Grow Your Own Fruit & Veg – Summer Update
July and August are an exciting time of year for those of us who like to grow and eat our own fruit and veg but there are a number of routine jobs to do during the summer months.
Jobs to do in the kitchen garden:
Water regularly! With a hot summer forecast and the odd heavy shower, think about investing in a water butt. Any large container with a lid will do – either a redundant dustbin, wheelie bin, or barrel and attach it to a downpipe to collect water. Fixing kits and taps can be bought from DIY shops and online. Always put a firm lid on water collection containers to prevent anyone or anything from drowning. Local councils sell 190 litre water butts for around £40. It may seem expensive but it should last for years and if there’s a hosepipe ban then your precious plants will get watered.
Save water from the kitchen (as long as it doesn’t have detergent or chemicals in) for example, after washing salads use the water on the garden.
Feed once a week. I use a liquid seaweed plant food which really helps to produce bumper crops. If the crops are fed and watered correctly, they will be more likely to shrug off pests and diseases.
Tie tall vegetables to their supports such as beans, peas and cucumbers. Check that the supports are solid so that heavy crops (or strong winds) don’t push them over.
Remove any diseased fruit, vegetables and leaves before they infect the rest of the crop, but don’t put these on the compost heap!
Dot pots of colourful flowers around your crops. I grow flowers which attract bees and other pollinating insects near my fruit and veggies. With the number of bees declining rapidly over recent years, it’s more important than ever to grow some bee loving flowers.
Weed regularly so that the vegetables don’t have to compete for food and water.
Harvest crops regularly and if there’s too much, freeze or swap with family and friends. If you have a glut of fruit or vegetables, there’s a very good scheme called Crop for the Shop where you can sell your produce locally. Look at BigBarn’s website, who organize this scheme, their website includes a Local Food Map which gives details of shops in your area who are involved in the scheme. Click here for information http://www.bigbarn.co.uk/aboutus/crop.php read all about it then select the Local Food Map tab to find your local shops. BigBarn say they are also “very keen to get schools growing, eating and selling fruit, veg and even eggs. What better way to teach kids about food and healthy eating?” This is an excellent idea!
Sow salad crops such as lettuces, spring onions, rocket, radishes, parsely and spinach. These can still be sown outside during early August and they should mature by autumn. Salad seeds will germinate quickly and take next to no time to produce leaves. If space is limited, it’s a good idea to grow “cut and come again” salads which will keep on producing for weeks. If you have small salad seedlings, keep them in dappled shade at this time of year as the sun will scorch their leaves and they’ll struggle to survive. Sow a few pots of herbs then bring inside in autumn for use over winter.
Tomatoes are growing and fruiting rapidly. I grow “beef” type heritage tomatoes and cherry tomatoes outside so it will be a while before they’re ripe. For those new to gardening, tomato plants fall into two main categories, determinate and indeterminate. Determinate means that the tomato plants form into a bush and the fruit all ripen at more or less the same time. Indeterminate means that the tomatoes grow tall, so require support, and they will produce tomatoes all season.
I always remove the side shoots on indeterminate tomato plants as I think that by doing this it gives the plants more air so they’re less prone to disease. It also allows more light, which of course, is vital for ripening tomatoes. It’s really easy to remove the side shoots – just look along the main stem where the leaves branch out and you’ll see little shoots growing between the joint and the main stem. Just pinch them out. By doing this, the crop yield is reduced a little but I think they are easier to grow on a single main stem and the fruits will be more likely to ripen in our climate. Perhaps it’s too late this year, but you can plant the side shoots in a small pot of compost and they should root quickly – so you’ll have more tomatoes later on in the year for free!
When tomatoes have about three or four trusses of fruit (check the back of the seed packet first), snip the top off the plant to stop it trying to grow taller and produce more flowers. By doing this, the plant’s energy goes into growing the fruit already on the plant. Remove the odd large leaf if it’s shielding the tomatoes to allow more light.
Chillies and sweet peppers should be ripening now. I am growing a hot little chilli called Krakatoa and providing we continue to get sunny weather, they should ripen in no time and will carry on producing flowers well into the autumn. Water these plants little and often.
