Lots of sunshine & lots of watering

Stephanie's Kitchen Garden Diary - 24th July 2015

allotment bedWe have been enjoying a heatwave in Stephanie’s Kitchen Garden this month.  The vegetable beds have been basking in glorious summer sunshine and we have been working hard to make sure the crops haven’t suffered by giving them lots of water and food. As a result everything in the garden is thriving – including the gardeners!

In particular our tender crops are really relishing the summer weather. It was a slow start for many crops but as soon as the temperatures began to soar they started to look much happier. Our sweet potato plants are really starting to put on some growth and have been tied in to their obelisk supports. Our runner beans and climbing French beans, despite looking a little sick after they were first planted out, have now reached the top of their supports and are flowering in abundance. At the time of writing we have just picked our first French beans.

We have also harvested our onions, shallots and garlic this month. The long, hot, dry days made it easy to dry them out and prepare them for storage. Our garlic was a good size, despite suffering from an attack of rust shortly prior to harvest. This was plaited and is now hung in the pantry ready for use. The onions and shallots have been hung alongside them in net bags.

Of course, the crops are not the only plants to benefit from the current conditions- weeds enjoy them too. We regularly hoe our beds to keep them free of weeds. Weeds can take hold really quickly at this time of year and will take the goodness out of the soil, robbing our crops of precious nutrients so it’s really important to keep on top of them. Plus they look unsightly and at Stephanie’s, we like things neat and tidy.

July has seen the big annual blackcurrant harvest in the fruit cage. This is such a low maintenance crop, with the bushes needing very little attention through the year. We harvested two big trugs full of fruit and have been busy making delicious organic jam to stock up our cupboards. Our blueberries and tayberries have also been amazing this year, making up for the disappointment of losing our strawberry crop to the mice. Our summer raspberries are still very young plants, yielding only a small amount of fruit. This month we gave them a generous dose of poultry manure to encourage the new canes to grow which will bear next year’s crop. These have been tied into the supports.

All of this harvesting has freed up space in our vegetable beds which our squash plants are currently trying to take over! We have,trial cage however, made the space for two new identical vegetable cages. One is covered with white insect mesh and the other in covered with new black insect mesh. We are running a trial to see if the plants grow differently according to the colour of the mesh.  The cages are being planted up with exactly the same crops so that we can compare growth. Currently they are home to newly planted broccoli plants with cabbages to follow. We love the look of the new black insect mesh so are keen for it to perform well We have already started using it elsewhere in the Kitchen Garden and it seems to be going well.   We have really enjoyed the sight of cabbage white butterflies trying so hard to get at our beautiful sprout plants, knowing full well that they will be unsuccessful. Very satisfying!

Even more satisfying this month, was the pruning of our espalier apple trees. Summer is the ideal time to carry out this annual job and our apple trees had put on an enormous amount of growth this year. They were definitely ready for a haircut! Side shoots from the main horizontal branches were pruned to around 3 inches long or 3 leaves up from the base. Any new growth on established sideshoots was pruned back to 1 inch long, or 1 leaf from the base. Now that we have our new arch support in place, we left new sideshoots at the top of the stem to make further horizontal levels on the tree. These were tied in to the wires and left to grow until they reach the end of the supports. It is likely that more new growth will appear over the coming weeks, so we may do a further pruning in September to make sure the trees keep their shape and focus their energies on producing fruiting spurs next year. Pruning the espaliers is one of my favourite jobs of the year apple espalieras it neatens them up and reveals the fruit, which will enjoy being exposed to the sun.

Inside the greenhouse, the crops are also enjoying the heatwave.   We have our real sun lovers, such as peppers , chillies and aubergines on one side, and our tomatoes, cucumbers and seedlings on the other.   This means we can pull the blinds down on one side on really sunny days and leave the others basking in full hot sunshine. During the day, we regularly wet the floor with a can full of water to keep the humidity levels high.

Our cucumber plants are currently attempting to take over the whole greenhouse and we have been tying these in to the roof bars. This gives them plenty of room to grow and casts dappled shade onto the tomatoes below. You need a small step ladder to harvest the cucumbers though... The tomatoes have now reached the top of their supports and set six trusses of fruit on each plant. We have pinched out the tips of the plants to stop them from growing any larger and to allow them to concentrate their energy into ripening the fruit. Our beefsteak tomatoes were groaning under the weight of the huge fruits, so these were pinched out with three trusses per plant.

With all the hustle and bustle of the summer harvesting and watering, it is so easy to get carried away and forget to sow seeds to fill the ground in the autumn and winter, so at this time of year we usually order a vegetable garden pack to be delivered. It’s always a moment of excitement to open the box and discover the baby plants that will feed us over the coming months and saves us having to find the space for copious seed trays in an already packed greenhouse! Most of the plants will go straight into the garden, but some will be potted up and spend some time in the cold frame while we wait for gaps to appear.

Here are some of the jobs we've got planned for August in Stephanie's Kitchen Garden:

  • Apply nemslug to all beds.
  • Continue to water and feed all crops.
  • Prune the pear trees on the pear arch.
  • Cut back excess leaves on tomatoes to let light to the fruit.

We're always here to offer advice and support. Go to the Ask the Expert section on the website and Email Horticultural Advisor Jo Blackwell with your Kitchen Garden queries or Pest Control expert Gavin Hatt and they'll do their best to help!

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Happy gardening!