Gardening in May

May is the month of maybes. It may be hot, it may be cold. It may be wet, it may be dry. Will this be the start of the wet winter we’ve all been praying for? May it be so. The drought is on everyone’s lips. Is this climate change or natural cycles? We don’t know. Will it rain soon? Maybe.

What is certain is that we need a massive mind shift regarding not only water, but all our earthly resources. I do believe that we have everything we need for the survival of mankind on this planet, no matter the population. But this does mean that we will have to be much more responsible with what we have. We have, for example, some of the cleanest natural water in the world right here in the Berg River Dam. To use that water to flush toilets is an atrocity. We need to find alternative ways to deal with sewage. The same goes for industrial cooling, cleaning and processing. We are all familiar with the term carbon footprint. Maybe it’s time we look at the water impact of the products on our shelves.

I went long on rain in my March article. Glad I did not put real money on it! But I do have very young seedlings in the ground because of this. They are suffering in the current heatwave. We are lucky to have borehole water, but even this is a finite resource and the cost of pumping it is huge, not only in money but also to the environment. If you did the same and went ahead and sowed and planted up your winter vegetable garden you might be in a similar position. Mulching, temporary shade, wind protection and whatever water you have available will help the plants to survive. We have mostly acidic soils I our area and I have found that grey water is not only a survival tool, but can even be beneficial to plants – especially the brassica group.

May is a big gardening month, and it can be an exciting one. That is if you find pruning, mulching, composting and bed preparation exciting. Then this is a great month. We do need to prune all summer and autumn flowering shrubs this month. This includes Hydrangeas (if you still have them in the garden). Just leave the roses alone. It is a good month for tree surgery – plan this well and anticipate winter storm damage. There are plenty of expert companies around that specialise in this – book them now before they get too busy with winter damage and spring pruning. Clean your gutters and storm water drains. Lawns should be mown shorter, but less often now. There is still time to fertilise the grass with a high potash and phosphorous fertiliser. This will ensure deep and well developed roots and healthy grass come next summer. You have 2 weeks to plant your spring bulbs – do this by the middle of the month. Seeds of spring annuals can still be sown. This is also a good time to establish new Fynbos plantings and trees. Should we get rain that is.

In the food garden, you can sow all winter veggies – brassicas, broad beans, peas, lettuce, carrots, turnips, beetroot and radishes. Transplants will take quickly. Fertilise all citrus trees with a balanced fertiliser. Mulch fruit trees well. You can start with the training and trellising of espaliered fruits. Prepare for winter storms by making sure there is adequate drainage and that all trees are properly tied to their stakes. Cover crops can still be sown. Vetch, wheat, rye, clover and fava beans are all good choices in our soil. I have experimented with fodder radish as a cover crop in very compacted soils – and got some exciting results.

May is olive time. We have already started harvesting our Frantoia trees – nothing says autumn like the first flow of liquid gold from the oil press. Table olives should be ripe for processing. Not that I process mine much! They get washed and placed in large containers filled with a 10% salt solution. And then I seal them and forget about them. It is only now, a year later, when I need the containers for the new crop that I would open last year’s olives. They are always beautiful and ready to be bottled in a 5% salt solution with a little bit of olive oil on top.