I sowed my courgettes a little too late this year but all the same, they are growing very quickly now and there are dozens of small courgettes. The flowers are colourful and delicious in salads. Young courgettes can be added raw to salads but larger ones are best steamed gently then dotted with butter. I’m looking forward to cooking “Courgette, Tomato and Cheese Bake” from my book Main Meals – it’ll hardly cost me a bean as I’m growing courgettes and tomatoes!
Onions and garlic should be ready for harvesting now. Wait for a spell of dry weather, lift them carefully without cutting off their stems, and leave them on the surface of the ground to dry out. It is important that they are completely dry if they are to store well. If rain is forecast, cover them with polythene or lay them out in a shed or greenhouse. Have a go at plaiting onions and garlic – there are a number of websites which show how to plait them with step-by-step instructions.
One of my favourite vegetables is Swiss chard. It’s not only very yummy but is difficult to find in the shops. Farmers’ Markets and Vegetable Box suppliers sell chard when it’s in season. Chard is a very healthy food, packed with vitamins and minerals. To pick chard, collect a leaf or two from each plant (rather than picking all the leaves from one plant), by doing this the plants will grow new leaves. Baby chard leaves are fantastic served in salads. Always eat the stem as well as the leaves, just chop finely, and if cooking, add the chopped stems for a minute or two before adding the leaves.
Runner beans and French beans need harvesting regularly at this time of year. If the beans are not picked, the plant will stop producing flowers. Beans are hungry plants so need feeding weekly. At the end of the season, leave a dozen or so pods on the plant and let them dry for a couple of weeks. Pick them when the beans rattle in the pods, then place the beans in a lidded container or an envelope for sowing next year. If your beans are hybrids (F1 variety) then unfortunately saving the beans for seed will not work.
I am growing all female mini cucumbers in pots and they are covered with cues. I always remove the first few tiny cucumbers (which the plants produce at an early stage) because I have found in the past that if the first few cucumbers are not removed, the plants fruited their socks off, then died. The plants need to use their energy to grow taller and stronger before producing cucumbers, then they should provide a good crop. I like the “female” varieties as they’re easy to grow and there’s no fiddling around removing male flowers! Mini cucumbers are very popular with children – just a quick wash and they can be eaten whole.
I have some sugarsnap peas growing in two small troughs. As they grow higher, they need support – either twiggy sticks or canes. The first few pods from sugarsnap or mangetout peas can be used in stir-fries or thinly sliced and added to salads until the plants produce a continuous supply of peas. Sugarsnap peas that have gone past their best can be podded in the same way as traditional peas. Peas can be dried using the same method as beans, as long as the variety is not a hybrid. Keep some of the pods to dry on the plant for free seeds next year. Store in an airtight container and label.
My perpetual strawberries are doing well but unfortunately the black birds often beat me to it! The problem is that the birds will eat the fruit before it’s ripe so I think I’ll have to put up some sort of fruit cage next year …
The raspberries have been fruiting for several weeks now. The variety I grow is called Joan J and I really like this variety because it’s thorn-less and produces large, sweet raspberries until late autumn. Three years ago, we had a few raspberries on Christmas Day! Raspberries don’t like too much hot sun and they require a moist soil.
My blueberries are ripening. Blueberries are full of goodness and so delicious when picked fresh. Blueberries need an acidic compost, so I plant mine in peat free ericaceous compost in a large pot. I don’t have a problem with the birds eating my blueberries but I do have to protect the berries from my four legged friend! I let my dog have the odd one or two though as she loves blueberries and I’m certain that they’re good for her! Blueberries need careful watering in the summer as the soil needs to be kept moist at all times.
Lemons – I mentioned in an earlier blog that I’d put some lemon pips in two small pots of compost. They have grown well and are sitting on a sunny windowsill inside. It’ll be about three years before they fruit and a further year for the fruit to ripen – but it’s fun to grow them anyway!
If you are growing herbs – please see my previous Grow Your Own article “Grow Your Own – Tips on Growing Herbs in the Summer”.
With all the watering, feeding, weeding and harvesting – take some time to enjoy your garden – sit outside, relax and admire!