May Newsletter

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Dear Fellow Gardeners,

May is definitely the busiest month of the year.  There is no time to be complacent, nearly everything needs to be done now or at least within the next 4 to 5 weeks.  I’m always surprised how quickly the garden fills up.  In May everything wants to grow.  We usually have warm weather (but not too hot) with the right quantity of rain and long days.  Plants are at their happiest.


A hot summer ahead

It seems that we’ll be spoilt with another wonderful hot summer – possibly as good as the summer of 1995.  I wasn’t in Ireland then but I often heard people talking about this glorious year.  You may know the old farmer’s saying: ‘Oak before ash, you’re in for a splash.  Ash before oak you’re in for a soak. Up in Leitrim the oak leaves are out since the 20th April but the ash buds are still closed.  The great news is that the last time the oak was out before the ash was in 1995 (so I heard from a botanist).  Let’s see later in the year if the oak was right.


Course in Milkwood  ‘Growing in polytunnels and greenhouses’

We had a wonderful group of people at our last course.  We were so lucky with the weather.  The sun came out just at the right times.  There are still a few places left for the next course on Sat. 10th May.  The course takes place at our home in Tawley, Co. Leitrim.

Course description:

A polytunnel or glasshouse extends the seasons for many crops, providing something to harvest all year round.  It can also be used for tender vegetable crops, cut herbs and unusual tropical plants.  This course will cover ground preparation, crop rotation, propagation, soil fertility management, pest and disease prevention and control.

Course runs from 10am – 4pm.

Coffee and scones will be served on arrival and a home-cooked lunch is also included.

Cost: €65



What to sow/plant in May

Sow directly into the garden:

–          Carrots (late May/early June)

–          Beetroot ‘Pablo F1’ (anytime in May)

–          Parsnip ‘Javelin F1’ (early May)

–          Peas, any type (anytime in May)

–          Potatoes (you can still plant them if you haven’t done so in April)

Sow in trays indoors for planting out later:

–          Leek ‘Blue Solaise’ (late May/June) – this will produce in March-April 2015

–          Purple Sprouting Broccoli (late May/late June)

–          Swede ‘Gowrie’

–          All winter cabbages

–          Brussels Sprouts ‘Brigitte F1’

–          Kale – all types

–          Cauliflower ‘Flamenco F1’

–          Courgette, squash and pumpkins – all types (early May) 

Plant from trays into the garden:

–          Lettuce, scallions, turnip, beetroot, cabbages, kale, cauliflower, sprouts, oriental salads, spinach, dill, coriander

Plant out into the tunnel or greenhouse:

–          Tomatoes

–          Courgettes

–          Cucumbers

–          Peppers

–          Chillies

–          Aubergines

–          Basil


Support your local independent bookshops

It’s great to see that there are still a lot of independent bookshops in Ireland that can hold out against the large book retailers as well as Amazon.  It can’t be easy for them.  I’m fortunate that I meet many of the owners of such varied bookshops and I’m very grateful on how they support local and independent writers.  A list of independent bookshops can be found on our website:


Carrot root fly

The carrot root fly attacks the roots of all members of the Umbellifer family.  These include parsnips, celery, celeriac, parsley, dill and coriander.  They do prefer carrots though, so the other crops are usually not as badly damaged.

When you pull out a carrot you’ll notice tunnels in the outer layer of the carrot and if you look closely you’ll see tiny white maggots inside.  You will also notice purple discoloration on the carrot leaves.  That’s usually the first symptom.

Unfortunately if you have already sown your carrots and they are well up they are a lot more likely to be destroyed by the root fly.

The best time to sow maincrop carrots really is in late May to early June.  Thus they avoid the first generation of the carrot root fly.  They may get some minor damage from the second generation of the fly in September but at least the crop won’t get destroyed.

If your carrot seedling are already up, you could consider covering them up with a fine netting.  There are two brands: Enviromesh and Bionet.  They are both the same and can be used to exclude the pest if they are properly placed over the crop.  Ideally you should cover the beds before the seedlings emerge.

Some gardeners are quite lucky – they never get the carrot root fly.  That is often the case in more remote and windy gardens as well as new gardens, but once they have found your place they are sure to visit you again the following year.

If they are already on your carrots there is no control available to get rid of them.  Your strategy will be to prevent them from entering your garden.

The following list is a summary of what you can do to prevent them:

  • Cover the crop with  Enviromesh or Bionet
  • Late sowing (see above)
  • Using resistant carrot varieties (Resistafly). Unfortunately they don’t taste very nice.
  • Remove thinnings so the smell won’t linger around and thin your seedlings all at once.
  • Harvest your maincrop all at once.  Restrain yourself from pulling out the odd carrot and possibly even leaving the tops lying around.
  • Intercropping: many gardeners swear by growing alternate rows of carrots and onions and apparently the smell of onions keeps the carrot root fly away.  I tried it many times – never with any success.  If you try it yourself you should have a control plot with only carrots to see if it really works.
  • Barrier: The other myth is to build a 2ft high fence around the plot covered with Enviromesh.  Apparently the root fly can only hop about a foot high.  This technique seems a lot more extravagant than just placing the net on top of the crop.  I can’t imagine if this would work anyway.
  • Garlic spray.  Some gardeners spray their carrot crop every ten days with a garlic spray.  This will confuse the flies while strengthening the plants.

Good luck with your carrots



As soon as the sun comes out and the soil appears dry, many gardeners will rush out with their watering cans or their hosepipe and try to ‘rescue’ their plants. I have noticed at the local allotment gardens that it only takes two days of sunshine before the allotment holders come out in droves and spoil their vegetables with love.  If the dry weather persists for a few days they get seriously worried and may even decide not to go away on that weekend trip or worry about whom they can entrust their plants.

Obviously all plants that grow in pots, trays or in greenhouses or tunnels need to be watered regularly.  Seedlings in trays need to be checked daily and usually need a daily light watering.  Plants in posts also require regular watering – about 2 or 3 times per week depending on the weather and plants growing in a tunnel or greenhouse also need regular watering.  I usually give them a good watering about 2 -3 times per week during hot spells, otherwise just once or twice per week.

If you have raised beds outdoors you also need to water sometimes but only during dry spells or if you have young seedlings that have only a short root system.  But you should certainly not need to water every day the sun comes out.

In the last 15 years in Ireland I have only watered my outdoor vegetables about 5 times and that was just after I planted out some crops.

Why should we water less?

First of all we need to understand that plant roots can penetrate quite deeply into the soil in search for nutrients and water and you’ll often get much bigger parsnips and carrots if you don’t spoil them too much.  Generally it is much better to encourage your plants to develop a deep root system as opposed to a shallow root system.  You can achieve that by occasional and then thorough watering.  On the other hand, if you water little and often you encourage the roots to grow close to the soil surface and you make them dependent on you.  So there is really no chance for you getting away in the summer.

The other obvious reason for watering less are the impending water charges and potential hosepipe bans in times of water shortages.  You really want to grow strong and more independent plants with a good root system rather than depending on a constant drip feed.

How to know when to water?

It’s important to recognise when plants call out for water.  During hot days plants often transpire more water than they can absorb through their roots.  This doesn’t necessarily mean that the soil is dry.  The plants will usually recover by the following morning.  If, however, they still look droopy in the morning they really require water urgently.

Another easy test is to scrape about an inch of soil away and if the soil is still dry there you will have to water.  If, however, the soil is moist an inch below soil level there is no need to water.

But with all that, don’t let me take the fun of watering away from you!