When is comes to vegetables, May is all about your leafy greens. Use our quick gardening guide on what to harvest, plant and sow to make the most of this autumn season
What you should harvest in May
Keep picking lettuce leaves but if they start to turn bitter this means plants should be pulled up and new lettuces sown. Choose a cold-tolerant variety if you live in cooler regions.
Never let your broccoli turn yellow in the garden before picking. Florets need to be small, green and tightly closed for the tastiest crop.
Not everyone has space in their garden for Jerusalem artichokes, but if you do they are worth it for both their decorative and nutritional value, producing showy yellow flowers on tall stems followed by tubers filled with potassium, iron and a variety of other minerals and vitamins. When tops have wilted cut plants down to about 30cm and lift tubers by hand in autumn and mid-winter. You can even keep tubers in the ground for next season’s crop.
Brussels sprouts planted in summer should be ready for harvest now (3 months is their normal growing period although there are hybrids that mature more quickly). Pick from the base up when sprouts are firm and a good size.
What you should plant in May
Leeks are best planted as seedlings as growing from seed can be tricky. Now is a good time to plant so they can be harvested in winter when there’s not much else in the garden. Leeks grown in winter have a more intense flavour than those planted in spring. Full sun is best although leeks will tolerate a little shade and don’t mind wind. Soil should have well-rotted compost or manure dug in a few weeks prior and some general fertiliser. Avoid boggy soil.
Add compost/fertiliser to soil before planting rhubarb. Protect with frost cloth if frost is likely.
Divide and replant globe artichoke divisions using pieces with roots attached. Artichokes prefer soil that has been enriched with sheep pellets or other organic matter. Give them sun and space, and weed and water regularly.
In colder areas plant garlic now, but wait until mid-winter in warmer areas. Buy quality bulbs from the garden centre (don’t use fumigated, imported ones from the supermarket). Break into cloves and plant at 5cm depth, pointy end up. Choose the biggest cloves. Soil should be reasonably fertile and kept moist. If garlic affects your stomach try planting elephant garlic which has a less intense taste.
What you should sow in May
Don’t give up on salads just because winter is on the way. Try sowing a cool-season green such as orach, an ancient vegetable sometimes known as red mountain spinach – eat young leaves raw in salads and cook mature leaves. A sunny spot with well-drained soil is best. Try egmontseeds.co.nz or koanga.org.nz for seed.
Mizuna, the traditional Japanese salad green, also does well in the colder seasons. Plants produce masses of curly green leaves for months. It’s easy to grow from seed with plants forming big clumps. Sow direct into the ground, ideally somewhere with fertile, rich soil.
Superfood kale is another cool-season leafy green that will tolerate clay soils, semi-shade and even coastal conditions. Seed can be sown direct or into seed trays. Remember: the more moisture you give kale, the sweeter the leaves taste.
For a peppery flavour in salads and stir-fries and some bright colour in the kitchen garden, try sowing giant red mustard. Seeds are available from kingsseeds.co.nz and other suppliers.
Sow carrots now (not in frosty areas) direct into soil that has been well worked to remove stones and lumps. Carrots prefer sandy or volcanic soil so if yours is heavy clay grow them in containers.
Words by: Carol Bucknell. Photography by: Florence Charvin.