An invasion of red
Have you found little reddish purple seedlings on your plot and wondered if they were weeds or something more useful? They could be from wind-blown seeds of red orach, a handsome annual plant with edible leaves and flower buds. It grows to about a metre high but, because it isn’t bushy, doesn’t take up too much room or need staking. When young the leaves are very tasty in salads and later can be cooked like spinach.
To keep the plant producing new leaves the flower buds should be picked; they’re delicious steamed. Then, if one stem is left to flower and produce seeds, there will be a new supply of seedlings the following year. If you don’t have seedlings, I’ll pot up some from my plot and leave them outside the polytunnel for anyone to take. Look out, too, for self-sown borage seedlings; the blue flower heads have a cucumber flavour and look wonderful scattered over salad leaves.
There are plenty of seeds and plants available for colour and interest on plots. Ask in the big shed for seeds for nasturtiums; the leaves and flowers are a peppery addition to a salad. Or for sunflowers with their stately flower heads and, once ripened, seeds for humans and hamsters.
There will also be also flower plants available; cosmos, French marigolds and sweet rocket. Sweet rocket will produce flowers in shades of blue and mauve with a fragrance as sweet as a violet, which accounts for one of its other names, damask violet.
What to plant now
There are plenty of plants ready to go out. On the bench outside the polytunnel are several different types of kale for autumn picking. Peter and Helene have planted a row of each in the plot opposite the greenhouse so, if you’re not sure about how to space the plants or how to protect them from pigeons, take a look.
It continues to be cold with a risk of frost so some might say it’s foolhardy to plant out courgettes and squashes. However, as the first plants are outgrowing their pots in the polytunnel, brave souls are needed to take the plunge. They could be rewarded with extra early courgettes.
Start with one, at most two plants; there will be more available over the next two or three weeks. Dig a sizeable hole and work a spadeful of manure or compost into the bottom of it. Some people plant courgettes in a slight dip, others on a mound, still others on a mound with a slight dip in it like a doughnut. Take your pick! Water the plant well and, for the first week or so while it gets established, think about protecting it with fleece, a large cut down water bottle or similar.
Parsley, sweetcorn, calabrese and various salads are also available as plants. For a list of which seeds can be sown in May, look at the grower’s guide on the website (click here)
As always, there are jobs to be done. The beds round the polytunnel will be planted with cucumbers, physalis and fat baby (achocha) in a week or two. The beds need digging over and a frame to support the trailing plants built. Grass cutting, compost turning and weeding are perennial jobs for anyone with an hour to spend. Come to the big shed for seeds, advice or to offer help with one of the tasks.
Are there any (older) gardeners wanting to be on television? Channel 4 is to open the first job agency for OAPs. The production company Plum Pictures say that ‘we are currently casting for a new Channel 4 television series which will be presented by Mary Portas and we are looking for retired people to take part. We want to bring together a group of talented retired people who can use their skills for the benefit of their community.’
Layout and graphics by Jim