August 15th tomatoes, sowing, harvests, watering, filming, Chilli Festival 20


With no dig, summer is a good time: little weeding, lots of picking, and nice feedback from happy plants. The exceptions here are cucumbers and melons, see below. Also I am spending more time watering than usual and offer some advice on that.

To sow now

There is still time to sow the usual August leaves: rocket, mustards, pak choi, tatsoi, coriander, chervil and dill. Its last call to sow spinach for autumn, winter and spring. Early this week on 15th and 16th are days of waxing moon energy.

Towards month’s end is time to sow spring onions, spring cabbage and bulb onions, to overwinter as small plants, for harvest next year.

Progress of summer’s second sowings

Growth in the last six weeks has been fast, especially when plants have been well watered to get them established. Once underway, I leave beetroot and purple sprouting broccoli to their own devices, they tick over in dry weather and then grow massively when it rains.

Brassicas however are attracting a lot of butterflies and moths, so I have sprayed bacillus thurigensis for the second time. All my brassicas are unmeshed, I am lucky to have no hungry pigeons at this time. 

Leeks and winter carrots are under mesh, against the moth and root fly respectively. Just to see, I have left some leeks uncovered and spray a little bt into their growing point every fortnight or so, against the larva of leek moth.

Maincrops and watering

On August 1st we had 30mm wonderful rain, since then its been dry and I am watering more than usual, especially lettuce and other salads, every three days on average, enough to soak in. Also outdoors  I am watering 

  • celeriac, celery, 
  • chard, courgette and leeks sometimes, 
  • Filderkraut cabbage that are starting to heart and growing in soil left dry after broad beans,
  • all bean plants that are cropping.

I am not watering parsnips, perennial kale, winter carrots, winter squash and maturing crops like the lentils below.

Harvests

Fortunately and so far, there is no evidence here of lettuce root aphid, which caused so much damage last year. I have some endive and chicory in case of that: Frenzy endive is cropping well, slightly bitter and very pretty, frizzy leaves which we pick as for lettuce, weekly.

If you still have onions in the ground, they are better harvested by month’s end so there is time to get them dry before damp weather installs.

Tomatoes

If you have not already, pinch out all growing points so that plants cannot make new trusses. Instead they use all energy to grow and ripen what is there already. Autumn is close: six weeks from now, its October.

My tomatoes are not as good as last year, from lower sunshine levels I think. Best plants are in the greenhouse where its warmer, while in the polytunnel there is blight on a few leaves, which I keep removing.

I am impressed with Maskotka bush tomato in an airpot, its roots aerated by holes all around – have you ever noticed how roots circle the edge of pots? One Maskotka in a clay pot has grown much less. Another in a recycled (free!) plastic mushroom box – plastic sides with many holes, thin lining of newspaper – has grown even better than the airpot plant: same successful principle, from a free resource.

Cucumbers

Out of nowhere, my cucumbers and melons have been ailing and failing in just the last fortnight. Is it cucumber mosaic virus? I am not sure, have not had it before.Older leaves develop yellow/brown areas, fruit become a little deformed and smaller, skin still good.

The polytunnel cucumbers were first to succumb and half the plants are now removed, then the polytunnel melons. In the last week, the outdoor cucumbers on the dig/no dig beds are succumbing: first damage was on the dug bed and within a week there was hardly a healthy leaf.

Interestingly, cucumbers in the greenhouse are fine at present, in the same soil, same watering regime etc.

Filming at Homeacres & visits

Videos have been coming thick and fast from Edward’s creative camera, then he edits with Final Cut Pro: see the tour of Homeacres in late July.

Gardeners World filmed here on August 10th, to celebrate my work as a ‘gamechanger’. The six minute film will be shown sometime next year and I shall let you know the date. There will be archive clips of the programme I made with Geoff Hamilton in 1988. He was lovely to work with and the producer thinks I helped persuade him of the viability of organic growing, at a time when it was widely questioned.

Another early organic pioneer was Darina Allen from Ballymaloe Cookery School, and we were delighted to welcome her and farmer husband Tim for a visit to Homeacres. She is a bundle of energy and always fun to chat with. They were on a tour of organic farms and kitchens in south west England, but had noticed many economic worries compared to 15 years ago.

Chilli Festival and West Dean gardens

I was invited to speak at West Dean Chilli Festival and its brilliant, do go if you can next August 10,000 people make a great atmosphere with music, entertainments and everything chilli to see and taste. 

Plus you can see the gardens and again, I was impressed at every turn: Sarah Wain and Jim Buckland are so experienced and know every inch of the place: its immaculate, beautiful and productive.

Fruit and flowers

Homeacres is looking so pretty in late summer and it should be good for the open day on 4th September. 

