What to sow in late May and early June
The transition from May to June is a fantastic time in the vegetable garden as the crops you have planted or sown start to put on some proper growth and the garden starts to fill up. As you know I often leave things to the last minute so things tend to get a bit frantic in my garden towards the end of the month.
As I spend so much time in the last chance saloon I thought I might share my list of what you can sow now if you have some blank spots in your garden or haven't started at all. Many people assume that it is too late to start a vegetable garden once you get to the end of May but this is far from the case. There is still a broad range of crops you can grow whether for the rest of the Summer of making an investment for Autumn/Winter or as far away as next Spring.
As you see in the photo (I think this is 2 weeks ago to be fair), my garden still has a number of empty blocks which need to be filled. Since I took the image (by standing on the roof of the jeep) things have started to fill out with potatoes damaged by frost coming on again and peas and beans taking off after a bit of rain and warm weather.
I took this photo on Sunday morning where you can see broad beans, which had been struggling, starting to fill out; we had some strong wind on Friday so I was glad I had built the string supports top prevent them blowing over. You can see mangetout pea 'Carouby de Maussane' behind which produces attractive purple flowers followed by very large 11cm pods which are great in a salad or lightly steamed. In the background we have two green rows of potatoes with the garlic planted in October to the right which is starting to bulk up nicely.
I spent a pleasant morning on Sunday sowing some of of the seeds mentioned below in trays in the polytunnel (for planting out later) as well as putting in another bed of carrots and sowing some parsnips (about right for carrots, a little late for parsnips).
As you see above I have used the our 'Mainframe' system for carrot root fly protection which is very neat and quick to put up. The enviromesh I had in the shed was a a little large so it is rolled at the edges and secured with landscaping fabric staples. The mesh is simply attached to the aluminium poles with removable clips with the full structure taking about 20 mins to erect.
I will admit the plastic joining pieces can snap when you're taking it apart to move it (though I was able to re-use 75% of them) but they are the least costly part so easy to replace. This is the 3rd year using the same parts and mesh so I am very pleased with it.
But that's not what I am supposed to be talking about.... Please see below my list of vegetables you can sow now to start a garden from scratch or to fill up some empty spaces, I hope you find the list helpful.
Beans - French and Runner Both French and runner beans dislike the cold, French more than runner beans. The best time to sow is May/June so now is perfect. In my garden, French beans won't grow outside but runner beans will and usually do well. You can see the French beans we planted in my tunnel a few weeks ago just starting to climb up their supports with dwarf varieties planted along the left hand side of the bed.
Once the soil is warm enough, beans usually germinate quickly and grow robust little plants in no time. Remember climbing beans will need a support like the twine above or a bamboo wigwam. Dwarf beans can be a good alternative and will produce plenty of beans if picked regularly and will be ready to pick a week or two before climbing varieties. If you can grow French beans outside an early July sowing in modules is handy as you can plant them after your garlic comes out towards the end of the month.
Beetroot Beetroot can be sown up to the end of July, even later if you have a polytunnel. As beetroot generally doesn't suffer from pests or disease (you don't need to worry about crop rotation) and doesn't require a whole lot of space it is handy to fill random spaces around the garden. I start early beetroot off in modules but summer sowings are better done direct in the ground. Slugs do eat beetroot seedlings but will usually go for something else if there is a choice so chances are you will be successful.
Brussels Sprouts Brussels sprouts are another late harvest crop so they are generally sown in April/May so you still just about have time to get them going. For reliability you are better off going for a modern F1 variety like the fabulous Brigitte F1 as they tend to have tighter 'buttons' which will stand on the plant for longer without opening.
Like kale, Brussels sprouts are a valuable crop as they can be picked over a long period and can provide fresh vegetables throughout the Winter. It's a bit late to tell you this now but if you sow two plants every 3 weeks from the beginning of April you can be picking sprouts from October to March. I realise that might sound like torture to some!
Purple and Green Sprouting Broccoli Purple sprouting broccoli is one of those plants that is often sown too early but is best put in at the end of May or early June. The reason is we want it to produce broccoli heads in the 'hungry gap' part of the season when there is little else in the garden. If sown too early it may flower in late Autumn which is still delicious but doesn't give us anything to look forward to in Spring.
