August in the Garden
Lots of crops are being harvested this month, so much choice for fresh eating and decisions about what to do with any gluts! If you are planning to store any 2nd early potatoes and early maincrop ones then leave the tubers in the sunshine for a day or two to dry thoroughly and harden their skins before popping into sacks, and don’t try to store any damaged ones these need to be the first you use (there are always some you stab or graze with the fork!)
As empty spaces appear there are lots of choices to fill them with new veggies (just take a peek at our special offers and sowing guide) or you can opt to sow a green manure that will add nutrients back to your soil: crimson clover helps fix nitrogen whilst phacelia, field mustard and fodder radish are particularly good at covering the surface and then providing lots of organic matter when they are dug in. If that sounds like hard work consider covering bare ground with weed suppressant matting, it doesn’t look great but it does the job.
Weeding is always ongoing and I try to do a little every day. Its nice to see the patch I have done and not hurt my back but I don’t look too closely at the bits I haven’t weeded – I do want some time to simply enjoy the garden (or even do other things!)
So I tried to pinch out the end of my runners when they reached the top of the canes but the first plants to do so obviously told the others and they put on a growth spurt to get beyond my reach. However the deer did a lot of trimming lower down and the plants are beginning to bush out beautifully from the bottom. Considering I didn’t sow my beans until the end of May & planted them out in June just at the hot weather settled in and then deer-trimmed them in mid-July they are already giving me beans. Everyone feels like a victory and they taste glorious. I have kept up with pinching out the tomato side shoots– I have very tall, slim plants with lots of flowers and ripening toms that I can see & reach easily. Once they reach their final height I will ‘stop’ them by pinching out their tops so they can concentrate their energy on their fruit.
‘Stopping’ is also advisable for winter squashes and pumpkins: it gives an earlier harvest and larger fruits particularly for the larger fruited trailing types. Limit the plants to three or so fruits and then trim the vines about 3 leaves beyond your final chosen fruit, remove surplus flowers and any little fruits that try and join the party. From the end of this month you can also remove shading leaves to help your fruits ripen. Just so you know – this job always makes me feel like a mass murderer (I am also a sucker at planting out the weak spindly seedlings some others decide aren’t worth it) so I always leave some of the plants to just grow to make me feel better!
I was out looking at some National Trust kitchen gardens last week – I was particularly interested in how successful their brassica cages were at keeping out butterflies. None were completely successful (I don’t feel so bad now) and I came away with some good ideas about improving my own defences in future years. I continue to usher out the odd trapped Cabbage White, inspect for eggs regularly and spray with Grazers butterfly compound on any particularly curly leafed crops to minimise potential damage.
Whilst you are thirstily quaffing a well-earned drink in your delightful garden spare a thought for your compost heap. All the hot weather will be helping your heap but if the lower layers are dry sprinkle with water – not too much, just enough to keep the microbes damp and happy.