The Kitchen Garden in Late Spring

Warmer soil and rising air temperatures, combined with spring rain, should mean good, fast growth of all crops, but the night temperature may still be dropping surprisingly low, and even occasionally dipping down to freezing. If this is the case, it will account for what may seem to be puzzlingly slow growth of some crops and it will pay handsomely to put cloches at night over such crops as lettuce, peas, onions, radishes, carrots and beetroots.

You will be doing a good deal of planting during late spring; it should be possible to plant outdoors the slightly tender crops such as melons, cucumbers, tomatoes and sweetcorn in normal weather conditions, as well as more peas and early-started runner beans. There are still some seeds which can be sown though they will crop a little late; there are others which it is best not to sow until now in any case.

Pests and diseases will now be a major problem and the succulent growth of plants will make them irresistible to insects, birds and slugs in particular. Finger and thumb work may be all that is needed if done early enough; otherwise there are pesticides which are harmless to all but the pest concerned.

The new compost heap which was started last month will be piling up fast, which is all to the good. The quicker it is built, especially if there is a lot of fresh green vegetation, the more likely it is to heat up to the high temperature needed for full rotting. Weeds will form a large part of this and, if you are very skilful and careful, you can let the weeds grow to form a good cover without much harm to the crops and then take them off just before they flower, thus getting the maximum of vegetation for the compost heap.

Weeds are said to absorb moisture and food which the crops might otherwise have; they take away the light and provide an alternative home for diseases and insects. On the other hand, bare soil certainly seems to get dry more quickly, weeds can absorb some mineral nutrients which vegetable and fruit crops might not be able to reach and they do eventually provide humus, so they are not altogether bad. It is when they get out of hand that you run into trouble and the perennial weeds have developed methods of increase which are almost invincible.

Jobs to do

Preparing the soil

A little bit of seed-bed preparation will be required and there will be some digging outdoors for planting out crops started in the greenhouse, or indoors for planting in the soil inside the greenhouse. It will be much easier now to obtain the right consistency for the soil of the seedbed and digging will be less difficult, with drier soil conditions than in winter or early spring.

Sowing seed outdoors

You can still sow outdoors most of the crops listed in mid-spring and some of those listed for sowing under glass in early spring as well as additional crops. They include: basil, beans (French and runner), beetroot, broccoli (heading), Brussels sprouts, cabbage (for autumn and winter cropping), calabrese (a form of sprouting broccoli), carrot, chicory, cucumber (ridge), dill, endive (curled), fennel, kale, kohlrabi, leek, lettuce, marjoram, marrow, melon, pea, radish, savory (summer), squashes, spinach, (New Zealand and summer), swede, tomato and turnip.

For some of these, it would be a good idea to put cloches over the soil where they are to be sown and leave the cloches over the rows until germination has taken place. Then take them off except at night until the seedlings are growing well and the weather consistently warm. Suitable crops are: basil, fennel, French (kidney) bean, runner (pole) bean, cucumber, marrow, melon, squash and tomato.

If the weather is still chilly, you can start these tender crops off in the greenhouse, sowing them singly in individual peat or plastic pots and planting out after germination, under cloches.

Calabrese is an interesting form of sprouting broccoli which is very popular in Italy, where it originated in its wild form near Calabria. It matures as a plant less tall then the winter-sprouting kind and will be ready for picking in late summer, on into mid-autumn. On the top of the stem will be a green head, rather like a small cauliflower, and this should be cut first. The side florets lower down the stem are then cut as they are produced, when the stem of each is about 10cm (in) long. Unlike its relative, you should sow it where it is to mature, not in a seed-bed, and thin it in the row.

Chicory and endive are grown to provide salading in autumn and winter, so there is no need to sow them earlier than late spring. Chicory is the crop which forms white-to-pale-green growths shaped rather like a tightly packed cos lettuce about 10-15cm (4-6in) long. These are produced by digging up the roots in autumn, cutting off any remaining summer growth, boxing them and later giving them warmth so that they are forced into renewed growth much earlier than would otherwise be the case with a biennial plant.

Endive is much more lettuce-like; there are two sorts, curled or mossy, which has intricately cut and fringed leaves, and the Batavian endive, the leaves of which are broad and entire. Curly endive is not hardy and should be harvested in autumn, about three months after the sowing date, but Batavian endive can be left in the ground until late autumn or lifted, like chicory, and taken into the greenhouse for blanching. This kind is usually not sown until midsummer. Chicory and endive are also sown where they are to mature and thinned in the rows.

New Zealand spinach is quite different to ordinary spinach; it grows long shoots which trail along the ground and needs 90cm (36in) of space each way. The leaves are relatively thick. It does not bolt in hot, dry weather and the tips of the shoots and the young leaves can be harvested from mid-summer until the frosts. Keep it well watered in dry conditions.

Swede is grown for use in winter and should not be sown before late spring, otherwise it either bolts (runs to flower) or matures long before you want it, when there are a great number of summer vegetables ready for harvesting. Sow it and thin it where sown; like turnip, it is a brassica, although a root crop, and should be counted as part of that group when working out a cropping rotation.

Sowing under glass

The only seeds which are still worth sowing in the greenhouse are those of aubergine, and then only if you have a garden which will be warm in autumn.

