There’s lots going on this month in the world of growing crops. Whether you’re a keen allotmenteer or growing your own vegetables for the first time – you’ll be busy in July keeping on top of your crops and harvesting.
(If a rainy start in July) Watering is important, and even with frequent showers, you need to water to get sufficient moisture to the roots. A lot of rain water is not used by the plant due to run-off and evaporation.
(If a dry start to the month) Water frequently, especially during dry periods and consider adding a layer of mulch to the soil surface. The mulch carpet helps locks the moisture in the soil, so less is lost to evaporation. Watering morning and evening is best rather than midday.
Strike the perfect balance of harvesting your well-tended crops and preparing for the season ahead.
Top jobs for July
Take note of the June drop
Rest assured – there is normally sufficient fruit left on the trees for a good harvest in autumn. And because there’s less than the maximum quantity of apples, the remaining fruit will be more likely to grow large and there’ll be less chance of disease build-up.
Late June to early July is the peak season for the drop, but you might notice some more dropping as July goes on. Clear away the fallen fruitlets to prevent diseases forming, and review the remaining number of fruits on the tree.
Although the June drop is a natural process, fruit trees might shed their crop because of dehydration or lack of nitrogen. To prevent this, add general fertiliser in spring such as Bio-Gro Black Gold.
Also apply a thick mulch in spring to lock in the soil moisture.
Grow green manures
It might be that there’s insufficient nitrogen in the soil, the nutrient that plants use much of to promote good leafy growth.
‘Green manures’ are crops that you grow in the season to organically introduce nitrogen into the soil. Plants, including lupins and clovers, have special structures on their roots which process nitrogen into a nutrient that plants can access through the roots.
When they have matured, just dig them into the soil. Not only will you be introducing nitrogen organically into the soil, you’ll be improving the soil texture too by introducing oxygen and beneficial decomposers to the soil.
Keep on top of pests
As strawberries ripen, birds such as jackdaws and other crows may be seen sampling the fruit. You can protect your fruit with bird netting and cages, to keep birds away without harming them.
Mammals too have a habit of sampling crops. Muntjacs, Chinese water deer, and other deer species favour woody stems and can be seen to nibble fruit canes of currants and raspberries. Again, surrounding crops with protective cages is an effective preventative measure.
Badgers are keen on sweetcorn crops and mice favour newly planted seeds, so individual cloches are also advisable.
Cabbage white butterflies lay eggs on the underside of leafy brassica crops. The emerging caterpillars then have a ready source of food in the leaves. You can destroy these eggs by hand or apply an ovicide.
Keep aphids away from young green stems too; introducing a ladybird population, natural aphid-eaters, may be a good idea near your vegetable plot, or alternatively apply an insecticide.
For soil-dwelling pests that attack roots, apply a nematode solution. Nematodes are naturally-occurring microscopic organisms that attack grubs in the soil. Its victims include carrot fly.
There’s a number of varieties you can try like curly-leaf varieties and spear varieties and you’ll soon know which ones you favour. The art of acquiring good kale for the kitchen is in the harvesting- choosing the leaves at the right stage and harvesting to encourage further growth.
Position young plants in July in their permanent place at 45cm (18in) apart, once the seedlings are about 10cm (4in) high, and compact the soil well once planted. They’ll grow in most soils that are well-drained so consider this when planting. Add bulky compost or manure beforehand to improve the drainage of the soil.
Add lime to soil before sowing or planting if the soil is particularly acidic. You can find out if the soil is acidic by buying pH soil kits.
In their final position, you only need to water in particularly dry weather. As they are relatively succulent, Kale holds water naturally – just be aware of particularly dry spells.
Choose a relatively sunny spot for kale to grow and thrive. Towards the end of autumn you can protect Kale to a degree by earthing up soil around the base of plants – this protects against winter frost and wind.
Growing kale is relatively easy, it’s the harvesting that requires a bit of skill. At the end of autumn pick the leaves at the crown of the plant removing the more succulent younger leaves. Either use a knife to remove leaves or tug downwards.
Removing these top young leaves will encourage side shoots to appear. These side-shoots then can be harvested using the same method from late winter.
You can store kale in the fridge for up to three days in as airless an environment as possible.
Plant Oriental vegetables outdoors
Try these vitamin-rich vegetables for a crop in autumn. They grow fast so make a convenient gap-filler between early season and winter crops when there’s space in the allotment or vegetable plot. They’re also great in their own right and make good container-grown greens and root vegetables too.
Try this specially-chosen collection;
Chinese Broccoli Kailaan - Similar flavour to European broccoli but on a rather more refined plant with all parts edible. From deliciously tender stems and leaves, to buds and flowers.
Pak Choi Glacier - Glacier is a brand new, British bred Pak Choi. It has white stems with contrasting deep green leaves. Ideally suited to vagaries of the British climate. It is slow to bolt with a long growing season. Use as a baby leaf for salads or whole head for crisp, tasty stirfries.