Green sprouting broccoli can also be sown late, from April until July and will produce tasty green broccoli shoots from July until October depending when you started. Green sprouting broccoli is not to be confused with calabrese (covered below), it will produce a medium size dense head but will produce many mini heads once the main one has been picked. I find green sprouting great value for Summer when you only need a few light stalks for a salad
Calabrese Calabrese is the stuff they call broccoli in the shops, i.e. the large, closely packed green heads. Calabrese is relatively fast growing in cabbage family terms so can be sown up to late June. Unlike most other large brassicas, calabrese does not need very wide spacings to thrive so it's a good one for smaller gardens. The size of the heads depends on how close you plant them, for large heads leave 55cm all round, for smaller heads leave 25cm all round.
Savoy Cabbage Winter cabbage is another one people get wrong, usually only thinking about it when it's too late. Late May/early June is about the cut off for sowing but worth it for lovely crinkly heads of cabbage in late Autumn which will happily sit in the ground in Winter and can be harvested as required.
Cauliflower I don't really have the patience for cauliflower. They need a very fertile soil, take up masses of room, are usually all ready at the same and have a very short period when they are at their best. If you would like to give them a go, late May is a perfect time to sow for varieties like 'Avian F1' or wait until June and sow Aalsmeer which will over Winter and be ready next Spring.
I like to grow mini cauliflower varieties like 'Igloo' above as they can be planted as close together as lettuce; they are also a handy portion size rather than dealing with a number of large cauliflower heads. They are traditionally an early variety but you still have time to sow at the end of May.
Carrots It depends on the climate where you live but for me the end of May/early June is the best time to sow carrots as they germinate quickly and usually avoid the first generation of the carrot root fly. I also sow carrots in mid to late June for a later crop which I let strand in the beds over winter. There are any number of varieties to choose from but personally I like to sow 'Chanteany Red Cored' as they are one of the best for flavour. I also sow 'Starca F1', a very good uniform carrot well suited to late sowing and 'Rothild', another great tasting carrot.
If you have a heavy soil grow stump rooted carrots as the long, tapered ones won't grow well. If you have not had success with carrots in the past (probably due to a heavy soil) they will grow well in deep pots or in trenches filled with compost.
Celery I prefer to sow celery a little late so that the most vigourous, later growth happens in more moist Autumn weather. Celery is originally a wetland plant so it needs plenty of moisture, a dry plant will be stringy and tough.
Traditionally celery was 'blanched' by pulling earth up around the stems to exclude light; this makes the celery white rather than green and reduces bitterness. Unfortunately, if you have a slug problem, earthing up under damp conditions can lead to slug holes in the stems.
You can also grow 'self blanching' varieties like 'Golden Self Balnching' or 'Green Utah' but these will need to be grown in a decent clump so the combined foliage blocks light from stems.
Kale Kale is one of the absolutely bulletproof vegetable garden plants which provides highly nutritious leaves nearly all year round. I prefer the dark green 'Cavalo Nero' or dinosaur kale (pictured above) which has the best flavour when picked young and is also the slowest to run to seed.
Kale is probably the least fussy of any brassica plants with regard to site and soil and will withstand any weather thrown at it. For Winter through to Spring supply sow early June either direct in the garden or in modules.
Kohl Rabi Kohl Rabi is pretty easy to grow and has a very pleasant sweet and peppery flavour but I was never quite sure what to do with it. Everyone says it makes a very tasty addition to a potato gratin (which is true) but I think it's at its best grated into a salad or a slaw, I think it tastes better than cabbage. You can also make a very good creamy soup with it.
Spacing when planted is only 30cm x 30cm so again, a good one for a smaller garden. Make sure you harvest at tennis ball size, any bigger and it gets woody.
Leeks For a continuous supply of leeks you can sow in late Winter, mid Spring and in late Spring. There are different varieties for each sowing date, for late sowing choose an overwintering variety like the dark blue/green 'Blue Solaise'.
Leeks are better sown in modules as they are easily out-competed by weeds; module sown plants can also be planted deeply to give a long, white blanched stem. Leeks are planted out 10 -15 weeks after sowing.
