Updates from July 2011.
harvests of mid July, potatoes were grown on the surface of decomposing grass with 3in cow manure and a layer of straw on top, slug damage was only slight because of the dry spring.
Weather is alternating between summer and autumn so watch out for potato blight. I have pulled up a few outdoor tomatoes, not because of blight but because they were growing so slowly. This time last year we had been picking french beans for two weeks, this year the first pick looks like being in late July. For some vegetables the cooler summer is excellent – leeks, brussels sprouts, parsnips, peas.
Finally for now, here is a thought provoking picture. Two pots of sweet basil growing in the same compost except for the plant on the left having two handfuls of lava dust added and mixed in before filling the pot in late May. It comes from Germany, called Eingold, available from http://www.osmo-organics.co.uk/catalog/detail/6/471/en
At this time of year, as well as enjoying the harvests of spring sowings and plantings, you can continue to sow and plant for the autumn and winter. This will keep you in vegetables for longer and there will be less weeds, because you have more reason to keep soil clean around the growing vegetables, which also give shade to soil and discourage weed growth.
Weeds are growing fast after any rain at this time of year. I warmly recommend you pay close attention to germination of small weeds, often partly invisible under leaves of vegetables, yet with the ability to set many seeds and create lots of extra work in months to come. Visitors to my gardens are struck by the absence of weeds, which was hard work to achieve initially but has now become much easier as the undisturbed soil remains so clean. at the moment (late June) I am pulling and hoeing many small weed seedlings whose germination was triggered by the rain in June, for instance a multitude of dandelions whose seeds blew in during the spring, and which are much easier to pull or hoe when at the two or four leaf stage.
Some gardeners comment on their compost being so full of weed seeds that spreading it causes more problems than benefits. I feel the benefits outweigh the disadvantages because weed seedlings can easily be hoed, pulled and disturbed in surface compost,. In addition, I have noticed that compost’s enriching effect results in soil having less ‘desire’ to grow weeds, which are partly a symptom of soil attempting to improve itself and sort out fertility or structural problems. Couch grass in compacted soil is an example. I used to have a lot of couch around the edges of my plots and a combination of light excluding mulches with organic matter to feed worms and therefore improve structure, and occasional, careful removal of roots with a trowel, has seen the couch roots mostly disappear. Any that I remove now are composted, along with bindweed and dock roots, since I have enough other ingredients to help these vigorous roots to decompose.
In the longer term, as your plot becomes cleaner each year, a beneficial side effect is that less weed seeds go into the compost heap and the end product is cleaner. This helps reduce habitat for slugs, but there can still be some toads…
Salads are important sowings in the next eight to ten weeks, for harvesting a wide range of leaves between August and next May. My Winter Vegetables book has precise details on sowings in the whole of summer; now in July is best time to sow chicories for hearting in autumn, lettuce and endive for summer and autumn, and the end of July is an excellent time for sowing coriander, chervil and spinach, which can all then have long and productive lives in the shortening, cooler days of autumn, winter and even the following spring.
There is still time in warmer parts to sow bulb fennel, beetroot, dwarf beans, carrots, and calabrese, all in July’s first week. Sowings of Cima di Rapa (from www.seedsofitaly.com), throughout July, will give small broccoli shoots and tender leaves in autumn. Brassica salads such as oriental leaves and rocket do best from sowing in late July and early August so I suggest waiting until then, for cleanest leaves (flea beetles are less active after late summer) and longer harvests.
Watering is best done thoroughly and less often. I water the polytunnels twice a week in summer, with a hose and directing water around and at the base of plants as, apart from cucumbers, they are more healthy with dry leaves. Tomatoes especially, to avoid blight. Also it is good to cut or break off any leaves below the lowest truss, to improve ventilation. Outdoors I water salads mainly, again twice weekly in dry weather, and new plantings a couple of times until established. Other vegetables as little as possible but fruiting beans and courgettes like water in hot weather, twice weekly, even weekly if soil is well charged with organic matter.