Baby Chinese Cabbage Wa Wa Sai - A choice new baby Chinese cabbage that can be grown closely spaced. Use as baby leaves for crunchy salads and allow to grow on to form succulent hearts for use in tasty stir-fries.
Radish Pink Dragon- This oriental radish has a long cylindrical root which has excellent cold resistance. It has the potential to reach a very large size (up to 50cm!) but can be harvested from about 15cm long.
When young and tender it is perfect for grating to add to salads, more mature plants cane be steamed, boiled or stir fried.
Plant of the month – Swiss chard
Chard is a great vegetable to grow and of course – to eat. It’s a leafy vegetable, similar in taste and texture to spinach, but with a fuller flavour. It’s ornamental too – with its brightly coloured red or yellow veins and can be combined plants in a colourful flowerbed.
What’s more it’s relatively immune to garden pests and diseases – which gives it further appeal.
How to grow Chard
Sow seeds direct outdoors from April to the end of August. By staggering your sowing every two week in this time you can get a great crop nearly all year round. Sow seeds at spacing of 10cm in little trenches. Choose a spot that gets full sun or even a little shade.
Germination time: up to 1 ½- 2 weeks .When the seedlings are about 5cm, thin to spacings of 30cm apart.
Though Chard will be happy with any reasonable soil, it will prefer a soil which has had manure or bulky compost incorporated into it, so the soil is nutrient-rich. Incorporating compost or manure is a good job to do in autumn or winter on a crisp, sunny day.
Two weeks prior to sowing, a fertiliser to the soil for a boost.
Mulch in late spring with a layer of compost to conserve moisture and add some nutrients to the soil.
Water weekly during the summer and more frequently in particularly warm spells. Mulch will conserve water, but a fortnightly watering regime will be greatly appreciated.
Raise Chard in an area that enjoys full sun or a little shade. Chard copes well in dry weather too, so it’s worth bearing this in mind if your site is susceptible to full sun.
Harvesting and storing Chard
Harvests can start from mid-summer after June and continue through to the next year. Once winter makes an appearance though, cover your chard plants with fleece to protect against frost and harvest as and when you need it.
Chard does not store particularly well (staying fully fresh for only a couple of days in the fridge), However the elongated harvest period means storing isn’t particularly required.
Best Varieties of Chard
‘Bright Lights’ – Great for salad and stir-fries. Its bright stems make it fit for the ornamental border too.
‘Fordhook’ - A heavily savoyed chard with dark green leaf blades that cook quickly to a tasty soft spinach.
A disease that attacks tomatoes and potato plants (both in the same plant family) and other ornamental relatives of these like climbing potato vine and petunias.
How do I recognise it?
On tomato and potato plants, a brown rot affects the stems, tomato fruits and potato tubers, spreading quickly and causing plants to collapse. It spreads more quickly in wet weather.
What can I do?
If you see this disease in your tomato crops or your potato crops, be sure to remove the plants and dispose of them in normal waste. Do not compost the affected material. Alternatively burn the affected material.
If you have affected potato plants dig well around the plants to remove all the potatoes in the ground, which you will need to dispose of.
In spring the following year, dig the soil again to check for more potatoes which you will need to remove.
Be sure not to grow potatoes in the same location for at least four years. Grow potatoes or tomatoes elsewhere, or if that’s not possible, grow in containers or Gro- Sacks.
There are varieties of tomatoes and potatoes that are resistant to blight. This doesn’t mean they are immune, but at least less likely to pick up the disease.
Resistant tomatoes include: ‘Ferline’, ‘Legend’ and ‘Fantasio’.
Resistant potatoes include ‘Cara’, ‘Kondor’, ‘Orla’ and ‘Valor’.
In particularly wet summers, when blight is rife, you can protect leaves and stems with a copper-container fungicide like Fruit and Vegetable Disease Control.
Come to the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, the world’s largest flower show, (from 30 Jun- 5 July) and help celebrate the show’s silver anniversary. There loads for adults and children to enjoy. In the Feast Zone, look out for the Hougoumont Kitchen Farm inspired by the bicentenary of the outbreak of the Battle of Waterloo. And keep your eye out for the feature Living, Growing Saving which demonstrates how crops can be grown on moveable pallets. Food for thought!
RHS Flower Show Tatton Park is the place to be for carnival fun and budding gardeners on 22-26 July. Here’s where the RHS Young Designer of the Year final takes place – this year on the theme of the ‘English Country Garden’ showcasing the best of up-and-coming talent in garden-design. And watch out for the Discover and Grow feature; which has tips and demonstrations on all things ‘growing your own’. It’s the perfect day out for all the family.
You can now order Autumn and Winter Cropping Brassicas. Some of your crops have come to the end of their harvestable life, so now’s a good time to clear those areas of the vegetable plot, ready for the crops that will give you late season harvests.
You can order these late-season vegetables now, and they’ll be delivered to you by end of July ready to plant at the ideal time in August.