Happy Lughnasadh! Also known as the feast of Lammas (“loaf mass”) August 1st has been celebrated for centuries as the time of the first grain harvest. There would be great celebrations with fairs, feasting and bonfires. It is high summer, but in the morning the scent of autumn is already in the air and every day is a little shorter.
There is so much deliciousness in the garden and hedgerows to enjoy and store for the winter, even here at Ael Y Bryn where the veg garden is only four months old (almost to the day, I made the first bed on March 31st). As autumn approaches, now is also a “second spring”. During August and September, I’ll be sowing vegetables and herbs for cropping through the winter and into next spring. I’ll add a list of what I am sowing at the end of this blog, but first of all an update from Ael Y Bryn, my Welsh no dig homestead.
The back garden is really coming on. Amazing to think that this was weedy lawn on March 31st and that the fourth bed was made on June 19th. I had hoped to finish off the last beds here, but the weather has been so hot that I decided it can wait for a while. There’s certainly plenty else to do!
Sadly all of my Brussels sprouts plants seem to have been munched whilst I was away. They are one of my favourites. I have some brassica plants coming from Delfland soon: sprouting broccolis, winter cauliflower, kaibroc and kale. These are all transplants that I couldn’t raise myself because I was away at Hampton Court.
I’m very happy with the wild area on the left hand side in the photos, especially the magnificent willow herbs. Really good for wildlife. (The strange grey box houses the oil tank. I’ll paint it a more subtle colour one day.)
The big news is that my polytunnel from First Tunnels is arriving tomorrow, I am so excited. I had wanted a commercial sized one, but that would have required a lot of complicated and expensive planning, so I have opted for a domestic sized tunnel. It’s about the same size as the one I had in my back garden in Somerset, so I know I’ll be able to grow plenty of good food in there.
First Tunnels supplied the allotment sized tunnel for our show garden at Hampton Court, with a specially designed open side so that people could see in – covid social distancing restrictions meant that the public were not allowed to walk through the tunnel. Here Carol Kirkwood is presenting the morning’s weather report for the BBC.
In preparation, I’ve been strimming the orchard grass with my Stihl FSA 56 battery strimmer which I’ve had for a few years now (this particular one doesn’t seem to be manufactured anymore). It had got really long whilst I was away and needs cutting short before the tunnel goes up – I don’t want to be cutting long grass afterwards, too risky for the polythene. The strimmer is light weight, with a battery that lasts around 20 minutes before needing a re-charge.
Of course I check the long grass first before cutting so that nothing is injured.
Whenever I mention strimming publicly I always get comments that I should be scything instead. I would love to be scything instead, but sadly due to my osteoarthritis it’s not something I can do anymore. I left my beautiful scythe at Homeacres with Charles when I moved, so that his team there can use it.
The mown area is much bigger than I’ll need for the polytunnel, but I want to create enough room to give the team from First Tunnels plenty of flexibility about the siting. All of the grass will be raked up and used in the hot bins, it’s a bit too weed-seedy for the regular composters.
I am going to need to move the washing line too. I always have a washing line inside polytunnels for drying clothes on wet days, so there’s be outside washing lines and inside ones too. (This is my rock and roll lifestyle – doing the laundry!)
Unfortunately I fell quite badly in this part of the orchard on Tuesday evening, tripped and went flying, landing on my side. My poor right leg is bruised from the hip to the ankle, and very very (very!) sore. I’m limping quite badly, and needing to rest a lot which is very frustrating at this time of year!
I’ve also been sowing in readiness for undercover planting, and also for outside planting too. On July 19th I sowed multi-sown beetroot, multi-sown spring onions, dill, coriander, lettuces, pak choi, Chinese cabbages, spring cabbages, chervil, basil, radicchios, chicories, kohl rabi, kales, rocket, Florence fennel, Sweet William and wallflowers. Some were sown into seed trays and then pricked out, others sown into modules and they’ll get planted like that. During the heatwave I covered the trays with protective shade mesh which worked brilliantly. Despite soaring temperatures I only needed to water the seed trays once a day. Today I’ll be sowing some dwarf French beans for the polytunnel, too.
It’s too late to sow tomatoes, but I want to have some plants for the polytunnel, so have taken side shoots from the outside tomatoes. Popped in a bucket of water to root, they’ll be potted on and then planted once the compost has arrived for the tunnel. These shoot should produce a small crop, weather permitting. If they don’t then it doesn’t matter because they are free and green tomatoes make fantastic chutney. All of my tomatoes are outside because of going to Hampton Court for over three weeks (they would most likely have died in pots in the greenhouse) and I was surprised to pick some ripe tomatoes yesterday from these outside toms.
This method of growing new plants from side shoots is one way of keeping F1 hybrids for next year, if you have the space. Grown on in pots and kept on frost free windowsill, they’ll be ready to plant next year. I have done this in the past, but won’t be doing it this year as I have enough to do just now 🙂
We’ve been enjoying outdoor life in the orchard, especially now we have the 3 metre bell tent to hang out in. The neighbours here are sheep, and some squirrels which are frustratingly eating all kinds of things I wish they were not, including green apples and strawberries. I don’t mind them eating the bird seed so much, or the unripe hazelnuts as I expected those to go to the squirrels. I’ll be netting the strawberries and am wondering what to do to protect the sweetcorn…
After all of that time away, the experimental beds really need weeding – I have just not had the time. Must get that grass out from the asparagus soon though! I am pleased with the way the plants are growing on hugelette and surprised too as I thought they would dry out during the heatwave, but not at all. Some of the plants have been munched by slugs, but the rhubarb, squash, tomatoes and edamame are growing beautifully.
