Urban Vegetable Gardening: Fruit & Veg in Bloom (May)
This month has been the easiest month of the year so far! Peppe & I haven't done much in the garden because there honestly hasn't been much to do. Last month we sowed our annual veggies - which didn't have the best start (more on this to come), but our small fruit trees have been in bloom, and this month we're seeing a few small cherries and plums growing - almonds too. Fingers crossed that everything continues to grow well with all the sunshine that we've been getting in the southeast of England! If the little fruits on our trees are a true indication of what's to come, we should have a lot of fruit over the summer months.
The challenge is to grow enough fruit and veg to rely only on the garden - for three continuous weeks. We want to build a vegetable and fruit garden that will supply all of our fruit and veg, or as close as possible, for three weeks - from fruits to greens, herbs and edible flowers. The plan is to have no need for any store- or market-bought vegetables or fruit. This blog series will detail each month's activities in the hope that we can encourage you to start growing your own food at home, no matter how small the space.
This month, our focus has been on making sure the flowers turn to fruit. Read on to see find out how we did.
Too early to think about Christmas?
With all the extra time on our hands, we thought we'd try something new. Although Christmas is far, far away and not even a thought in our minds, last year we were really keen to grow our own Brussels sprouts. We had that idea a bit too late in the year, as sprouts are a slow-growing crop - but this year we're all set and ready. As you might know, our vegetable garden is a small urban garden with limited growing space, so we'll be trialling the sprouts in different areas of the garden. One growing spot is with the carrots in the sun, and one will be in the shade. Usually the shady spot is terrible for annual veggies, but we've been told that brassicas (kales, cabbages, sprouts, etc.) can pull off a decent crop - albeit having to grow in a longer period.
Mr Fothergill's sent us 20 small plants and, although we don't have space for them all, it's been very rewarding giving our friends and family their own plants with the hope that they'll be able to harvest their own sprouts in the winter. They should be quite a low maintenance vegetable, but only time will tell. They grow quite large and 60cm space between seeds is advisable, though we'll likely have to shrink this down to 40cm in our small garden. We've been told to watch out for pests as the slugs and snails (of which we have plenty in our garden) love them. If you want to ensure nothing gets at them then a net would be the way forward; we might try this later on in the year if the bugs turn out to be too much for our sprouts. For now though, the Brussels sprouts are our wild card - something we wanted to try for the fun of it.
With the amazing weather we've been enjoying, all of our perennial fruit bushes/trees are in full production. The Brown Turkey Fig sent to us earlier this year has a few figs growing on it, which we are really looking forward to. The fig receives 8+hours of daylight meaning it probably receives the most light out of all the plants in the garden. Hopefully that will count for something!
Grapes in a small garden?
Our vine has also been growing well, with small bunches of flowers forming. We know how quickly vines can get out of hand, especially ones with a good root system, so we'll be pruning this on a regular basis to keep it from spreading too much. We'll keep you updated, most likely in September when grapes are usually ready in the UK, unless we have an incredibly warm summer.
Our strawberries have been loving their new hanging planter which Peppe built in February from scrap wood. We're so glad we built the planter, as hanging it in a high position means it receives a lot of daylight and so the flowers have quickly turned to small fruits. We have between 15-20 strawberry plants growing in the garden, and on a single plant we've counted 50 small fruits. We're really expecting a lot of strawberries in June, but we also understand we have to stay on top of watering and fertilising too. A small price to pay for fresh, organic, home-grown fruits.
We have two varieties of gooseberry growing, with our latest addition Hinnonmaki Red arriving last month. Both bushes are bearing fruit, but we've been keen to make sure both receive suitable airflow, as last year we had Gooseberry sawfly take over and destroy the foliage on our only plant. To prevent this from happening again, we dug up the top 2 inches of soil, where they lay their dormant eggs for the summer, in the hope that no new flies will attack the plant. Pruning the bush to allow air to flow through the leaves also disrupts any insect and fungal attacks - let's hope they don't come back this year!
A handful of almonds
While there might only be a handful on our almond tree, it's certainly producing almonds. We've enjoyed the almond groves of Andalusia and we're really hopeful and confident that we'll get at least a few almonds. While that's not enough to make a meal or a snack, it's a great start as the crop should eventually get heavier.
Blueberries in their hundreds
Our go-to crop - the blueberry, has come out in full bloom. We have a selection of early to late fruit-bearing plants meaning that we should get fruit all through the summer. It's a known fact that plants like blueberries crop heavier when there are other blueberry plants around, and we're hoping that with our 8 plants we'll get a bumper crop this year. We have literally hundreds of the white flowers that bloom before the fruit develops, and we're expecting our first crop late June/early July. All the blueberry plants seem to be doing well, even our latest additions which are still quite small. Whether all the flowers will turn to fruit remains unknown - but we're really excited about fresh blueberries this summer! To find out more on how to keep your blueberries in top shape have a read of last month's update on mulching as it makes a huge difference, especially in the hotter spring/summer days.