Planting outdoors

Although mid-spring is the traditional time for planting maincrop potatoes, it is still not too late to do it now, preferably as early in the season as possible. In any case, with warmer conditions generally, late-planted maincrops often catch up with the earlier planted tubers. You can also plant outdoors the crops which were pricked out or potted on in mid-spring: Brussels sprout, summer cabbage, celeriac, celery, cucumber, melon, pepper, alpine strawberry and tomato.

If the temperature outside the frames or greenhouse is markedly lower than that inside them, you should harden off all these before planting out, especially celeriac, celery, cucumber, melon, pepper and tomato.

These last-mentioned crops are best not put out until the end of late spring, with cloche protection at night, if frosts are still being forecast.

All these crops will be more developed through being given heat at the start, so they will be ready for planting earlier and will be more in need of cloche or frame protection than those not sown until mid-spring. Young plants which have been growing in a nice cosy atmosphere will simply stop growing, at the very least, if suddenly put out into soil and air which are considerably colder, so give them all fresh air during the day, starting about a week before you intend planting. Take them back into shelter later and later in the evening until you are eventually leaving them out all night, preferably one of the warmer nights, and then they will grow straightaway when planted in their cropping positions.

Control of hardening off is easier when dealing with frames, because you can manipulate the frame cover much more exactly, according to the vagaries of the temperature. You will find, as you do more and more gardening, that a frame is a very useful piece of equipment and can have plants in it, at various stages of growth, all through the year. Even in winter you can put pot strawberries in a frame for bringing into the greenhouse to force.

When you plant melons, make a hole with a trowel large enough to take the soil-ball comfortably and then make a shallow mound in the centre of it. Water well, put the soil-ball on the mound so that the surface is slightly above that of the surrounding soil and fill in firmly with crumbly soil. This will ensure that no water collects around the base of the stem, leading to rot. Water the plants in and mulch lightly.

In mid-spring, you may also have sown some crops in gentle heat, such as aubergine, basil, celery, cucumber, marrow, melon, squash, pepper, pea, sweetcorn and tomato; these can be pricked out or potted on and then planted in the open.

The timing of these different stages depends on the date you sowed the seed, the state of the weather and the rate of growth of the various crops. You will have to be guided by the root development in particular, which can to some extent be judged by the amount and rate of the top growth. You should never do a specific job because it is the third week in mid-spring, or the second week of late spring. The plants themselves will show when they need more room or when they are mature enough to go into their permanent positions. In one year you may be able to plant out melons in frames in the middle of late spring, another year early summer may be sufficiently soon. If some of these plants are growing fast and the weather is unsuitable for planting out, you can keep them growing with liquid feeding for two weeks or so.

You can also plant out a variety of herbs: basil, bay, marjoram, rosemary, sage, tarragon, and thyme, whether grown from seed, division of established plants, or bought in as young plants. It is also not too late to plant chives and mint, if not done in mid-spring. One plant each of bay, rosemary, sage, tarragon and thyme should be sufficient.

There are three types of celery available nowadays, one of which is self-blanching or summer celery; this does not need to be earthed up and comes into crop early in midsummer. The ordinary kind, which is not ready until mid-autumn, must be blanched.

The self-blanching kind is planted in a square block, fairly closely, with sacking or black plastic sheeting round the outside, to keep the light from the outermost plants. Ordinary celery is planted in trenches and the stems wound round with brown paper, corrugated cardboard or plastic sheet, and surrounded with soil as they grow, to produce the long, completely white stems of winter celery. The third kind has stems coloured green or pinkish; like self-blanching celery this is a summer and early autumn type, which will not stand winter cold but nevertheless has the authentic celery flavour.

Sweetcorn also gives better results if planted in blocks. The pollinating tassels at the top of the plant shed their pollen on the female flowers much lower down on the plant; if planted in single rows, the pollen is likely to be blown away and wasted, but planted in blocks, there is a better chance of overall pollination. Sweetcorn is a member of the grass family, which is commonly wind pollinated.

Planting under glass

In the greenhouse, you can plant aubergine, cucumbers, melons, peppers and tomatoes in their permanent positions or containers.

Melons planted in the border in the greenhouse should have a short cane placed at the back to support the stem until it reaches the lowest wire. Break off the growing tip just above the top leaf, when there are four or five leaves present, to encourage side-shoot development.


Late spring is the time to do most of the thinning that is necessary. Crops which are to be transplanted, as well as those which are to mature where sown, should all be given the extra space that results from this exercise. Crops to be thinned are those sown outdoors in mid-spring: beetroot, borage, broccoli (sprouting), Brussels sprout, cabbage, carrot, chives, dill, fennel, kohlrabi, leek, lettuce, marjoram, onion, parsley, parsnip, radish, savory (summer), sorrel, summer spinach, spinach beet, alpine strawberry, Swiss chard (seakale beet) and turnip. There may also be some thinning still left to do on crops (ie., leek, onion, parsnip and the spinaches) sown in early spring, if they were sown late and germinated late due to chilly weather.

More Late Spring Jobs for the Kitchen Garden …

29. August 2011 by admin
Categories: Kitchen Garden, Organics | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on The Kitchen Garden in Late Spring


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