It’s time to plant broad beans, cabbages and cauliflowers so they’ll be ready for harvest next spring along with broccoli and spinach. You might even sneak in a few early cloves of garlic in advance of their traditional planting date of June 21st (shortest day). Peas, coriander, mizuna, silverbeet and rocket – all fans of cooler temperatures - can also be grown in many parts of the country. For some of us winter can simply be too cold and wet to contemplate anything but token plantings in sunny spots, containers, cold frames or a greenhouse - if we are lucky enough to have one. Mizuna, rocket, pak choi, peas and kale can all be grown in this way and will ensure we continue to have fresh greens for the table. In warmer parts of the country there can be no need to restrict progress in this way as persistent mild temperatures and a lack of frosts mean that potatoes, peas, beetroot, cabbage, carrots, spinach and silverbeet can be grown virtually all year round.
May is dominated by a harvest of delicious autumn fruits such as apples, feijoas, tamarillos, passion fruit, mulberry and quince all with rich, intense fragrance and flavour. Once you’ve eaten all you can take a moment and set about preserving as many as possible for winter when fresh fruit is scarce. These autumnal treats are ripening alongside highly productive vegetables such as capsicums, chillies, squashes and pumpkins. Squashes and pumpkins will sustain us well into winter if harvested carefully and stored properly. Pip fruit such as apples and pears store well too and if you are lucky enough to have productive trees then you’ll almost certainly have enough to warrant a few carefully filled shallow boxes that can be set aside in a garage or garden shed. Put aside some of the best examples of your produce for seed saving and you’ll have a whole store of free seed for re-sowing next spring. Flowers, herbs and many vegetables produce seed that is easy to collect, store and re-sow – often all it takes is a paper bag or envelope and a cool dry place to keep them in.
Remove all spent foliage from beds and planting areas. Squashes and melons in particular produce heaps. Sort through foliage and discard any that has been infected with powdery mildew or blight – look for a grey mould covering leaves in the case of mildew and dark brown spots and splodges with a yellow halo in the case of blight. These should be put out in your household rubbish as they will re-infect compost. Everything else can go into the compost heap/bin that should be bulging with goodies ready to rot down over the winter for application to hungry soil next spring. Remember to balance all that greenery with layers of straw or shredded paper. Make sure your compost heap is covered with a folded tarpaulin, empty compost sacks, a piece of old carpet or something similar to keep in warmth and prevent heap getting too wet over the next few months.more
"Add a sprinkling of rice to all your bags and envelopes of saved seed – it will absorb any unwanted moisture and help to keep seed dry and in good shape for re-sowing."
Soil that’s been home to hungry feeders like tomatoes, zucchini, pumpkins and tomatoes may be tired and lacking in nutrients as the garden heads into autumn and winter. Now is a good time to sow some green manure that will nourish starved soil with nitrogen, prevent soil erosion caused by heavy rain and suppress weeds. A range of plants can be used – vetches, buckwheat, rye, blue lupin, broad bean and phacelia. The general idea is that you mass sow your plant of choice across a bed, border or general area and leave them to grow through autumn and winter before you dig the spent stems and roots back into the soil as a boost to get your plantings going in early spring. If you choose to plant broad beans then you’ll also get a bonus harvest of beans – which is great for broad bean lovers. Sow according to packet instructions.
May is a last chance to give the garden a tune-up before weather and temperatures take a predictable dive. This means a bit of digging and weeding and then some feeding and protecting. Whilst soil is still warm and not too wet dig through bare patches and any recently cleared beds adding lime, compost and manure as you go. Any dormant parts of your garden that are not to be planted out should be protected from the elements – as well as weeds – by a layer of mulch. Mulching bare soil helps to prevent heavy rains from causing a muddy pan to form that will then harden and form a crust that can prevent moisture and air form entering the soil when warmer weather returns. Mulch in winter also prevents weeds from catching you unawares if your attentions are elsewhere – like in a holiday brochure!
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