To Do In The Northwest Edible Garden: May 2011

I don’t want to be one of those gardeners who’s always complaining about the weather, but about an hour ago a sudden, heavy, loud hailstorm rolled over my house. It was the kind of hail that shreds new seedlings like ice shot, chills the top layer of soil and makes a helluva lotta noise as it passes over.

It’s May 2nd as I write this, and I know there are a lot of new gardeners out there, trying edible growing for the first time or expanding their allotment of grow-your-own space this spring. I know you were all outside over our halcyon weekend, building beds and putting in transplants and sowing seeds. Maybe you got your first taste of veggie gardening in the warm spring sunshine and you thought, “I love this. All is right with the world.”

After that hail storm, some of you are going to walk out to your first patch of lettuce, baby greens that just started growing, and you are going to see bruised and battered plants. You may feel a little defeated. If you do, eager tyro gardener, please know that it’ll be okay. Gardening is like this, with little setbacks. Winter tries to hold on every year, and every year – eventually – spring wins. The lettuce will probably recover. The season is yet young. You will lose plants. Some years you may lose entire crops. But it’s worth it. In a few months when you’re buried under zucchini you’ll forget all about this little hailstorm.

Onward! Ever onward!

Plan & Purchase:
Warm season edibles-tomatoes, peppers, beans, eggplant, melon, cucumber and corn-are in the nurseries and everywhere now. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: do not buy your transplants at Home Depot. It’s tempting to buy the larger size transplants, but a 4″ tomato and a gallon tomato may be only a week growing difference and often smaller plants establish and transplant better than older ones.

It’s hard to believe, but it’s time to start thinking about the fall garden. I know what you’re thinking: you don’t even have the summer garden planted. Well, you have a little time, but many of the fall and winter crops like Brussels Sprouts and some of the long-season cabbages mature very slowly, and will need to be started in early June. So start thinking about your fall crops and make sure you have what seed you’ll need.

Sow Indoors:
If you are new to starting your own seeds you might want to check out my three-part Seed Starting 101 series: Key Components For Healthy Seedlings, A Step-by-Step Visual Guide To Growing Seedlings At Home, and Up-Potting.

From this point forward, very little has to be started inside. The tender summer crops listed below can be started inside any time or can be planted out directly into a pre-warmed raised bed with black plastic and a cloche. The most delicate of them – the melons – will do best with some protection through-out the season. This is also true of peppers and eggplant, which were started a few months ago now.

  • Summer & Winter Squash – I started my squashes under lights in early April, but that’s a bit early by conventional standards. Late-April/early-May is a safe bet for starting under lights, mid-May for transplanting or sowing out directly into a raised bed pre-warmed with black plastic and a tunnel cloche.
  • Melons – I don’t grow them, but if I did I’d start them about a week after the summer and winter squashes and plan on keeping them under an open-ended cloche most of the season.
  • Cucumbers – Just like squashes, start under lights any time or sow directly into a pre-warmed a raised bed mid-May.
  • Basil – If you didn’t start your basil last month you can start it any time. The sooner the better.
  • Optional: continue to start salad greens indoors to have little lettuces, etc. ready to pop into any open patch of ground.
  • Optional: continue to start brassicas like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbages, etc. indoors for late summer/early fall harvests.

Sow & Plant Outside
We’re really into direct-sow time of year now!

