This week we are back in the vegetable garden to look at growth towards the end of the season and to make sure we get the best possible harvests before the cold weather arrives. While August can seem early to think about winter and preparing your soil next year, being active in the garden now will pay dividends next spring.
I touch briefly on improving your soil but will go into more detail in a following post; just remember, if you need to add bulky material for next season, it is much more pleasant to do it in relatively warm August/September weather rather than in sideways November wind and rain.
Late August garden update
I don't know what August had been like so far in your garden but I certainly hope it is better than it has been in mine. Early August is almost guaranteed to be wet here in the north west (although this seems to be lost on some people when booking their cycling holidays) so no big surprise there but this year conditions were more like a tropical monsoon.
I don't like seeing very heavy rain at any time in the garden as it can do a lot of damage but I get especially antsy in August when I have more bare soil than normal. August is a transition month in the garden when crops like peas, garlic, onions or the last of the early potatoes are harvested leaving empty beds which are either replanted for a follow on crop (whether edible or a green manure) or fed and protected for the winter.
It may seem early in the season but if you don't have a follow on crop to go into the ground I would highly recommend covering with a layer of well rotted manure or garden compost and, if you have wet winters, covering the whole lot with a layer of mypex or other sheeting to prevent nutrients being washed out. We can supply bulk bags of organic compost which is ideal added to a depth of 4-5cm.
The reason I like to get beds covered as soon as possible (if not using them for something else) is that existing nutrients in the soil are preserved, next season's nutrients rot down and are incorporated by earthworms and new weed growth (and the resulting weed seeds) is prevented.
Harvesting Onions The image above and at the top of the page shows of part of my onion harvest for this year; the red onions above are Redspark F1, the beautiful (and delicious) torpedo shaped bulbs at the top of the page are the Italian heritage variety 'Long red Florence'.
As I may have mentioned in an earlier post, red onions are more prone to bolting (running to seed) than white onions, especially in a cold spring. Red onions grown from seed are less likely to bolt than those grown from sets which is why I now grow all my red onions from seed with excellent results. The number of bolted onions of either red variety this year was a very satisfying 0.
By the way, onions grown from seed are usually smaller than those grown from sets (the sets have a head start) but, if you have the time and space to germinate seed early (onions are sown in early March), I think the overall quality of the onions is better. If you want big bruisers like the 'Sturon' above to impress your friends you are better off growing from sets.
Calabrese Green Sprouting Of course every cloud literally has a silver lining as wet weather later in the season will suit members of the brassica (cabbage) family down to the ground, I think I mentioned this a couple of week ago with regard to sprouts. All my brassicas are flying along including the green sprouting broccoli pictured above.
The more popular F1 hybrid calabrese varieties ('Green Magic F1', 'Marathon F1') produce one very large head followed by a number of mini heads once the primary head has been cut. 'Calabrese Green Sprouting' is an older, open pollinated variety that produces a smaller primary head than the hybrids but much more generous secondary heads.
The green sprouting above, taken this morning, shows the secondary heads about 10 days after the main head was cut, they are an impressive size at about 8-12 cm across. Considering most families would struggle to consume a very large broccoli head in one meal (when it is at its freshest) the multi heading 'green Sprouting' might be a better all round choice, especially for smaller gardens.
Stopping Runner Beans As I said a couple of weeks ago in relation to tomatoes, once we reach the tail end of the season it is a race against the clock to get crops to ripen before the first frost. If, like me, you sowed runner beans relatively late, it can be beneficial to 'stop' the plants in the same way as you would tomatoes by removing the growing tips. Stopping encourages the plant to put it's energy into ripening the existing beans rather than producing new ones that may not reach maturity in time.
Unlike tomatoes, runner beans will have multiple growing tips as you will have planted multiple plants around a support or along a row. To prune, just cut the tops back to more or less the same height as the top of the support.
Stopping may not be necessary for fresh bean harvests (for eating in their pods) but if you are growing runner beans for dried beans (whether for seed or for cooking) it is advisable to prune them back in mid August if they are still in the flowering stage.
Tiers to my eyes It's always nice to see new crops coming along in August, especially when looking as good as these multicoloured lettuces in one of our 2 tier raised beds. Up top we have 'Little Gem', in the lower tier we have 'Lollo Rosso' in the back, 'Batavia' in the middle and 'Red Cos' in the foreground, the leeks in the background are 'Musselburgh' and 'Blue Solaise'.
The 'little Gem' (a mini cos) and 'Red Cos' are both being grown for their crunchy heads but the other two are well suited to 'cut and come again' production where the outside leaves are picked while the centre grows on (and produces more leaves). Due to more damp, cool weather in Autumn, lower leaves are more prone to rot (which also attracts slugs) so it pays to keep on top of picking and tidying at this time of year. By regularly removing outer leaves (twist off rather than using a knife) I should be able to crop these same lettuces up to late October without sowing or planting any new stock.
Ripening Peppers The little plant above is chili pepper 'Hungarian Wax' looking very pretty as its fruit turn from citrus green, to yellow, orange and finally red. 'Hungarian Wax' is a juicy pepper that is often described as a mild pepper but is actually comparable in heat to a Jalapeno, even hotter when allowed to ripen fully to red.
The same seasonal clock is ticking for pepper plants and their fruits which also have limited time to ripen so make sure to pick any fully ripe sweet or chili peppers; they are taking valuable energy from the plant which could be used to ripen less mature peppers. I would also advise, at this time of year, to remove any new flowers for the same reason, they won't have time to produce worthwhile fruit anyway.
Saving seed potatoes This year, I'm saving some Setanta potatoes for seed for next season. Saving potatoes is simple, just dig them up and store them at around 10˚C until next year but you do need to make sure they aren't carrying any disease, most likely potato blight.
For this reason, I cut and removed all my potato foliage on my Setanta crop when I saw the first signs of blight on the leaves, well before it would have had a chance to travel down into the tubers. The potatoes will therefore be a little smaller than normal, though not much, but I have a much higher chance that I will have blight free seed for next year.
Remember that blight can only survive on live plant material so can be spread by infected tubers (even though they are dormant when you dig and store them, they are still alive) but isn't held in the soil or in cut foliage which can be composted without risk. My tip here is always cut the potato foliage down to the soil rather than pulling it (and the roots) up because pea sized potatoes are often hidden in the roots and are enough to spread the disease into your compost bin.
OK, that's about it for today, I will see you next week!