Even though the weather’s getting cooler there’s still lots to keep you busy in the garden in May. We’ve rounded up our top picks to harvest, plant and sow
What to harvest in the garden
- Jerusalem artichokes can be dug up when flowering is finished. Puréed, roasted, boiled or added to soups, these are a great low-calorie potato substitute ideal for dieters and diabetics. Only harvest what you need and leave the rest in the ground to dig up as required. Cut off top stems and cover with mulch to protect them during winter.
- There’s nothing tastier than peas straight from the vine. Pods are ready to be picked when bright green with the round peas visible inside. Pulling pods off the vine risks detaching entire branches so a snip with scissors or secateurs is best.
- Keep picking silverbeet to encourage plants to produce more leaves, but always leave some on the plant. Going too hard will slow down growth.
- The last crops of pip fruit such as apples and pears should be ready to pick by now, along with almonds, walnuts and other nuts. To dry nuts, lay them out on frames before storing.
What to sow in the garden
- Broccoli seed can still be sown in frost-free places, ideally in punnets or pots so seedlings are strong and healthy when they go into the garden. Give seedlings plenty of space and protect with frost cloth if necessary.
- Sow mustard seed in pots or well-cultivated garden beds in warmer areas. Try white, brown, red or black varieties and use leaves, flowers and seeds in cooking. Some people grow mustard seed as a cover crop during winter, digging plants into the soil in early spring to boost fertility.
- Seed for hardy greens such as bok choy, cabbage, kale, spinach and watercress can be sown now.
- Sow or plant peas in most parts of the country, except where heavy frosts are likely. Soil should be well drained with plenty of compost or other organic matter added beforehand. Sow around 5cm apart and 2-3cm deep.
- Beetroot can still be sown or planted in warmer areas. Globe beetroot are better for containers or shallow beds than the longer, cylindrical types. Regular watering is essential for juicy crops. Roast or bottle the roots but don’t forget you can use the tops in salads or cooking.
- Carrots can be sown in places where frosts aren’t likely to occur during germination (a frost can slow down the growth process considerably). There are many different carrot varieties, some better suited to winter conditions than others, so check the seed catalogues carefully.
- Sow silverbeet seed directly into the garden (about 2cm deep) in warmer regions. Plenty of organic matter in the soil and water will give you tastier crops.
What to plant in the garden
- Onions are not only tasty, they’re very good for you, too, especially in winter when your immune system needs lots of help. Onions are best grown from young seedlings planted in well-drained soil with plenty of organic matter. Make sure you keep plants well weeded.
- Organic gardeners use leeks to cleanse the soil after they’ve grown brassicas. Like onions, they are better planted as well-established seedlings, as they’re tricky to grow from seed. An ideal winter crop, leeks planted in autumn for a winter or spring harvest may take longer to mature but have the best flavour. Plenty of nitrogen (eg sheep or chicken manure) in the soil means juicier leeks. A sunny position is ideal. Wait until spring before planting in frosty areas.
- Late autumn or early spring is a good time to plant lemon trees, provided the soil is well drained so the roots don’t become waterlogged. To improve soil, dig in plenty of compost mixed with topsoil at least 3 weeks before planting. You may need to plant your citrus tree in a raised bed or install a drainage system if your garden has very heavy clay soil. Choose a position protected from frosts and strong winds, with plenty of sunlight and fertile soil.
- Cut globe artichokes to around 30cm above the ground. If plants are more than three years old, divide them up and replant pieces that have roots attached.
The fibrous matter in fallen autumn leaves is perfect for correcting the carbon-to-nitrogen ratio (ideally around 25:1) in slimy compost piles.