The Merry Month of May in the Vegetable Garden
It was a cold weekend to be bound to the garden and yet by Sunday evening the asparagus crowns were in the ground as well as the onion and leek transplants that arrived Saturday by mail, and spinach seeds were sown with hopes of a warming trend, all of this planting done on Sunday with most of Saturday afternoon consumed by the replacement of a broken deer-fence post.
Saturday morning was lost to errands in town, including a stop at the Ellsworth Feed and Seed for potting soil and other essentials, as well as the always interesting chin wag with Harvard Jordan. He was worried about the impact of the cold snap on his shipment of baby chickens, already on the road in an unheated semi trailer, but he had not lost his sense of humor. A “For Sale” notice posted near the checkout counter displayed a photo of a large black bear with the essential information: “450 Pounds, Great With Kids, Reason For Selling: He Keeps Shredding The Bed Sheets.”
It’s worth a trip to the Ellsworth Feed and Seed just to read the latest posts.
Back in the garden, I took note that the peas sown during the April school break had germinated, tiny green sprouts poking through the straw mulch. The tall birch branches already in place as pea stakes had deterred Dixie from romping through the pea bed when she found the breach in the deer fence. I could track her through the rest of the beds like an elephant in five feet of snow, but the damage was minimal, just a few deep paw prints in an earlier sowing of spinach and a couple of uprooted strawberry crowns which I immediately replanted. I had a stern talk with the old dog.
Harvard’s view is that this was the the last of below freezing temperatures. I hope he’s right, that it is the end of moving flats of lettuce and sweet pea transplants inside for the night. And I hope that the new leaves of the garden’s mapleleaf viburnum and the flower buds of shadblow and red elder, all pushed forth by earlier warmth, were tough enough to survive the cold snap and can now continue their advance into true spring.
Early May is upon us and it is time to pay close attention to the soil thermometer. As soon as the soil temperature at a 2-inch depth settles above 50 degrees, it is time to direct sow beets, carrots, spinach, and Swiss chard.
For gardeners in Zone 5, the first week of May is perfect for setting out transplants of lettuce, sweet peas, parsley, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kohlrabi, onions and leeks, as well as planting seed potatoes (if not already done) and starting a new strawberry bed. Indoors, use the first week of May to sow seeds of tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and tomatillos.
Around the middle of May, start seeds indoors for cucumbers, summer squash, and winter squash, sowing directly in peat pots. And scatter seeds of calendulas throughout the vegetable garden; the pollinators will love you for it.
In the third week of May, gamble on an early sowing of bush beans and pole beans. You’ve nothing to lose but a few seeds.
Toward the end of May, after the soil temperature at a 2-inch depth has settled above 60 degrees, make a first sowing of sweet corn and get serious about the bush beans and pole beans. Suppress your desire to set out tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants until the soil temperature at a 4-inch depth has settled above 70 degrees.
Perennial Plant Sale of the Season
On May 19, from 8:00am until noon, the UMaine Cooperative Extension office on Boggy Brook Road in Ellsworth will hold its annual flowering perennial plant sale. Master Gardener Volunteers have spent the past month digging, dividing, and potting a wide variety of perennials, including native species such as hairy beardtongue (Penstemon hirsutus), joe-pye weed (Eupatorium purpureum), sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale), goldenrods (Solidago), and slender blueflag iris (Iris prismatica). Other perennials for sale include monkshood (Aconitum), columbine (Aquilegia.), astilbe (Astilbe), bellflower (Campanula), bleeding heart (Dicentra), black-eyed susan (Rudbeckia ‘Goldstrum’), solomon’s seal (Polygonatum commutatum), and bee balm (Monarda).
Plan to spend the entire morning. At 8:45, I will be leading a tour of the native plant landscape that surrounds the Extension building, followed at 9:30 by “Gardening with Greater Ease: Tips to Save Your Back, Wrists, and Knees” with Master Gardener Volunteer Deborah Page and, at 10:15, “Worm Composting” with Master Gardener Volunteer David Struck. Other gardening gurus will be ready to answer horticultural question at the “Ask a Master Gardener Table”. Handouts of UMaine Cooperative Extension Gardening Fact Sheets will also be available.
Refreshments will be served and there will be two raffles, one for a worm bin, another for a pick-up load of composted goat manure (nannyberries) from Seal Cove Farm.
This is sure to be the perennial plant sale of the season, so plan to come and help support the UMaine Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Program!