Hasn’t the month passed quickly? I can hardly believe that it is August on Thursday. Today I’ve been enjoying more of an indoor kind of day, catching up with things at my desk and general chores, because it has – finally, oh joy! – been raining. I love sunshine and warmth, but it has been very dry for my garden and the polytunnel has become so hot.
A very happy soggy garden. A splendid thing about gardening is how joyful gazing at dark July skies filled with rain after a long periods of hot, dry weather can make a person!
I’m not quite so thrilled with the wind though, which has blown a significant number of apples off my old apple tree. Hopefully there’ll be some left tomorrow….
July is such a fruitful month, different fruits ripening one after the other, bright juicy fresh flavours – blackcurrants, white currants, gooseberries, strawberries, Japanese wineberries, early plums, loganberries, tayberries.
I have several blueberry bushes all in pots but only two have fruited this year. As the berries began to darken, I covered them up with enviromesh to protect them from birds. They will strip a blueberry bush in the twinkling of an eye. I don’t mind sharing my other soft fruit with my feathered friends but the blueberries are a treat for us. The environmesh is secured around the pots – the birds can’t get to the fruit and neither can they get tangled up and harmed, as they can with regular bird netting. When protecting crops from wild creatures always make sure that the nets are secure and nothing can become caught.
In the polytunnel, every day brings a new surprise – the ripening of a new variety of tomato:
the first aubergines – it’s not perfect but it was so tasty!
melons transforming from tiny fuzzy babies into fat ripening fruit. The melon patch is a bit of a jumble – some vines grow up twine whilst there rest snake around the ground. I trim the ends off when they try to take over the path.
We’re picking more cucumbers than we can realistically eat in a day, so I’ll start pickling and preserving soon. A favourite this year is Itachi, a white Asian cucumber which is crisp, sweet and flavoursome. It’s very prolific, too.
Every week I am side shooting the cucumbers along with the tomatoes, so that they are growing up one central stem rather in a more organised fashion than the melons.
Sideshooting tomatoes is a funny job: as soon as I have finished I spot more side shoots! Amazing how it stains the fingers, too.
If you wish, you can grow more tomato plants from these side shoots. Simply pop into water and pot on when the roots develop, or push straight into pots of moist compost. This is one way of growing your own extra tomatoes from F1 hybrids – they will come true from the side shoots but not from the seeds of the fruit.
I’m growing sweet potatoes in four different locations this year: the polytunnel, in the back garden in grow bags, at the allotment and I gave some to Charles to grow at Homeacres. His foliage is bigger than mine, he has the magic touch! These sweet potatoes in the polytunnel are looking healthy. I’ll add some pea sticks for them to climb up. Sweet potatoes seem to like that. As a relative of bindweed, the flowers are very similar. Here you can see self-sown purslane popping up between the leaves, a tasty snack but I am careful not to let too many go to seed.
I have been carefully nurturing one Grenoble Red lettuce plant for this year’s seed. During July it flowered, went to seed and is now hanging upside down drying with it’s seed head in a paper bag (to prevent the seeds from falling onto the floor). Once dry and rustling, I’ll harvest the seed and store in a paper bag until September. Grenoble Red is especially good for over wintering and early spring sowing. I think I’ve been saving the seed for 8 years now.
The polytunnel became a nursery for transforming ladybirds, changing from larvae into adult insects on and around a dill plant. One day it was sitting on the stalk, a few days later the transformation was occurring. There were several other ladybirds in various stages close by and I was privileged to witness the emergence of one of this helpful creatures, on the polytunnel roof!
Look at this poor aubergine! The rest are flowering and some producing fruit, this one hasn’t grown at all in weeks. I have watered it and fed it, but it just sits there…
It’s not all good in the polytunnel – part of the left side bed has been very poor, with plants struggling to grow. I am still trying to work out why, but it is where the last of the overwintered crops were and so most likely it is something to do with that area being much drier than everywhere else, especially as the weather warmed up. I have been away often in July too which may not have helped as I wasn’t there to spot any symptoms of sorrow in the young plants.
The two Shiso plants, which were planted on the same day, are only 30 cm apart but the growth is quite different. Still, I am living in hope and willing them on.
Otherwise, the polytunnel is looking great and I am so happy with the productivity.
Outside, I’ve been harvesting courgettes, summer squash and beans. The dry weather caused the peas to finish early so I’ve left the pods on the plants to dry for winter soups and stews. I’ve harvested about half of the potatoes and most of the onions and shallots. Although I’ve planted most of the brassicas for winter and spring cropping, there’s still more to do this weekend once I have cleared the potato bed. They are in pots growing well under mesh to keep off the caterpillars.
What you can’t see here in my front garden beds are young chicory plants. I have half already planted and some more coming on for planting in a few days, which will hopefully stagger the crop.
I also planted some lettuce for hearting in the bed beyond (you can just about see it in the top right hand side) but most of it was frazzled when I went away (again!) to visit my daughter in Cardiff for her graduation. Charles produces so much salad that I don’t grow my own mixed leaves during the summer, just hearting lettuces for roasting and BBQing – yum!
As well as Cardiff, trips this month included RHS Hampton Court, Tatton Park, River Cottage (all work related trips) plus a very exciting outing to Hyde Park on 12th July to see Neil Young and Bob Dylan. We were quite close to the front, had a great view and a wonderful day out. I went with my daughter and one of my oldest friends and her husband, a great day out.
At Homeacres, Charles and I have been busy running courses, sharing no dig harvests and teaching people how to grow their own food, no dig style.