May, in Scotland, is crunch time for growers. The opportunities for good yields are closing like an old-style window sliding shut.
Before it reaches the bottom, we must plant out whatever we hope to eat in the Autumn. Later than this and we risk a failed harvest, for Autumn this far North falls rapidly and, even in May, doesn’t feel all that far off.
The precious weeks coming up from June to August offer guaranteed light and a little heat, and as such provide almost all we need – the home growers energy source. We must capitalise on this by getting things ready now. It’s high pressure stuff.
I say “almost all” because light and warmth are only two of the essential elements for successful growing. Another is having soil that nurtures and nourishes what we put in it.
Knowing from the previous owner’s handover confessional that my plot had had little organic matter added to it in the years before I took it on, I ordered a tonne bag of “kelpie compost” – rotted garden matter with local seaweed added to boost the nutritional content.
A tonne felt like a lot when ordering and looked like a lot when I came to shift it, which I did on the back of a virus that left me feeling about as energetic as one of the massive slugs I occasionally come across, usually under a brick.
After a couple of hours’ hard graft, I had cleared the giant bag yet had covered barely a sixth of the plot less than an inch thick.
Through what I like to call good planning but may have been blind luck, I had started laying the compost on the courgette bed, which was most in need of the added nutrients. The rest will be relying on residuals within the soil, which may not be enough for a bumper crop.
Mind you I have rotated since last year so there should at least be some nitrogen in the soil where the peas and beans grew.
Another addition to the plot was from a local farmer who sells straw by the mini-bale. He has some clever kit that bales it up in neat layers, making it easy to spread.
For a very reasonable £15 he delivered to my door a big bouncing bundle with enough straw to cover all the strawberries, courgettes and asparagus with some spare for the cauliflowers. I can’t get enough.
Straw acts as a fantastic mulch, keeps the soil moist, deters slugs, slows down weed growth and protects small seedlings from winds as it runs level to their height. For me, trying to avoid using chemicals or doing too much weeding, it’s a fantastic resource and one I recommend. If last year’s courgettes are a guide, we should be in for some courgette-related fun in about six weeks.
After the decimation of “very warm Sunday” the re-planted seedlings finally grew enough to be planted out and the grow house lies empty for another year.
In contrast, the plot is almost full with a long list of potential crops - until they are in my kitchen that is all they can be - which now includes globe artichoke, dwarfing French bean, mangetout, broad bean, two types of courgette, squash, two types of potato, three types of tomato (greenhouse), red peppers (greenhouse), two types of cucumber (also greenhouse), shallots, beetroots, sweetcorn (under cloche), rosemary, sage, chive and other herbs.
As well as red onion, cauliflower, chard, spinach, purple topped turnip and lettuce.
Fruit wise there would be the possibility of strawberries, redcurrants, white currants, black currants, gooseberries, raspberries, morello cherries, three types of apple, plums, pears and even rhubarb.
The only veg still to be planted are the carrots, broccoli, kale and Brussels sprouts all of which can continue to grow even once the weather cools.
Frustratingly, the only crop ready right now, other than the herbs which are year-round, is rhubarb. Patience is needed for the rest. That and a bit of work to weed and water.
I have taken to stewing the rhubarb on a low heat in a little bit of lemon juice with about two teaspoons of sugar per rhubarb stick and some ground ginger.
After 25 minutes the resulting compote is tasty with a range of sweet dishes, including a very simple dessert of shortbread, rhubarb and crème fraiche.
For now, that is the only homegrown dish I can offer. For now.