June has lived up to its 'flaming' reputation this year.
June has certainly lived up to its ‘flaming’ reputation this year and has thrown many challenges at us with its extreme heat, wall-to-wall sunshine and three-week drought. The garden and the gardeners have wilted at times, but we have survived and, as I write this, we have at last had some much-needed rainfall.
Much of our month has been spent carrying a watering can or hose as we have been working hard to keep the feet of our plants cool and wet, whilst their heads have been basking in the sunshine. With soaring temperatures such as we have been experiencing, watering during the daytime is pointless as the sun will have evaporated the water long before it has had the chance to reach the roots of the plants. We have been watering in the late evening and early morning; a much more efficient time for the plants and far more comfortable for the gardener. All around the garden, pots have been watered daily by watering can, with a weekly seaweed feed included to keep them healthy and productive.
Our courgettes and squash plants like a lot of water so we have sunk a plastic plant pot at the base of each plant and have been filling the plant pots with water on a daily basis. This directs the water at the roots where it is needed rather than the top of the soil where it can quickly dry out. These crops have thoroughly enjoyed the conditions and are rapidly putting on growth and fruits.
Our brassicas have been in the ground for a while now and their roots are well established. We have been watering them twice a week and they have comfortably survived the heatwave. As soon as rain was forecast we sprinkled a dressing of fish, blood and bone on the soil around their roots. This will now have been washed in and they will enjoy a good feed along with the welcome drink nature has given them.
Our potato crop is at a crucial time in its development. The plants have flowered which is a good sign that the tubers have set. They now need plenty of water to allow the tubers to swell into good sized potatoes. We have dug a couple of early potato plants up for a taster and they are delicious but still a little on the small side. Watering potatoes is a delicate operation as the tubers will appreciate the water, but moisture on the leaves can lead to the dreaded blight. To avoid this, we have laid out soaker hoses in the channels between each row and have turned this on at night.
In the wider ornamental gardens, we don’t usually need to water any of the plants grown in the ground, unless they are new additions that are still settling in. Our soil is improved year-on-year with home-made compost and leaf mould which helps it to retain moisture. This year has been the exception and long-established plants have wilted in the heat. These have been treated to the sprinklers to give them a soaking and this has been followed up with a mulch of bark chippings or strulch to help seal the moisture in.
It never ceases to surprise me how easily the weeds thrive and grow so fast in conditions that leave other plants struggling. This year has been no exception. The weeds have been growing rapidly in the dry soil, so the hoe has been a constant companion this month. Thankfully they are easy to deal with, hoed off and left to shrivel up with the hot sunshine.
As we near the end of June, the fruit harvest is rewarding all of our efforts. We have been picking dark red, juicy strawberries for a number of weeks now and they are particularly sweet this year. They have really enjoyed the hot summer weather and are still fruiting as I write. In the past couple of days we have started harvesting blackcurrants, redcurrants, raspberries and the first of the blueberries have begun to ripen. A delicious treat for all of our hard work in hot conditions.
Inside the greenhouse, the windows and doors have been left constantly open for most of the month and the shading has been pulled down. As well as watering the plants daily, we have been damping down the floor a couple of times a day to keep the environment cooler and more humid. The capillary matting on the greenhouse staging has also helped with this. The crops are thriving, particularly the sun-lovers such as aubergines, peppers and chillies. We have already harvested two aubergines and many more fruits have set promising a good harvest ahead. Yesterday we harvested the first of our tomatoes and in the last week we have delivered no less than seven cucumbers to the kitchen, from just three plants!
As the month draws to a close, we have begun to harvest our broad beans and climbing French beans. We prefer our broad beans to picked as large pods so that each individual bean inside can be peeled before cooking. Our French bean plants, late to get started following the late frost that damaged some of them, are nearly two-thirds of the way up their support. They have beans setting right at the bottom of the plants and we have already picked several handfuls as a taste of what it to come. The rhubarb is growing as we watch and we are still providing the kitchen with huge bundles for cooking and freezing. By mid-July the harvesting period will be over and the plants will be left to rest and recuperate, so we are making the most of what we can pick now.
The weather has kept us busy for most of the month simply with watering, feeding and harvesting alone. Large tasks that we would normally carry out in June, such as trimming the box hedges, have been delayed; not only because of time but also because scorching sunshine is not good for a freshly trimmed hedge, particularly one that is still recovering from blight. These jobs can wait for more ‘normal’ summer conditions that will hopefully follow in the coming weeks. It is always important to remember that gardening books and guides can tell you the optimum time for certain jobs, but when mother nature delivers more unusual conditions a gardener needs to tweak those rules and guidelines for the benefit of the plants and themselves. It will all work out in the end.
Here are some of the jobs we’ve got planned for July in Stephanie’s Kitchen Garden:
- Apply nemaslug to the soil.
- Feed crops regularly.
- Trim box hedges.
Sow pak choi, salads, peas, beetroots and carrots.
- Keep watering when conditions are dry.
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