Lettuce Lettuce can be comfortably sown outside until the end of July, if you have a greenhouse or tunnel you can extend this and can grow lettuce for 9-10 months of the year. Due to it's speed of growth, lettuce is another useful filler for gaps around the garden and can be planted alongside widely spaced crops to use the space efficiently.
For example, if you're planting Winter cabbage seedlings you will have 50-60cm of space between them which won't be needed for 12 weeks until the cabbage has grown to fill the void. A lettuce takes 8-10 weeks from seed to harvest so will be gone before the cabbage grows into the space. Filling redundant space also has the advantage of crowding out weeds so will reduce maintenance.
Parsnip If you're looking for large parsnips they need to be sown by mid April but, in cool areas, they can get off to a slow start so I prefer to sow late and produce medium size roots. You need to sow directly into the ground rather than in modules as parsnips won't tolerate root disturbance.
Sowing can be nerve wracking as parsnip takes a long time to germinate, up to 3 weeks before the first leaves appear. Old seed won't germinate so you need fresh every year so you can be watching a piece of bare ground for some time not sure if anything is going to happen!
Radish I nearly had a seizure yesterday when I saw radishes in the fridge that my wife had bought in the supermarket. Radishes are the easiest things to grow, take very little space and are ready 4 weeks after sowing so it is with deep shame that I must admit I don't have any in the garden. This omission can and will be corrected now as radishes can be sown until the end July.
There are a number of types of radish generally divided into Summer and Winter varieties. Summer radishes (the small ones like 'Cherry Belle' or 'French Breakfast') can be sown now while Winter varieties ('Waternelon', 'China Rose', 'Black Spanish', 'Daikon') are better sown in July/August as earlier sowings are likely to run to seed.
Spinach Spinach can be sown from April until August, it has great flavour when harvested fresh and is easy to grow so one I'd also recommend. If you want enough for full meals you need to grow quite a lot but you can harvest it as a 'cut an come again' crop by harvesting a few outside leaves from each plant. If you don't have the space it is still worth growing a few plants as fresh leaves make a great addition to salads or omelettes.
Spring Onion If you want chunky spring onions like the ones you get in the shops these days, you want a Japanese bunching onion like 'Ishikura Bunching' pictured above. Standard spring onions are weedy looking in comparison.
You can sow spring or bunching onions up to late July and harvest up to late Autumn. It is easiest to sow them in modules using 6-8 seeds per cell and planting them out in bunches, you can them pick them a bunch at a time when needed.
Perpetual Spinach and Chard All spinach (and chard) are members of the beet family with some more 'rooty' than others. True spinach is a shallow rooted, relatively short lived plant while perpetual spinach and chard will continue to produce new leaves from an increasingly large root system. Perpetual spinach and swiss chard can keep producing leaves for up to 10 months even surviving the Winter before coming back into leaf the following Spring.
Like beetroot, perpetual spinach and all types of chard are very easy to grow and suffer from very few pests or diseases. Leaves are better picked regularly when small as larger ones can be more bitter due to the oxalic acid they contain.
Sweetcorn You still have 2-3 weeks to sow sweetcorn if you'd like to enjoy one of the sweetest plants in the vegetable garden. Freshly picked cobs are far sweeter than anything you can buy as the sugars in the kernels turn to starch relatively quickly as the cob ages.
If sown from mid May to mid June plants should establish quickly and, if the Summer is good, should reward you in late August. Sweetcorn grows best in a block with plants spaced 30-35cm apart to ensure plants pollinate each other. Each kernel of the emerging baby cobs is pollinated separately so if pollination is light it can lead to empty spaces on the cob.
Swede There can be confusion between turnip and swede as many people refer to the yellow fleshed swede as a turnip. Swede, pictured on a frosty morning in my garden above, is a handy over Winter crop when sown early June to early July. These hardy vegetables can withstand freezing temperatures and, like parsnips, taste better after a frost as they become sweeter.
As regards timing, swedes are also handy if sown in modules in July as they can be put in after you have harvested garlic, onions, summer carrots or whatever has come to an end in August.
Turnip Turnips also like cool, moist conditions and can be sown until the end of July. I don't like them very much so they don't get a photo or much of a description.
That's it for now, I will see you next week!