August in the garden
It s been a busy year and even if you have been on holiday, try and spend some time just simply enjoying your productive plot instead of constantly working out there. Put some chairs and a table nearby and eat some meals made from your home grown produce. Enjoy
Running out of space, like I do every year, I plant some pumpkin plants directly into one of my maturing compost heaps. I remember my grandmother doing this when I was smaller. Not only is this a great use of space, the plants really appreciate the rich, moist planting medium and are happily producing flowers and fruit, although I shall pinch out some of the long shoots so that all the energy goes into ripening two or three fruits rather then having lots of smaller pumpkins.
Growing produce organically doesn t always equate with growing perfect, award-winning plants. Your aim is to grow for flavour and yield and not necessarily appearance so if you have some damaged leaves or misshapen crops, don ’t worry about this. A good feed with diluted liquid seaweed solution will help promote healthier crops, and just remove any damaged or discoloured leaves as you do this. But if you are proud of your produce, do enter some into your local village show. It s great fun and you might win.
Harvest crops as they become ready, as leaving them in the soil too long means they will quickly deteriorate and may attract pests and diseases. Pinch out tops of outdoor tomatoes when three flower trusses have set. Other fruits might form but will not have time to reach maturity. Cut off some of the lower leaves to assist with ripening. If you are growing Jerusalem artichokes, pinch out the tops if they start to show flowers so that all the energy goes to swelling the tubers.
Protect fruit from birds and wasps using netting, fleece or constructing a fruit cage. Once raspberries and loganberries have finished fruiting, cut the old canes back to ground level and thin out and tie in new canes. Cut back blackcurrants after harvest. The best fruit is borne on new wood and hard pruning of older stems benefits the plant and yield of fruit. Root some runners from strawberry plants and set these out in a new bed when rooted.
Finish pruning plum and damson trees. Some years, the crop is heavier than others so you may need to prop some branches up with pieces of wood to help support the over-laden boughs. Prune apple and pear trees. Preserve any gluts by making your own jams, jellies and other tasty treats or freeze produce.
As most of this month s work is focused on harvesting, it s time to have a tidy up in the shed and around the plot. Some good housekeeping now will pay dividends before autumn clearing and soil preparation work begins. Clean all your tools thoroughly and give your shed or working area a thorough tidy, discarding old compost and washing pots and seed trays. You ll also keep one step ahead of pests and diseases with your summer cleaning regime.
If you have time, start sowing crops for harvesting later this year and early next year:
- Spring cabbages
- Autumn and winter lettuces
- Winter spinach
Onions, shallots and garlic are ready for lifting once the leaves have gone brown and died back. Bend over the leaves at the necks once they start to wither to hasten the ripening process: dry off plants before storing or they will rot. Other produce to harvest includes:
- Sweet corn (test if ready by squeezing a kernel - a milky sap means it is ripe)
- Dwarf French beans
- Runner beans
Philippa Pearson is a professional horticulturist and gardener, and she looks after a large estate in Hertfordshire amongst other projects. A keen and passionate gardener all her life, Philippa lives in rural Cambridgeshire where her ever increasing organically maintained vegetable and fruit garden provide a year round harvest of interesting crops, despite being on heavy clay.