Gears shift in May. Cool-weather crops are in the ground and growing or being harvested. These need maintenance: weeding, mulching, and/or watering, depending on conditions. But the hot-weather crops begin to take center stage in terms of attention. The greenhouse is packed with tomato and pepper transplants that have grown remarkably fast this year. We’re still prone to get frost in our valley through mid-May; we’ve had light frosts at that time for about the last three years. Various questions include: Are we done with frost? And will that next round of storms in the forecast bring hail? Is it better to procrastinate and put incrementally more stress on already big transplants to get safely through one more storm, or is it better to get them in the ground just a bit earlier where they’ll be happier so long as they don’t immediately get pounded by torrential rain or pummeled by hail? How many plants can we protect with sheets if we do end up with a frost threat? We spend a lot of time looking at weather forecasts & long-range models, especially at this time of year. A couple days ago, the National Weather Service was showing 6-10 day and 8-14 day outlooks that showed a high probability of warm. As I initially wrote this on Apr. 30, that forecast window started to trend towards chilly. Sigh. Update: We decided to put the first planting of tomatoes out on May 1 & 2, hopefully for the best. A partial to-do list for early May follows.
–Filet beans,1st planting: done 5/3
–Cilantro & dill (Greensleeves dill, for leaf), succession plantings
–Dill planting for heads (Bouquet dill, separate from leaf dill to avoid cross-pollination so can save seeds from both)
–Sweet corn (when soil temperature is near 70ºF): a VERY space-inefficient crop for our style of growing but we are hoping to have just a little bit for CSA members if all goes well
–Okra (when soil temperature is at least 70ºF); okay to wait until late May
–Misc. crops for chickens: use up old seed & plant crops that chickens can self-harvest come fall: sorghum, sunflowers, etc.
–Cucumbers (usually direct seed, but want the plants to get more of a head start before being exposed to insects)
–Mercuri winter-keeper tomato (the last tomatoes to be seeded for the year so they’ll bear near frost)
–Misc. minor herbs & flowers
–Tomatoes, 1st planting: done, put out on 5/1 & 5/2, hopefully to no regret given the threat of severe weather this weekend
–Lettuce, last for the spring: done
–Scallions, succession plantings
–Sweet potato slips: These like heat, so I usually aim for late May transplanting at the earliest, but some are ready ahead of schedule. So I may put a few in early.
–Sorrel: needs to move out of the beds where it overwintered & into a more permanent, newly established sorrel bed; this is pre-requisite to corn planting
–Put excess tomato & other transplants in chicken area; if they bear then they can become chicken/pig food. At worst, potting mix adds organic matter to soil that needs it.
–Turn the winter goat barn pile; so far turned on 4/29, 5/1, & 5/3; turns planned for 5/6 & 5/9.
–Weed. Sometimes I wonder why I even write this on the to-do list because weeding is an ever-present task from now through at least November. The challenge is prioritizing and making sure effort is put where it is most needed: intercepting weeds before they go to seed, getting to small ones while they’re still easily hoe-able (which is much faster than hand-weeding), preventing weeds from getting big enough to meaningfully compete with plants, targeting specific species that have been problem-weeds regardless of where they are, and so forth. The list is ever changing; as every moment passes that we’re weeding in one location, the weeds are growing everywhere else.
–Infrastructure: Set up tomato trellises (done), cucumber trellis, & t-posts to support pepper plants
–Mulch lettuce & other cool-weather crops as needed, esp. if weather hot/dry
–Monitor cabbage plants for cabbage worms & squish as needed
–Tip blackberry canes
Each time we get a good rain, it resets the clock on the watering tasks. But hot, windy, dry conditions can mean having to pay attention again relatively quickly. We have drip irrigation set up in all of the vegetable areas, but the orchard irrigation system still needs work. And young seedlings/transplants sometimes still need hose watering because their small root systems aren’t reached effectively by drip line.
–Daily (sometimes 2x daily): Monitor & water as needed any plants under grow lights & in greenhouse.
–Starting a couple days after rain: Monitor soil moisture for direct-seeded crops that are in the germination phase & water as needed (usually with hose). (Parsnips need extended attention & watering because they take so darn long to germinate.)
–Starting about a week after meaningful rain: Monitor soil moisture for most other crops, both annuals and fruit; water established crops with drip irrigation. Use a hose or soaker hose anywhere else.
–One to two weeks after meaningful rain: Monitor log moisture content of shiitake logs; irrigate if needed.
Scheduling harvest into the workload becomes a daily concern at this time of year, with the arrival of strawberry picking.
–Harvest as needed: Greens, radishes, alliums, herbs
–Harvest every 24-36 hours: Strawberries