  • Beans – if the weather turns warmer you can sow bush and pole beans outside about mid-month. Personally, I don’t think we’re going to have a warm spring this year. I’ll be starting mine under cloche or indoors in about a week.
  • Brassicas – broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts, kohlrabi and kale can be sown directly in the ground now. Make sure you are planting varieties that will mature quickly (if you want to eat them in mid/late summer) or slowly (if you want them to be fall/winter crops).
  • Root Vegetables – beets, carrots, radishes parsnips, root parsley and turnips. These can all be planted. You will have the best results in loose open soil and I encourage you to cover your carrot and parsnip seedlings with row cover to prevent the carrot root maggot from destroying your veggies.
  • Corn – I don’t grow it (the space-to-yield metrics never made corn a must-plant for me), but if you do, look to plant it about mid-month, or get a bed pre-warmed with a cloche and try for a slightly earlier sowing at the beginning of the month. Remember corn is wind pollinated, so for successful ears you need to sow it in blocks, not rows. My old-timer veggie gardener neighbor tells me that a 4 x 4 block (16 total corn plants) is the minimum for reliable pollination.
  • Greens – lettuce, New Zealand spinach, mustards, arugula, mache, Asian greens, cress and greens mixes can be sown directly for salad and quick sautes.  If you started greens indoors last month under lights, harden them off before you settle them into their outside bed. 
  • Swiss Chard – I plant a whole 4 x 8 bed of chard every year. Love it!
  • Onions – green onions and overwintering leeks can be sown. Onion sets and starts can still be put those in for small onions (get on it!), but it’s too late to start a bulb onion patch from seed for this year.
  • Potatoes – Still fine to plant through May, depending on when you want to harvest them. We’re container growing in burlap sacks and malt grain bags.
  • Herbs: Chives, parsley, mints, marjoram, oregano, dill, fennel, borage and the like can all be sown out. Germination will be better under a cloche through mid-month.
  • Tender Herbs: Bulb fennel, cilantro & basil can be sown out under a cloche or started under lights.
  • If you are going into a greenhouse or tunnel cloche, you can move your tomatoes out to the garden in the first half of May. If you are setting the maters out without protection, give them until late May or early June and keep a close eye on overnight lows.
  • Peppers are more tender than tomatoes, so I’ll set mine out into the greenhouse mid-to-late May depending on how crazy the nighttime temps are looking. Currently we are anticipating night-time lows barely above 40. That’s nuts. I want to see temps. consistently above 50 before I risk moving the peppers outside, even with some protection.


  • Salad Greens – lettuce, mustard, aurgula, spinach, mache, frisee
  • Spring cabbages – my overwintering cabbages didn’t head but I was able to harvest a bunch of loose-leaf cabbage at the very end of April.
  • Leeks – Pulled the last of the leek stand May 1st because the leeks were starting to form seedheads and we needed the bed anyway. This is one fall/winter vegetable that really pays off!
  • Rhubarb – rhubarb is up and going. Mine is a baby little transplant, but mature crowns should be very harvestable.
  • Asparagus – mine’s coming up. It’s tiny but it looks like it survived the transplanting.
  • Spring cauliflowers – I didn’t grow any but the earliest cauliflowers should be ready in May.
  • Sprouting Broccoli – we enjoyed sprouting broccoli through late April before we yanked to to make room in the bed.
  • Kale – wild baby kales are popping up all over.


  1. says

    "Rhubarb – rhubarb is up and going. Mine is a baby little transplant, but mature crowns should be very harvestable."

    I thought the leafy parts of rhubarb are toxic? I've always been told that the edible part is the stalks, not the leaves.

  2. says

    Your leeks are gorgeous! They are one of my favorite veggies and we've never grown them before. We started seeds inside a few weeks (a month?) ago. I'm not very good at starting my own plants – I tend to kill things in pots, but they seem alright and I hope they transplant ok. Any tips? Tips for this fall?

  3. Jenvteal says

    What are you going to do with all those leeks? Do you have any tricks for saving them? or will you guys just be eating leeks with everything for the next several weeks? Just curious how you deal with crop glut.

  4. says

    Those leeks look amazing! I too had to chime in. WOW! Have you written a post on canning/preserving, or are you going to. We have over 20 tomato plants and I am reading, reading, reading on how to make my own tomato paste, whole tomatoes in their juices, etc. Any supplementary info that I can find I eat up, no pun intended. Love your blog and all the great info on it!!!

  5. says

    My husband is the one that does all the garden planning, although my input comes in the form of what I'd like to harvest later for the table. We're already talking about prepping the new fall raised beds and all the garden additions coming this winter.

    By the way, I'm not sure whether to thank or curse you for the backyard orchard post. Before you'd written that, we'd plunked one each of a number of potted fruit trees in the ground (I dug all the holes) and thought that was that. I made the mistake of forwarding your post to my hubby's work email. After watching all of Dave Wilson's videos, he's now got plans to order lots of bare root fruit trees for trio and quartet planting this winter. Guess who will be digging all those holes?! And doing all the processing to can, freeze, and dehydrate the fruit?

    So…thanks for the references and our future harvest, but darn you for making more work for me! ;-)

  6. Noelle says

    I just went outside and my quinoa and lentils — purchased from the bulk section of the grocery store — have germinated! Woo-hoo! Garbanzo beans are next; I originally thought they would go in with the bush beans, but apparently they're more of a spring crop and finish up by mid-summer. I also just sowed some corn, an open-pollinated variety called "Festivity" which claims to be a "rainbow-colored corn bred for tolerance to cool soil and low fertility situations." We'll see.

  7. says

    Just discovered your site and I'm loving it! As a beginner+ edible gardener, I appreciate your insights and look forward to visiting often. We just harvested our first rhubarb of the season on Sunday!

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