much or soil conditioner in the garden.
Lily beetles are still about so look for these bright red beetles. They may have laid eggs and the grubs may be chomping their way through your lily leaves.
Polyanthus, that have finished blooming, can be carefully dug up, divided and replanted to bloom next year.
Protect hostas and other young herbaceous plants from slugs and snails.
Feed shrubs in pots with a handful of chicken pellets or give them liquid fertiliser every week from now till September.