HERE'S the latest column from our allotment columnist Sean O’Dobhain, from Cwmbran


I LOVE the month of May with the warmer temperatures and the promise of summer just around the corner. It’s now that the customary avenues of bamboo canes spring up on plot after plot as the supports for the runner and climbing beans. Some rows are so long I wonder how any family can eat so many beans! I’ve found that 16 runner bean plants, plus a small wigwam of French beans give my family ample to eat fresh plus loads for the freezer.

Plant runner beans in free draining soil and add some organic matter before planting to retain moisture as they don’t like it too dry.

If you are putting out plants sown under glass last month then remember to harden them off first by placing them outside for a few days but avoiding a frost at night.

Alternatively, it’s the right time to sow direct; pop a couple of beans at the foot of each cane and thin to one strong plant. Whether planting or sowing, protect against slug attack.

As I want Brussels sprouts for Christmas lunch it’s time to plant them and the other brassicas too; plants like cabbages, broccoli and cauliflower. A few simple things are essential for healthy brassicas. First, ensure that the ground is firm; it always feels a bit odd to me, treading down a nicely dug bed with booted feet, but brassicas need firm ground. Secondly, once the ground is firm, add a sprinkling of lime, brassicas won’t grow well in acidic soils. Add some general fertilizer if required (but don’t mix manure with lime) and rake both the lime and fertilizer into the surface before planting.

Some brassicas can become large plants; sprouts for example, need a good 60-80cm between them to grow well. I plant my sprouts out in the bed first then plant summer cabbages in-between the rows. The cabbages are finished by the autumn and the sprouts are able to go on and develop in the space. Remember, pigeons and white butterflies will decimate a brassica crop; always protect plants with some kind of frame and net.

Indoor tomatoes can be set out in the greenhouse too and outdoor varieties on the plot. As I have vine or ‘indeterminate’ varieties of tomatoes, I need to start pinching out the side shoots that grow between a main leaf and stem. This will ensure that the tomato plant will develop truss after truss of flowers and fruit as it grows on a single stem tied on to a cane. If you have a bush or ‘determinate’ variety then side shoots should be left in place.

Lastly this month, I’m planting out delicious sweet corn, raised in root trainers in April. Plant, or sow direct now, in blocks rather than lines to help with pollination; F1 varieties such as Swift or Incredible should do well.

Other allotment jobs for May

• Check summer and winter squashes sown last month, if their roots are through the bottom then re-pot into larger containers. Wait until June when the weather is warm enough before planting outside.

• Plant out any remaining lettuce and place cucumbers into cold frames or a greenhouse.

• Continue to direct sow in shallow drills: carrots, turnip, broad beans, swede, lettuce, radish, peas and beetroot as required.

• Sow winter cabbage like Tundra F1 or Ormskirk Savoy for planting out in July.

• It’s not too late to plant seed potatoes, get them planted in trenches now.

• Weeds and slugs are a problem now; hoe regularly and use slug control around young plants.