To Do In The Northwest Edible Garden: May 2012

What a change from last year, huh? It has been a gorgeous spring. Evenings are still dipping into the mid-to-low 40s (tonight is projected to be 41 in my neighborhood!) but the days have been great gardening weather – mostly clear, with enough sun to make gardeners happy and enough overcast to make transplants happy.

Small but tasty carrots.

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. Yes, I know: you don’t even have the summer garden planted. Just keep it in the back of your head that many of the fall and winter crops like Brussels Sprouts and some of the long-season cabbages mature veeeeerrrrry slowly, and will need to be started in June. So start thinking about your fall crops and make sure you have what seed you’ll need and what garden beds you’ll want when the time comes.

Swiss Chard

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 SeedlingsA Step-by-Step Visual Guide To Growing Seedlings At Home, and Up-Potting.

Historically I have started a lot – a lot – indoors under lights, including cucumbers, squash and even beans some years. These are all crops that people do not generally start inside, but I have had good success this way.

If you want to go this route and have not yet gotten your summer crops up and growing, start the following under lights asap:

  • Summer and winter squash
  • Melons
  • Beans
  • Corn
  • Basil and other tender herbs

This year, because we seem to be having more clear, sunny days than in the past several years, I sowed all those crops out directly in mid-April and covered the soil with clear plastic in order to boost soil temp and encourage rapid, strong germination. So far, I am very pleased with the results. I have a strong crop of 6″ tall corn growing, and my winter squash and beans are up and growing well. So this is something to try if you want to jump-start your crops but don’t want to mess around with indoor seed-starting.

If you just love indoor-sowing, you might also

  • Continue to start salad greens indoors to have little lettuces, etc. ready to pop into any open patch of ground.
  • Continue to start brassicas like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbages, etc. indoors for late summer/early fall harvests.

Tarragon and rosemary in bloom.

Sow & Plant Outside

We’re really into direct-sow time of year now!

  • Squashes – as mentioned above, as soil temps can still be coolish the best germination will be obtained if you pre-warm the soil with clear plastic.
  • Beans –You can reliably sow bush and pole beans outside about mid-month, or pre-warm the soil and sow now.
  • 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 – Plant it about mid-month, or get a bed pre-warmed 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 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 and what variety you grow. I’ve planted short-season Yukon Golds as late as June .
  • Herbs: Chives, parsley, mints, marjoram, oregano, dill, fennel, borage, cilantro, fennel, basil and the like can all be sown out.

An early stand of corn.


  • 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 generally set mine out into the greenhouse mid May. This year I got over eager and I’ve already transplanted our peppers into the greenhouse. I would advise doing as I say, not as I did on this one and wait until nighttime temps are 50 or 55+ consistently. Right now in my area we’re looking at temps around 40 at night. Even with the protection of the greenhouse, I’m cutting it too close this year.

Lettuce sizing up well.


  • Salad Greens – new crop lettuce and spinach is harvestable, I just pulled the last of the overwintering mustard, frisee, etc. Arugula is in bloom and is just lovely.
  • Rhubarb – rhubarb is up and going. Mine is enormous compared to last year when I planted sat abused baby crown pieces, but I’m giving it until next year before I harvest. Mature crowns should be very harvestable.
  • Asparagus – mine’s coming up. I’ll give it another year or three before I harvest it since it was transplanted last February.
  • Spring cauliflowers – We’ve really enjoyed our overwintering caulis. Three more are due to head up this month.
  • Sprouting Broccoli – Still getting lots of sprouts.
  • Chard – mine is just starting to stretch out and go to seed. Hoping to yank it, cook it and freeze what’s left.
  • Kale – my neighbor who was more on the ball than I was in late March has gorgeous, foot-tall kale that one could certainly harvest from. My new season stuff is smaller and stunted. (Brief aside: my transplants are not doing so well: the chickens got into a few beds while my back was turned, you see, and the kales, cabbages, broccolis and caulis suffered mightily. We were very close to having barbecue chicken that night. Crossing my fingers for a recovery on my brassicas.)
  • Overwintering carrots – they are small, but they taste yummy and they haven’t been hit with carrot fly!
  • Herbs – chives, tarragon, lemon balm, mint, parsley and cilantro are all coming up. All the woody herbs are putting on lots of new growth.

Baby spinach.

What do you have planned for May?


