Catching up with May – why I never garden on a schedule

May lilac

This spring has been pretty polarised so far this year – bitterly cold days and a couple of mini heatwaves have created tumultuous conditions, and at times it felt like we didn’t know whether spring was coming or going. Finally, May seems to have settled into itself, and the beautiful blue skies of late spring have shifted the growing season into a new gear. 

I don’t tend to sow my seeds on time; I’m usually late due to too much distraction from life, from work, and from all the things in between. But it’s OK I think… I used to be so fixated on Doing The Right Thing at the Right Time and when I didn’t, I was a failure. My hobby and passion turned into a string of failures and I would often document on this blog how I was doing everything wrong, always behind, never achieving what I needed to achieve. I have a different mindset now. 

If you look at the natural world, it’s pretty fluid. I feel that my sowing and growing schedules can be fluid too. Had I got going early in the season and sown everything in sight, I think I would have faced a few problems with the unseasonally cold temperatures and late frosts. I don’t think I would be much more further ahead right now. But now I have a sense of everything around me really jumping into life and growing steadily. I’m not much of a “measurer” or someone who is really into following details, so I tend to be quite intuitive and go by feeling rather than thinking. That’s why I’m happy to sow, plant and harvest as and when I *feel* it’s the right time. 

May has got to be one of my favourite months; there is a real energy, an abundance of fresh, tender, green growth everywhere – a natural, zesty hue that is so hard to replicate – that contrasts perfectly against an early summer porcelain blue sky. Flowers and blossom are putting on a showstopper, and there’s just so much good to come. There is still enough freshness in the air that is so often absent in the heady, more humid months of July and August, yet enough warmth in the sun (when it’s out) that it feels almost medicinal. 

Cambrige Favourite Strawberry Flowers

I think, on reflection, that over the years I’ve started to trust my own instincts, when it comes to garden and growing. I’ve learned to listen to nature and not necessarily rigid instructions. This has been borne out of my inability to do anything “on time”, and more recently, my inability to find any time. But you know what? There is always some time, it may not be a perfect time, but it’s a moment, an opportunity and… let’s just take these moments as they come. 

To start the season off I’ve sown some flower seeds, including cosmos and gaura, for the next season on our mini flower farm. The salad leaves are in, the carrots sown directly, peas are scrambling away and the strawberries… well, I think this year is going to be a bumper year for strawberries! I’m enjoying just taking my growing at my own pace, and seeing how it all unfolds… 

Starting with growing peas

Early pea flowers

Peas please! I’m starting my new growing season with early peas – in this instance, a variety called Onward. They’re pretty common as far as veg varieties go, but seem to be really popular. In the past I’ve gone for rondo peas, which are great as a freshly picked pea, but have fallen foul of the pea moth (probably my fault) and can go a little powdery if they’re left on the plant too long (again, probably my fault). As a busy mum and part-time worker, time is at a premium, I opted to buy some plug plants from my local independent nursery, rather than growing from seed. I also wanted to try a slightly earlier variety as I’ve yet to get anything in the ground… only the perennials are starting to wake up now.

Podding peas

I’ve found peas to be relatively fuss-free plants, that just need the occasional feed and regular watering in order to thrive – I feed only occasionally through the growing season with a diluted seaweed feed, which seems to do the trick. I’ve not quite got the hang of pinching out yet (for those not in the know, pinching out new growth every now and then promotes bushiness, and gets rid of any straggly or leggy growth), but I’m sure that with a little concentration, I can nail it. But really, for me, peas are great to grow, and a treat to eat raw or cooked when they’re ready for picking in summer.

polyculture potager

I’m also a fan of pea flowers – they seem to attract a lot of attention from pollinators, and they look really pretty in the veg patches too. This year, I’m tempted to let the nasturtiums and more marigolds mix with the peas again, as they seemed to help keep the dreaded blackfly at bay… and the mix of vibrant green foliage, white pea flowers and bright sunshine yellows was really eye-catching. 

Although it’ll probably be a good two or three weeks before I can move the peas out of the greenhouse, I’m excited to finally get going – albeit it in a very modest way – with this year’s growing season.

Rondo Peas

Rondo Peas ready for harvesting

(Wild)Life Through a Lens

As I was driving through a small village in Bedfordshire’s back of beyond this morning, I saw a small flush of blossom and a hint of green… you know, that unmistakably fresh, vibrant green that comes with the first buds of a new season’s growth. Spring is late this year, and although we’ve been busy doing the last of the fruit tree pruning and starting to tidy the long borders, the drab browns and dirty ochres of winter have lingered for too long. 

I’ve struggled to update my blog for a number of reasons, but mostly because spring has been a long time coming and the garden has been slow to wake up. There’s not a lot out there to actually photograph, but I’m hoping in a couple of weeks it’ll be all change. Over the years, I’ve captured the changing of the seasons in the garden through the lens, and it’s given me a whole new perspective on the beauty in the apparently simple plants and trees I grow. This year, we will be growing some spectacular floral specimens, and I would really love to take up more photography this spring and summer… though we have found with a toddler and all the gear that comes with her whenever we travel, Rich’s digital SLR setup is getting a bit bulky to carry around. If you’re thinking about improving your photography, this 4K Wildlife & Sports Camera is a great midpoint between a capable phone camera and a complex professional setup. 

As we’re still teetering on the cusp of spring, I thought I would provide a little inspiration with some of my favourite pictures from the last 11 years here at The Smallest Smallholding. And let’s be honest, I’m in need of some vibrancy and colour in my life right now too… 

I’ve selected a few of my favourite pictures from the years. It’s not an exhaustive collection, but many of the pictures have some wonderful memories attached to them:

Lark Ascending rose

Planting tulip bulbs in Autumn

 

Morning light

 

Bee on Helenium

 

toadstool

 

 

 

 

 

 

Although some of these pictures were lucky “snaps” taken on my long-dead iPhone, and some were on my handy Panasonic Lumix, the closeup shots were courtesy of our digital SLR and a macro lens. I’ve been lucky enough to live with a keen photographer, my partner Rich, who has invested in some pretty decent kit. Over the years it’s meant that we’ve been able to catalogue so many pictures and with the macro lens, see the world in a different way.

I think my favourite picture has to be the bee on the yellow helenium. We set up the tripod and captured the bees just going about their business one sunny afternoon. I just love the colours and the detail, and the green softness in the shallow depth of field in the background. I had never seen a bee in so much detail before and it gave me an entirely new perspective on them.

Let’s hope that spring in full swing isn’t too far off now…  and there’ll be plenty of opportunities to capture the season at it’s best. 

This is a collaborative post.