I’m looking forward to a crop of blueberries soon, they are ripening under the enviromesh – fingers crossed nothing will get there before me! There isn’t much of a soft fruit harvest here this year, due to having just moved, so I have been enjoying eating wild blueberries on the lane and look forward to picking blackberries when they are ripe.
It really is so beautiful here. On July 21st my son Theo and I were walking in the evening and had the pleasure of seeing the almost full moon on Sarn Helen, a nearby Roman road and the sunset from the top of the hill.
What to sow now
If your undercover space is filled with summer crops such as tomatoes and cucumbers, as mine would usually be in August, then wait until early September before sowing. By the time they are ready to transplant, you should have gaps appearing in the polytunnel (greenhouse or cloche) as summer crops finish.
Growing undercover – if you don’t have a polytunnel or greenhouse, make some mini polytunnels using cloche hoops and polythene, or fleece.
Directly into the soil
Carrots – mostly Nantes, Manchester Table Carrot and Autumn King – all undercover (polytunnel, greenhouse, cloche, Vegepod)
Green manures – outside – field beans, agricultural mustard Sinapsis Alba, Caliente mustard and crimson clover.
I use these because none need to be dug in. The mustards and clover will die off in the frosts and the field beans are cut at ground level before harvesting, useful composting materials. Often there isn’t much space for green manures as the beds are usually full, however I use them underneath fruit bushes and places like that, as well as any odd spaces.
land cress, claytonia and purslane – undercover and outside
Radish – undercover and outside – winter hardly varieties: French breakfast, Green Luobo, Black Spanish Round
Sowing into seed trays/modules
I grew lettuces, onions, rocket, mustards, oriental greens and brassicas outside over winter in the beds at Hauser and Wirth (Somerset) with no protection and although frost and snow knocks them back, they still produced a worthwhile crop in the spring. Worth considering if you live in the milder areas of the UK. Riskier in colder, windier and wetter parts, where I would recommend using a cloche cover.
Most of these can be grown on either undercover or outside if you don’t have a polytunnel or similar. Cover young outside veg plants as the weather cools to protect them over winter. It is usually a good idea to net anything that birds, rabbits or deer like to munch on during the winter months.
Dwarf French Beans (Bush Beans) – must be sown in early August to have a chance of cropping and be grown on under cover
Lettuces – mostly Grenoble Red (home saved seed) plus Bronze Arrow, Winter Marvel, Jack ice, Red Iceberg, Winter Marvel
Onions – white lisbon, read beard, bunching onion “Kyoto market”, feast. You can direct sow if you wish.
White Lisbon is especially good value as it produces slender onions ideal for stir fries and salads and then, in later spring, small round onions for cooking.
Herbs – dill, coriander, chervil, parsley (curly and flat leaf), rocket, wild rocket, wasabi rocket, salad rocket
Dill can get knocked out by really bad weather even under cover, the rest are more resistant.
Mustards, salads and oriental greens – red mustard, red frills, Osaka purple mustard greens, Nine headed bird mustard, Golden Frills, Red Frills, Dragon’s Tongue, pak choi, land cress, claytonia and many others
Wonderful for salads (pick leaves small) and stir fries. In the spring, leave some to flower to bring in the beneficial predators.
Pak Choi: Vibrant Joy and Tuushou F1, Green Boy, Santoh Round Leaf Yellow, Tai Sai White Stem
Spinach – viroflex giant spinach, Medania
Chard – any you fancy
Beetroot for leaves – any, they are unlikely to produce roots before bolting, although sometimes you will get baby beets, but will make delicious leaves for salads and cooking.
Endives – En Cornet de Bordeaux, Fine Maraichere, Bianca Riccia da Taglio
Mizuna – Red and pink stem
Funky brassicas and greens – spigariello, Huazontle, Rapa Senza Testa, San Marzano, Green Days Eighty, Wa Wa Cai Choi, Hon Tsai Tai, Broccoli Raab, all kinds of kale: Cavolo Nero, Red Russian, Dazzling Blue, Red Ruffled, True Siberian, Red Ruble
Most of the strange sounding ones are from Real Seeds.
Spring Cabbage – Durham Early, Greyhound, Piacenza, Wheelers Imperial, April
All of these can go outside too but will be later than August sown spring cabbage and may bolt before hearting – not a great worry as they make fabulous spring greens. Under cover, they usually heart unless we have bonkers warm weather in February!
Cauliflowers – summer varieties (that is when they crop), it will say on the packet
Peas – Havel, Douce Provence, Oskar, dwarf sugar peas
Short growing over winter peas are ideal for earlier pickings. These will also grow outside. I prefer peas that don’t need sticks because the polytunnel is also used as a place to dry my washing in the winter (!) but I will try a few taller varieties too.
Plus left over peas – any variety – for pea shoots. I mix up odds and ends of seed packets and sow 3 into a module, or broadcast over a large pot or tray, for picking as salad pea shoots, which are also tasty in stir fries. Fine on window sills and green house shelves, too – a very versatile crop.
You can grow these cheaply from marrow fat peas from supermarkets, but they are sweeter and more vigorous from sugar and regular peas.
Florence fennel – Solaris and Finale are F1 varieties which are very reliable over winter. I also grow Mantovano and Colossale open pollinated Florence fennel.