Updates from June 2011.
The weather change of early June looks to be enduring all month and as well as much needed rain, we have low temperatures, lower than in spring at times, causing slow growth of heat loving plants such as climbing beans, courgettes and sweetcorn. When the soil is too cool for normal growth, the leaves of these summer vegetables are pale, yellow even, at the same time as there is lush growth of neighbouring salads and brassicas, which need less warmth to absorb nutrients from soil. The main remedy is patience, waiting for warmer weather in July, one hopes.
I have posted a lot of propagation pictures here to remind you of the continuing possibilities for sowing many vegetables at this time, to harvest in autumn and winter mostly. Some examples of sowings from now until month’s end are chard, beetroot, carrots, dwarf and climbing beans, bulb fennel, almost every kind of salad for summer and autumn, kale, calabrese for autumn and cauliflower for next spring. Examples of plantings are leeks, swede, kale, cabbage and purple sprouting.
Gaps in your plot can be filled with these plants as soon as you clear space, and often it is good to spread a thin layer of fresh compost if you have some.
Harvests have been good here after the warm spring with bountiful carrots, broad beans, spinach, salads, beetroot, salad onions, first early potatoes, wet (green) garlic and calabrese, also some courgettes which I fleeced and are producing regularly but slowly at the moment. Polytunnel tomatoes are a little ahead of normal, three to four feet high, but have been feeling the lack of sun recently.
If your garlic is not yellow with rust (from dry soil) it can grow some more and be harvested around month’s end.
Weeds are growing again and if there is enough moisture to germinate a flush of annual seedlings, do use any dry days to hoe them off while still small, tiny even, far easier than letting them establish. Weeding needs to be more thorough than I often see so that soil is really cleaned of all unwanted growth, allowing any new weeds to be easily seen and dealt with. This is far easier than allowing weeds to become established in any fashion, and requires more effort in the first instance, then far less effort once soil is clean. Also do remember any green, grassy edges which need mowing, trimming and cutting back as well, to give less hiding place for slugs and no new weed seeds to develop.
This looks like being a warm, dry June. Above all DRY and this will be emphasised by the soil’s current lack of moisture, except in northwest Britain. In Somerset we have been fortunate to receive 55mm rainfall in May (after 29mm in March and 28mm in April) which has been just enough to keep many plants going until early June at least.
Broad beans are filling out nicely on plants that look super healthy, beetroot, courgettes and early potatoes (in May!) are yielding well, carrots look good, but harvests will, I fear, mostly depend on any water we can give, from now on. I am watering my salad beds twice weekly with a hose, preferring to direct water exactly where and when it is needed, a more economical use of water than using irrigation systems. Even in the polytunnels I water by hand, often side-shooting tomatoes and cucumbers as I hold the hose, pulling a few weeds and always noticing something interesting.
There is still time to plant all those enticing summer vegetables such as aubergine, melon and tomato. Normally I recommend growing them only undercover, but this may be a summer for trying a few outdoors where the extra heat can help them to give a worthwhile yield.
It is also time to think of winter vegetables and I have just sown swede in modules, three or four seed thinned to the strongest, for planting in late June, probably after clearing spinach, which has been super healthy in all the spring sunshine this year. I am also sowing kale, purple sprouting and savoy cabbage, to plant after garlic and early lettuce.
Carrots and beetroot for winter can be sown anytime in June, and bulb fennel sown after mid month will respond to the shortening days (sadly, already…) by making a fat bulb instead of a long, thin one.
More salads can be sown in June, mostly lettuce. We are currently picking off lettuce plants that were sown in February and planted out in March, first picked in late April. I expect them to flower in early to mid July, by which time the lettuce that are sown early June should keep us in leaves with its first pickings – and then continue through most of high summer. I am not sowing any oriental leaves until early August, to have leaves without flea beetle holes. Deep flavours in the summer salads come from plenty of basil leaves and there are already the first few shoots in the tunnel, mostly of lemon and cinnamon basil, which flower when young; you need to keep pinching off the tasty flowering shoots so that plants keep growing throughout the summer.
Leek moths have been flying already although in small numbers only, I think… recently I found some damage to garlic leaves and then discovered a small white caterpillar (more like a maggot really) in the folds of young leaves in the garlic plant’s centre. I am still unclear as to how much eventual damage there may be to the bulbs, whose storage may be compromised.
Fruit is extremely well developed for the time of year and, when so many fruit have set, trees benefit from drastic thinning, especially in a dry summer. I reduce all apple clusters to one fruit and remove any small or poor looking clusters. Plums take a long time to thin out, say to one fruit every two inches, but the results will repay you and it is kinder on trees that their branches are not overladen and at risk of breaking, assuming we have some rain to swell the fruits. Blackcurrants are almost ready with some colouring of berries; bushes need careful netting against birds who are hungry and also thirstier than usual.
I have just started an interesting trial in the greenhouse, five pots of the same tomato variety growing in cow manure, horse manure, mushroom compost, my own compost and multipurpose potting compost. Also a trial of basil in the same compost but one pot has dried cow manure added, and another pot has finely ground volcanic rock (lava dust from OSMO). I shall post some photos as they grow.