May is always the busiest month in the kitchen garden, but after a cold and wet spring, the jobs are backed up so busy has just got busier. Between preparing beds, sowing, transplanting, watering, weeding, feeding and keeping an eye on the weather forecast, May can be an exciting and exhausting month in equal measures.

Hardening-Off Seedlings

Windowsills, conservatories and propagation benches have been bursting with fast-growing seedlings screaming to be planted out these past few weeks. Before this happens, these indoor-grown seedlings need to become accustomed to life outdoors.

Gradually expose plants over a period of five to seven days. Start by leaving them out a few hours each day, eventually leaving them out overnight. Clustering pots and trays into crates and tubs make this job easier.

Place fledgling plants in a spot sheltered from strong winds; a cold frame or cloche is ideal. Keep an eye on watering as plants dry out quicker as their roots fill the pots. Bottom soaking is an efficient and effective way to ensure pot-grown plants access sufficient water.

Sow Tender Crops Indoors

Now is the optimum time for sowing seeds of tender Cucurbits such as squash, pumpkins and courgettes, as plants will be ready to transplant in three to four weeks, when risk of late frost has passed. This family of fun plants to grow demand lots of space, sunshine, shelter and rich fertile ground to thrive, so bear that in mind before sowing. Sow one seed per 9cm pot on a heated propagator or warm windowsill. I tend to sow seeds on their sides rather than flat.

Grow-on in a protected space until plants are sturdy and have three or more true leaves. Harden off and transplant next month at a minimum of one metre apart each way so plants have plenty of room to romp.

Outdoor growing

Lots of vegetables and herbs can be directly sown outdoors in May. These include beetroot, chard, chervil, parsley, parsnip, peas, perpetual spinach, radish, runner and dwarf beans, swedes, turnips and early carrots later in the month.

For finer seeded direct sown crops, you will need to create a seed bed by raking over the top 10cm of soil to a fine even tilth and water the drill before sowing.

Summer Salads

From now until August is an ideal time for sowing salad crops directly into a garden bed or container. Growing your own salad leaves is an easy, nutritious, cost-effective way of yielding a delightful array of variety, colour and texture for your summer salad bowl. A mix such as ‘mesclun’, the traditional, versatile mixture of loose-leaf varieties from France, is ideal. It contains varieties such as red salad bowl, green oak leaf, endive, rocket and batavia all in one packet. Seeds should be covered lightly for best results and grown on in full sun to partial shade in moist, well-draining soil. Leaves can be individually harvested once they are about 10cm high over a long time.

Feeds from Weeds

No more than ourselves, plants need a little pick me up every now and again. Why buy liquid fertilisers when you can make and grow your own organic plant tonics for free? Known as liquid feeds or liquid teas, these powerful plant tonics are very easy to make. The most common feeds are made from nettles, comfrey and seaweed with the first two candidates being in their prime for picking and brewing right now.

Perennial ‘weeds’ such as dandelions, docks, horse tail, bindweed and ground elder, whose roots are likely to survive composting can also be soaked to make mixed liquid feeds. The same technique is used with the only notable difference being that their roots are included, whereas nettle and comfrey roots stay in the ground.

When making feeds, plant material needs to be chopped and placed in a hessian bags in water for approximately four weeks or more. This will ensure that the vital nutrients leach into the liquid, but avoid residual slime.

First Pickings

While May is not a month that yields bountiful harvests, it is a time of anticipation and early delights. Perennials come into their own at this of the year and the first flush of herbs like chives, lovage and mint always herald hope.

Rhubarb steals the show providing plenty of pickings for a myriad of recipes. Stalks should be pulled (not cut) as required but it’s important not to over pick each plant, exposing the crown to direct sunlight.

Always be guided by a plant’s appearance – do not harvest plants excessively and always leave a few stalks to help build up reserve.

Sow wildflower strips

May is a great time to sow wildflower strips between beds or on the edges of your kitchen garden. These will add colour but more importantly, attract pollinators and beneficial insects into your kitchen garden, increasing its overall life and biodiversity.

Always chose wildflower seeds carefully and only ever sow native meadow seed mixes as our pollinators and insects need that ones that they have evolved alongside. The All-Ireland Pollinator website ( is an excellent resource and reference point for anyone interested in encouraging insect life into their kitchen garden.

Remember that dandelions are one of our best early-season pollinator-friendly plants, so be kind to these beautiful bountiful blooms but do remove or mow before they set seed.

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