  1. says

    I’m pretty certain we still had frost on the ground this time last year. It’s been such a nice change of pace in these parts, though I still long for the spring/summer of 2009. Remember those gardening days? Ah…

    I’m so doing your guttering trick next year. My peas have been sooooo slow and share space where I’m going to put my beans. I don’t have a single pea flower yet, and now I’m going to have to introduce beans? Stupid peas.

    • says

      Sarah – yeah, I’m sold on the technique. I’m looking at 3+ feet of growth and flowering started at least a week ago. Meanwhile, my neighbor, who *really* knows what she’s doing, had her entire sowing from early April not come up. And I guarantee it’s not because she’s doing anything wrong, it’s just that we can’t count on warm enough soil that early anymore. I think this soil solarization with clear plastic technique might be my new “thing” for a few years. If we can warm the soil in place and direct sow, it’s a better all over result than putting a plant thru a transplant. But all the cloching is kinda a pain, I will admit.

  2. says

    Start thinking about the fall garden!? Now!? You mean I need to start more stuff under my light, just when I thought I could retire that bad boy back to the garage.

    Tomatoes are out and covered, as are cucumbers. Both seem to be happy about it. Basil still inside under the lights, all by its lonesome.

    And I am out of room! My overwintered veg are still going strong. Broccoli and chard and spinach that we are eating. Cabbage that I hope is going to do something… someday… maybe?? Otherwise the chickens are going to love the sacrifice, because eventually, as in soon, I need that bed.

    I’ve a spot for beans and room for my basil, and that’s about it. No room at the inn.

  3. says

    Quick corn question for you: this is my first year doing so and I did 4 small rows in a 5×6 foot area or so. I started them in yogurt cups under a cloche and they did really well, I’ve heard that transplanting corn starts can be tricky but I went ahead and did them because my bed wasn’t ready. I transplanted them last weekend and they were about 4″. About half way thru the week I noticed that the top leaves were turning slightly yellower than the bottom…I assumed are they stressed from the transplant, but really they don’t look too different than your picture…maybe no need to worry?

    • says

      This is my first year too so honestly, I’m not the best resource. But my feeling is that the corn just doesn’t uptake nutrients as well when the soil is cool and that’s what we’re seeing with the yellowing. I think they are going to grow out if it, but again – I’m speculating because this is all a big experiment for me. :)

      • says

        Oh good, well at least we’re in the same boat. I’m trying a popcorn this year, because my family strangely doesn’t really eat enough of it fresh…I’ll keep you posted. :)

  4. Tanaya Ropp says

    We hard a hard freeze last week and everything that was planted in the Hugelculter bed survived beautifully, my mother was stunned.

  5. Jodie Stephenson says

    Oh I am going to have to save this and reverse it all around because I am in Australia, so the seasons are all back the front, but I love how you describe and inspire me to do what needs to be done so I am filing this away for November :)

  6. Tiff says

    I have Cucumbers, and squash going gang busters under lights in the house. What’s up outside is garlic,onion,lettuce,cauliflower,broccoli,pac choi,leek,radish,beet,artichoke,brussels,and carrots. My peas seemed to be slow,but are healthy. I’m going to start cantaloupe in the house,and will be trying it in containers this year. Oh and the thought of fall makes me want to weep,so I will stay in denial, till you tell me to stop :)

  7. says

    Great list, love these posts. I’ve in Northern CA wine country. I have 100 english pea plants about to produce, chard, spinach, broccoli, carrots, beets, radishes, pole beans, onions, garlic from fall growing strong, brussels sprouts and kale. Most of my fruit trees are setting fruit as well. My spinach, chard and lettuce are bolting right now, too. Curious, do you cook your spinach and chard before freezing it or after? I’ve got lots that I need to freeze this week. I am late putting in my melons and pumpkin seeds.

  8. Amy says

    I love seeing what everyone’s gardens are doing; nice post. I’m NE of Seattle about 20 miles at about 400 ft elevation. I’m currently harvesting lots of lettuce (started indoors in Feb), spinach, kale, arugula, asparagus (put it in 2 yrs ago and it is finally producing nicely), and I now see some sprouting broccoli ready (it is cute, though not bountiful). I started some winter squash and muskmelons in pots last week… clearly the pots are not big enough as some roots are already coming out the bottom. So I just up-potted them. I have LOTS of lovely tomato starts I need to get moved out of my garage/lights (you’re right, lights are way better than windowsills) to make room for other things. Besides, they’re outgrowing their 4 inch pots and I don’t want to up-pot them all! I’ll have to try warming the soil for some corn and other heat lovers. I’m envious of your beautiful little carrots!


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