August 2011 Newsletter

There is still time to sow autumn and winter vegetables

There is still time to sow autumn and winter vegetables such as chinese cabbage, kohl rabi, radish, spinach, spring onions and salad leaves. They are all quick growing and you can begin cropping while they are very young. One of the best salad mixes for overwintering is Provencale Salad Mix it has a good mix of winter hardy varieties to give you pickings over a long period. As the nights turn cooler cover your crop with fleece or a cloche to encourage a longer cropping period well into the winter months.

Sow vegetables for over-wintering now such as spring cabbage, kale and winter hardy lettuce such as Winter Density which has tender heads.

It's not to early to think about Autumn Planting Onions Shallots and Garlic

It's not to early to think about Autumn Planting Onions Shallots and Garlic to make sure you can get your first choice of varieties for the earliest crops next year. Onion sets root quickly in the warm damp soil in the autumn and should make a good size before winter. Autumn planted Garlic likes a period of cold weather which helps to initiate the side buds which will eventually swell to form the cloves.

If you haven't already lifted your onion crop it should be ready for harvesting now. Once the leaves have fallen over and are beginning to die down, lift the bulbs with a fork and leave them on the surface of the ground for a few days before cleaning most of the soil from the base and laying out on a wire tray or rack for several weeks to dry thoroughly. Make sure that the neck of the bulb is thoroughly dry as this will help give a longer storage life. Once lifted if the weather is wet lay the bulbs on a greenhouse bench with plenty of air flow or in a dry shed or garage.

Have your cabbages been attacked? Are you left with stems but no green leaves

Have your cabbages been attacked? Are you left with stems but no green leaves, making them look rather skeletal? Then your problem is probably pigeons, they love all young brassicas and very delicately and carefully nibble away at the tender green bits just leaving the stems and midribs! In gardens a lot of the damage is done very early in the morning so it may be difficult to spot them actually feeding. The easiest way to protect your crops is to cover them with netting. A simple frame over the bed to support the netting is very effective. A simple frame can be made with garden canes and Figo Connectors will join just about any size of cane from 8mm to 16mm. Create your frame and simply drape your netting over the top and secure at the bottom. If insect netting is used instead of bird netting it will protect against just about everything that would love to dine on your crops.

If you prefer not to net your plants, 'Grazers' is an effective way help keep grazing birds or animals away from your crops. It works quite simply by making the plant most unpalatable to them. It has been used by farmers for quite a while with great success and is now available in a size suitable for the home gardener.

Grazers must be applied to the foliage of any growing plant where it is taken in systemically. Because it is nutrient based, it can be sprayed safely on ornamental, shrubs, bedding, fruit or vegetable and lawns. It will in fact help repair any damage already caused. It is odourless to the human nose, and safe for pets. Grazers being trace element based is beneficial to the plant and can be sprayed safely even on young plants at the earliest growth stage. It is effective against pigeons, rabbits, deer, geese and other grazing animals.

The vegetable garden will be providing copious amounts of produce now

The vegetable garden will be providing copious amounts of produce now, courgettes, tomatoes, beetroot, onions, lettuce, cucumber - the list of bounty is endless. It is important to keep cropping regularly - the whole grow your own idea is to harvest when really young, tender and really fresh – something supermarkets cannot achieve, no matter how hard they try! It is better to freeze or give away to friends and neighbours than allow your runner beans (for example) to go stringy and beany – nobody enjoys them like that and also the more you pick the more they keep coming. Small courgettes and beetroot have the best flavour of all and what could be sweeter than carrots the size of your little finger – picked, washed, steamed and eaten, all in the space of an hour - my mouth's watering already!

If you don't have any soft fruit in your garden yet

If you don't have any soft fruit in your garden yet you are missing out on one of the true delights of the English summer – picking your own raspberries and strawberries fresh from your plot the flavour of which just cannot be beaten. There is a large range of soft fruit suitable for the home gardener and you don't need a large area either, Raspberries, Gooseberries and Currants can be grown against a sunny wall or fence and strawberries grow well in a large container, you just need to make sure they are well watered. The juicy red-purple fruits of Boysenberry have a unique flavour reminiscent of good old fashioned wild brambles. It is a cross between a blackberry, loganberry and raspberry and is very easy to grow in most soil conditions. Once established it tolerates dry conditions and is usually ready to pick from July to late August.

