Top 5 vegetable seeds to sow in May

If you said to me I only had five packets of seed to sow in May in the veg plot which would they be? Which are the plants that I would hate to be without, that I would miss having in the garden to give me masses to look at and bring in to the house?

They’d have to be from the group of hardy annuals as this time of year, annual plants which can withstand some frost, and the properly cold nights, which you can still get in late April –early May. In this month the soil will be warm and dry, but still moist enough to get quick germination - now is the perfect time to sow these hardy vegetable seeds.

It would have to be orange and purple beetroot as my number one and two. The best purple beetroot I’ve grown is ‘Cheltenham’, perfect eaten the size of a golf ball, but equally tender and tasty three times that size, without a hint of woodiness in the centre. This would be mixed in with ‘Burpees Golden’ beetroot. This has a poor germination rate so you need to sow a good quantity of seed to get lots to eat, but I love this amazing looking and sweet tasting root, the colour of buttercups with a touch of orange added in.

I bake them whole, skin left on – this comes off easily in your fingers once they’re cooked - mixed in with the purple ‘Cheltenham’ and cloves of garlic, not peeled or crushed in the baking tray. You don’t have to eat the garlic, but they are a very good addition for their smoky, extra flavour.

If you have any rocket still hanging on by the time the beetroot are ready to eat in June and July, mix this with them in a tasty, instant first course with some crumbled feta over the top. The sweetness of the beetroot, pepperiness of the rocket and saltiness of the feta is a delicious mixture. A citrusy, lemon dressing with lots of lemon zest and juice is a good final touch.

It’s worth saying that May is not the time to sow salad rocket. It bolts in a thrice in the hot and dry and is much better treated as a winter and early spring crop, sown in August, September or February and March. If you’re addicted to rocket, go for the flatter growing, perennial type, wild rocket, which is slow to bolt even in the summer sun.

My next must is the ‘Green Salad Bowl’ lettuce. Most hearting lettuces, particularly the Cos, or Iceberg types will follow the same programme: everything you sow in one go, will be ready all at the same time. That is what you don’t want – famine followed by glut. With the hearting types, to eat them at their best, you have to have a lettuce fiesta and plough through the lot in a very salady couple of weeks. Then they’ll bolt and their leaves develop a nasty bitterness and lose that characteristic crunch.

You’re better off with the Continental loose-leaf types, and I think ‘Green Salad Bowl’ is easily the best of those I’ve tried. It looks great – bright acid-green with a gently undulating leaf edge - and you can pick exactly what you want at any one time. If it’s just Adam and I for supper, I pick eight or ten outer leaves and the rest stay on the plant. If there are more to feed, you can cut the whole thing in one go, leaving at least an inch of stem below the cut and the root will have re-sprouted more leaves in a couple of weeks time. It’s the lettuce equivalent of your own house cow.

The most delicious broad bean I’ve ever eaten is my fourth choice. It’s called ‘Stereo’ and produces endless small pods, full of small broad beans. If you imagine the taste of a pea - that intense sweetness - crossed with the characteristic broad bean flavour, then that’s what you get with ‘Stereo’. Just push these seeds into the ground to your first knuckle about three inches apart and you’ll be picking pods under ten weeks time.

My final choice is the carrot ‘Sytan’. Whenever I visit a good vegetable garden, I try and find out which varieties they’re sowing of the common, easy to grow veg. Carrots are some of the first I home in on. We eat more here than any other vegetable. The children prefer them raw and I tend to agree, but I also love them baked large or small in my potato brick with lumps of herbs thrown in on over the top. Carrots are fantastic with tarragon, and fennel flavour goes very well with them too.

In the gardens I visited last year, the carrot ‘Sytan’ was getting high marks all round. It seems to have good carrot fly resistance, a good germination rate and is tender and tasty at almost any size. You can eat it small and young, but its equally good left to develop into a substantial, Maincrop root.

On my heavy soil, I have to protect any carrot crop with a fleece tunnel to keep the hated carrot root fly at bay. Carrots are happiest grown in almost pure sand and if they have to deal with a heavier soil like mine they grow more slowly and are more vulnerable to fly infestation, so I always put on my tunnels from the moment I sow. After harvesting a section, I put the tunnel back over the row.