August 2010 Newsletter

It's not too early think about autumn planting onions, shallots and garlic

It's not too early 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 at this time of year and should make a good size before winter.

This years' onion crop should be ready for harvesting. 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 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.

Is something decimating your brassicas?

Is something decimating your brassicas? Have you found they have stems but no green leaves, and look rather skeletal? Then your problem is likely to be pigeons, they love all young brassicas and very carefully nibble away at the tender green bits just leaving the stems and midribs! They can be a particular problem over winter when snow or frost makes other vegetation difficult to find. 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. 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.

There is still time to direct sow autumn and winter vegetables

There is still time to direct 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. As the nights turn cooler they can be covered with fleece or a cloche to encourage a longer cropping period well into the winter months.

Vegetables that can be sown now for over-wintering include spring cabbage, kale and winter hardy lettuce such as winter density which has tender heads rather like a large little gem and winter wonder a tried and tested butterhead variety.

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 – 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!

This year has been a bumper year for soft fruit

This year has been a bumper year for soft fruit, if you don't have any 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 own garden. The flavour of freshly picked fruit cannot be beaten. 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.

It's not easy keeping children amused for the long summer holiday

It's not easy keeping children amused for the long summer holiday so why not find a little corner of the garden for them to try to grow their own food? If there isn't any room to spare in the garden 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! 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 lettuce and 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 a week to ten days! What about something a bit unusual like kohl rabi or mizuna. Children will love watering the seedlings every day, watching as they grow before their very eyes! They will be sampling their first salad leaves and baby radish in about three weeks!

Gardening Tips
Pinch out the tips of runner beans that have reached the end of their support

Pinch out the tips of runner beans that have reached the end of their support to encourage more beans lower down. Are your beans failing to set? If they are 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.

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, if you want to increase your plants peg down some of the runners into the soil or into small pots where they will soon put out roots, they can then be separated from the parent plant and grown on. 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.

Keep an eye open for blight on your potatoes

Keep an eye open for blight on your potatoes. Keeping them well earthed up round the stem can help but watch out 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 all the tops are removed from the area and destroyed before lifting the tubers. Do not let them come into contact with infected material. It is possible to give some protection by regular spraying with a fungicide such as Dithane, but this must be done before plants are affected. To give the best protection they should be sprayed at an interval of 10-14 days, particularly in years of high risk. Spraying will not be effective once the infection has occurred.

Many hardy annuals can be sown in autumn and will over-winter successfully

Many hardy annuals can be sown in autumn and will over-winter successfully. You will be rewarded by an impressive early flowering display next year. Varieties suitable include love-in-a-mist, honesty, limnanthes, calendula and cornflower.

Sow directly into the soil, either by broadcasting (scattering seed over the soil surface) or sowing more precisely in rows, this method makes it easier to tell the seedlings from the weeds. No matter which method you choose, prepare your bed making sure the area to be sown is free of weeds. Plan the area by marking the soil with grit or sand or score the ground with a cane to mark out sowing areas. Rake gently over the soil to cover the seeds and water with a fine rose. You can cover with fleece if winter weather turns exceptionally cold.

In the flower border, dead-head flowers that have gone over, and cut down the spikes of antirrhinum and penstemons when they have finished flowering. Leave seed-heads on some of your plants, they will provide much needed food for birds and also look quite good in the winter garden when interest is sparse.