If you are a fan of berry fruits then try to make room for a Jostaberry. This hybrid bush is a cross between a gooseberry and a blackcurrant and has all the best attributes of both. Unlike other currants the leaves have no scent (so it doesn't smell as though next doors tomcat has been visiting your garden!). It is resistant to American gooseberry mildew, gall mite, blackcurrant leaf spot and big bud mites making it an excellent choice for organic gardeners. It reliably produces very large crimson-black fruits on a vigorous bush with no thorns. The fruits are very nutritious and are particularly rich in vitamin C. They make wonderful jams, jellies, pies and crumbles.

Why not find a little corner of the garden for the children to try to grow their own food?

Why not find a little corner of the garden for the children to try to grow their own food? If there isn't any room to spare, find some containers – anything can be used to grow plants - in fact as far as children are concerned the wackier the container the more they'll enjoy filling it with compost and planting it up! Old wooden boxes, buckets, saucepans - what about dad's old wellies that are mouldering in the back of the garage - just the thing for a few carrots! If push comes to shove and you can't find anything just roll down the top of a strong bin liner or empty compost bag, fill with compost and hey presto! One large planter for next to nothing! Just make sure there are some holes in the bottom of any container for drainage.

The key to keeping kids interested is quick results - so bear that in mind when buying seeds for them to grow, especially at this time of year. There are lots of quick grow seeds that can still be sown now - cut and come again salad leaves with a mix of colours, shapes and textures is always a good one. Radishes, spinach and carrots will also germinate quickly in the warm weather and be showing their first leaves after just a week to ten days! They love to water them every day and watch them grow before their very eyes! They will be able to sample their first salad leaves and baby radish in about three weeks!

Gardening Tips
Potato blight has been a major problem over the last few years

Potato blight has been a major problem over the last few years. Keeping them well earthed up round the stem can help but do keep an eye open for the first tell-tale signs which are brown or black spots at the tips and margins of leaves. The patches may enlarge and the leaves start to curl and wither with brown patches appearing on the stems. Spread can be rapid throughout the aerial parts of the plant before spreading to the tubers which can then be invaded by secondary infections causing them to rot and give off a foul smell!

All may not be lost if you act as soon as you spot the first signs of the disease. By cutting off all the stems above ground level you may well halt the spread of infection before it reaches the tubers. Make sure the tops are removed from the area and destroyed before lifting the tubers. It is possible to give some protection by regular spraying with a fungicide such as Fruit & Vegetable Disease Control, but this needs be done before plants are affected. To give the best protection they should be sprayed at an interval of 10-14days, particularly in years of high risk. Spraying will not be effective once the infection has occurred.

Keep picking raspberries, and gooseberries

Keep picking raspberries, and gooseberries this month, not forgetting to look after the plants. When you have picked the last of your summer raspberries you can safely cut down all the fruiting stems to ground level. Tie in the new shoots, if you have too many new stems cut some of these out too, you will have fewer stems but bigger and better fruit next year.

Tidy up the strawberry bed too, cut back any unwanted runners, trim the foliage on the main plants and remove all dead and yellow leaves. On gooseberries cut back the main shoots and side-shoots to five leaves - this will encourage fruiting shoots for next year.

Plants grown in pots and containers

Plants grown in pots and containers are at risk of damage from vine weevil at this time of year. The adults feed on the leaves of many herbaceous plants and shrubs, leaving tell-tale, irregular notches on the leaf edges. This can look unsightly but rarely does any lasting damage. The true culprit is the vine weevil larvae living in the soil. It feeds on roots and bores holes in tubers and plant stems, causing devastating damage to many plants. The grubs over-winter in the pots then emerge as young adults in late spring/early summer to begin the whole process over again! By using a biological control such as Nemasys twice a year – in the autumn (to control the larvae from eggs laid in the summer) and again in spring, you break the cycle and can maintain healthy container plants.

Pinching out the tips of runner beans that have reached the end of their support

Pinching out the tips of runner beans that have reached the end of their support will encourage more beans lower down. If your beans are failing to set there could be several reasons, are you watering enough? During dry weather, the flowers often fall off instead of producing a good crop of beans. Make sure they get a really good soaking to the roots at least twice a week. It is perfectly normal for runner beans to produce more flowers than can possibly grow into beans, up to half the flowers will not develop. Another reason could be a lack of pollinating insects. To encourage more bees and insects to your vegetable plot sow nectar rich plants nearby, such as Limnanthes (Poached Egg Plant) or a patch of Bee Margin Mix. When they come for the nectar they will visit your beans and other plants and pollinate them at the same time.

You can still make a late sowing of quick growing Dwarf French Beans - Pongo is an excellent variety for late sowing and will give good results for a late harvest.