Top row, left to right - Blueberries in full bloom. Blueberry plant post-bloom, the petals shed and the rest turns to fruit. Strawberry fruit.
Bottom row, left to right - Gooseberry. Cherries growing on a small tree we planted ourselves from a cherry stone. Almonds.
Veggie seedlings: successes & failures
TL;DR - Mostly everything died, except the tomatoes.
Last month, we sowed a bunch of tomato seeds, yellow ones, red miniature ones, bush tomatoes, vine tomatoes and so on. We also sowed some of our favourite types of cucumbers, Crystal Apple. On top of this, we planted a variety of beans too; Borlotti, green bean, purple dwarf and broad bean. Unfortunately things didn't go as planned, and even though we prepared surplus seeds for each type - the only vegetable that came out unscathed was the tomatoes. We now have plenty of tomato seedlings, but only a few beans - (which we were really relying on as they're expensive in the supermarkets), and sadly only one cucumber plant. Do we start again for a delayed crop? We should at least give it a go as the beans are really a staple to our diet. The seedlings died due to a number of reasons - some were left too dry, some too wet, some in a dark room, some too cold, and some with slugs and snails! It sounds like we neglected the seedlings, but we'll try again and see if we can at least get some beans going!
It's still early days for most vegetables as the majority of them grow quickly over the summer and we're not quite there yet. When they do grow, it'll happen thick and fast, so there's not much to report this month in terms of the vegetables growing in the garden. Our broad beans, onions, shalllots and garlic are all still growing well. though.
Top row, left to right - The survivng tomato seedlings. Pea shoots. More tomato & kale seedlings
Costs this month
As you might have realised, the amount of time working in the garden has fallen by a few hours. No longer are we required to do 'hard labour', as everything was done earlier in the spring. Our costs for this month are low too - again mostly because the pots and planters have all been set up. Getting everything sorted before the late spring really makes a big difference in terms of the amount of work you'll have to do at this time of year. If you're not at this stage yet, head over to our earlier entries to find out how we set up our small, urban, vegetable garden without breaking the bank.
£20 - x3 bags compost
30 minutes filling planters with compost
30 minutes unpacking and planting new plants
45 minutes throughout the month watering the plants.
The plants - new plants & updates
Below is a list of vegetables that we have planted or sown this month.
Tenderstem broccoli - sent from the team at Mr Fothergills. We're really really excited to harvest these in a few months. Very cheap to sow, but they're expensive in the super markets. Tenderstem broccoli is a perfect example of the type of plants we want to grow in the vegetable garden.
Below is a list of fruits that are currently in the garden, ready to start growing in the spring. We will add to this list as the growing season progresses.
Raspberries - Regular, Golden (fruiting)
Plum tree - (fruiting)
Cherry tree - (fruiting)
Blueberries - Dixi, Legacy, Draper, Ozarkblue, Earliblue, Bluecrop (fruiting)
Goji berry shrub
Figs - Panachee & Brown Turkey (fruiting)
Almond - Dwarf - (fruiting)
Peach - Dwarf, great for patios - (fruiting)
Red grape vine (fruiting)
Gooseberry - Red, White (fruiting)
What we need to do - May
Water the space. We've had a few mini heat-waves in May so far this year. It's a good time to bring out the garden hose to make sure the fruiting and flowering plants don't wilt or die. We like to water in the early morning or evening before/after the sun is at its strongest. This is a good time of year to start monitoring water levels. If your soil is bone dry then water is needed!
Take a risk. With everything falling into place this month we have quite a lot of extra time on our hands. That's okay though, because the garden is now a space we can enjoy, eat food, entertain friends in and so on. With this extra time, we've taken a risk - we've taken on a new plant we have no idea about - the Brussels sprout.
We predict next month we'll have some of our strawberries and early blueberries ready - our work will start to pay off!
What one thing should you do in May?
It's still a great time to sow seeds, buy plants and spruce up your garden. If you've not started yet, there's still lots of time! Check out your local garden centre or even better get everything sent to your door - we work with DT Brown & Mr Fothergill's who send us neat packages each month with plenty of new seeds and live plants to put in our small urban garden.
It's also a great time to start thinking about moving some of your seedlings outdoors. Just watch out for cold snaps as they won't react to well to cold weather!
If you have any tips, suggestions or questions about urban vegetable gardening in the UK I'd love to hear from you!
Thanks for reading,
Post supported by Mr Fothergill's & D.T. Brown, who gifted us some baby plants to grow. All reviews are always honest & my own - please share your opinions too! By helping the brands who support this blog, you'll help me in turn to share more ethical products & services :) Thank you again for reading this post!