What a contrast with last year. Cool nights and grey days slowed down the garden’s growth for weeks but now sunshine and warmth is providing a much needed summery energy to my home kitchen garden.
I’m loving all of the fresh flavours from the garden: different kinds of peas, courgettes, cabbage, broccoli, wild rocket, new potatoes, edible flowers, first nibbles of basil and the very occasional tomato (4 so far!) Autumn sown broad beans have finished now but I am still picking the spring sown varieties. It’s been broad beans in everything for weeks now!
Spring sown broad beans are more likely to suffer from aphid damage than autumn sown. Ensuring a supply of forage and habitats for hoverflies, ladybirds and other beneficial predators really helps to keep aphid numbers down. My back garden is a rich polyculture, with perennial and annual fruit, herbs, vegetables and flowers growing together. This diversity encourages a wide range of predatory insects and birds to set up home in and around my garden.
In this view from my back door during a day of heavy showers you can see some of the mixed planting in the perennial beds including a medlar tree, plum tree, roses, a clematis, gladioli, perennial kale, strawberries, herbs, different perennial alliums… behind the trees is asparagus with lovage and sweetcorn growing beside it, self-sown poppies amongst the fronds. For most of the year there is something flowering.
The garden boundary is the hedge – on the other side is my neighbour Audrey’s garden. Adjacent to this bed you can see some of the pots (the medlar is in one, a raspberry in another) on top of an area of concrete which has been there since the 1970s. At the moment a jumble of seed trays and pots are waiting to be put away when there’s time. Around 10 days ago I injured my eye bringing in the washing of all things (domestic tasks are dangerous!!) – a vest strap caught around the top of a caper spurge euphorbia. Tugging to remove it, a seed filled euphorbia head shot off and hit me right on the corner of my eye. Ouch! I was very lucky that it was the hard seed head that hit me and not the toxic sap-filled stalk or my tale could have been far worse. My eye was spared but the area around had puffed up by the next morning and I sported a black eye for almost a week: it was painful and slowed me down gardening. All is well now.
Back to my aphid story, few weeks ago – also whilst hanging out the washing, my life is so wild – I noticed that an elderberry growing alongside the fence was thick with black fly. It looked really unsightly and horrible. In this area I grow different kinds of fruit with an underplanting of yellow archangel, wild strawberries and various bulbs and other flowers. It’s a pretty area, and this looked rather unsightly in contrast. Closer inspection to take photos revealed unexpected treasure – ladybird eggs! Mother ladybird had chosen this food-filled spot for her young. The beneficial predators were moving in to feast.
A few days later I noticed a lot of bee activity here too. Just as ants do, the bees were feeding on the honeydew excreted by aphids. If you have aphid damage on your fruit bushes and trees, watch and see what happens – soon it could be buzzing with delighted bees.
These examples show the benefits of not spraying your plants with anything against aphids, not even home-made potions, if you possibly can. I have aphids on some fruit bushes but almost none on the spring sown broad beans in that area.
A few weeks later and there are very few aphids on the elder, none of the nearby plants have been harmed and other plants, including spring sown broad beans, have almost no aphids. The juicy banquet in my edible hedge seems to have created a lovely balance (long may it last!)
Another job which I hadn’t got round to yet was putting up new wires for the fence growing fruit, including grapes and fruit vines. I’d been using natural string but of course over time this had rotted away. Attaching wires to fence posts during a time of vigorous growth is not ideal, especially as some of the bushes are full of prickles (roses, gooseberries) and it’s quite a fiddly task to do by oneself. I managed to fasten 4 strands of wire along approximately 2/3 of the fence, but then ran out, so the rest of the job will have to be finished with string as I’m unlikely to get to the shops any time soon, (to be replaced with wire in the winter).
The fence will quickly fill up with grapes and berries, including loganberries, tayberries and thornless blackberries. We’ve been picking our first loganberries – yum! Also ripening in the garden are blackcurrants, strawberries and raspberries – white currants and blueberries very soon!
Tomatoes, cucumbers and some of the melons are coming on now in the polytunnels after being very slow when the nights were so cool, but many of the aubergines are so far behind. I’m hoping they’ll catch up. Basil in modules in the greenhouse simply didn’t grow – eventually I turned on the heat mats, which seems a crazy thing to do in June. They are now planted, much smaller than usual and look so tiny between the tomatoes. I have some larger sweet basil plants from Charles, whose greenhouse is newer and more insulated than my ancient old thing. I’m pondering what to do about that greenhouse, which was falling apart when I moved here 18 years ago
I popped in tiny modules of edible flowers too – the first lot died when I was working away so these are a later re-sowing. I’m heartened by the blue butterfly peas, which looked so yellow and sad, finally perking up and putting on growth. Coriander and fennel, now growing for seed, are almost ready for harvest and a Grenoble Red lettuce growing on for seed is starting to flower.
The Dalefoot compost mulch is doing a great job so far of conserving moisture. The top few millimetres dry out, but underneath the soil is moist. Now I water by hand mostly using a hose, it is too risky to use the sprinkler – wet tomato leaves are more susceptible to blight, which we don’t have in the area yet but it is still a sensible precaution as the weather became warm and damp.
Sacre Bleu, an unusual bean with deep blue seeds, was module sown and then planted as little plants into the polytunnel. I want to be able to save seeds from this bean, so it’s undercover to help prevent any risk of cross pollination and to ensure the beans dry if the autumn is damp. I’m also trialling Cow Peas in the polytunnel: these like a hot climate, I’ve not tried them before.
An abundant garlic harvest of elephant and regular garlic needs a good clean up and the roots cut off before storing. I love the purslane, so juicy, but need to make sure it is all removed before it goes to seed – that stuff really can spread!
Multi-sown module beetroot has been planted at the allotment and also my work kitchen garden at Roth Bar and Grill. At the allotment it is at risk from small birds, so I’ve covered it with enviromesh. Everything else is now on the potting bench under the apple tree, where it is more shaded because Charles and I are off to Sweden for a few days. Theo (my younger son home from Manchester university) will be taking care of them. If the weather is hot, they’ll need watering twice a day.
Happy midsummer gardening thoughts – may your gardens be abundant and harvests plentiful.