Lettuce flowers look to be setting well and I already harvested a pot grown Lollo Rossa, second generation home-saved seed.

I am noticing this summer how healthy and abundant the Czar beans are, now it is six years since I first grew them, so the seed has become imbued with healthy, Somerset energy. See below for links to an event in Lincolnshire about seed saving.


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20 thoughts on “August 15th tomatoes, sowing, harvests, watering, filming, Chilli Festival

  • bluebell

    Hi Charles Did you have an unseasonably cold night in the last week? My tunnel went down to 7 degrees and I’m wondering if that has had an impact on your cucumbers and melons? My aubergines were certainly not happy about such a cool night!

  • charles Post author

    Yes though it was 8C here.
    Yes heat-loving plants are not comfortable with that, however the cucumber leaf spoiling has been developing since a little before that.
    A gardener on Twitter says he has similar and suggests magnesium deficiency. I am trying Epsom salts.

  • Mateo

    Hello Charles

    We’ve had a go at some pumpkins and cucumbers and have experienced the same yellowing leaves. The pumpkins themselves look big and healthy and the cucumbers the same. Other sites say you’re supposed to cut the affect plant and throw it away, have you done the same? Are the pumpkins no good?

    • charles Post author

      Good you have a harvest coming, leave those leaves and do not throw away the plants!!
      Healthy fruits shows that your yellowing leaves are probably the older leaves mainly, which is normal.
      In the case of my cucumbers, almost all the leaves have yellow/brown senescence and fruits are growing small and deformed. But its odd that in the greenhouse the cucumbers are ok.
      Let your pumpkins ripen, no need to do anything more, its normal for leaves to die as ripening happens esp in dry weather.

  • JudyB

    Hello Charles,
    It does seem to be a very strange summer with some things doing really well and others just not performing at all…
    My outdoor tomatoes grew in fits and starts with the dramatic ups and (many) downs of the temperatures this spring/summer, but ended up as robust plants with lots of fruit. However, they are not wanting to ripen at all. Even with the last two weeks of heat and sun hardly any of them are turning red. It’s like they are caught in a time warp. Now I’m starting to get blight and worry if they get too de-leafed they won’t have the resources left to sweeten/taste good either.
    Any suggestions welcome!

  • charles Post author

    Not sure if they are in pots or soil, whichever I would reduce their water by 50% at least, absolute minimum ration as they need encouraging to stop growing and ripen fruits. Pinch out all tops and shoots, if you have not already.
    Fine weather next week will help and best of luck.

  • Kirpi

    Re: cucumbers and squashes in general. I have cucumbers on a sunny patio in 20 litre pots well watered and Uchiki kuri squashes on the allotment growing in no-dig composted mulch, also Butternut squash in the same composted mulch in another bed.

    The cucumbers have grown small bottle shaped fruits and the leaves are crispy and yellowing despite the volume of pot; usually do well in these.

    The squashes are growing well in ree ground on the allotment, but while the Uchiki kuri has produced several fruits, the BNS has produced lush green leaves and vines but the flowers are still in the bud phase; no yellow flowers and now I fear are too late for squashes.

    This is in the south end of Cornwall.

  • charles Post author

    Steph found out that the cucumber problem here is downy mildew. Very different to and more destructive than the normal, powdery mildew which is prevalent in the UK in late summer, autumn on cucurbits. Google it to check, if your cucumbers have the downy mildew, they may not survive.
    Your comment on squash is apt and its why I repeatedly advise growing Kuri, not Butternut, except perhaps in central London. I think your Butternut will continue to look splendid, but with no harvest for winter, just large marrows or immature squash.

    • Kirpi

      I think Steph may well be right as my Tumbling Tom tomatoes went down with a downy mildew and never got past the flowering stage and they were close to the cucumber plants. I understand Curbits are notorious for hosting and passing on mildews.

      I think perhaps if you close your eyes there is not a lot of difference in flavour between Kuri and Butternuts. A few years back – a long hot summer most likely – our BNS were prolific with large fruits and that led me to thinking they were easy to grow. I have had very dismal harvests since.

  • Rhys

    Charles

    I’ve found that if you want early (July) tomatoes, even of beefsteaks, then the way to go is simply to stop watering them and they ripen up early. Obviously you get lower yields, so it’s best to do this with plants grown in smaller pots so less compost. It worked very well with Red Alert and Black Russian (both sown with the February full moon). Seems to me that the biggest driver of ripening in tomatoes in pots is simply not watering them!!

  • Jeremy

    Hi Charles. Love the video update of Homeacres. Great to see how it looks in summer after spending the weekend with you on the course in February.

    The compost sheds look excellent. I’ve been experimenting with a much more fungal dominated compost and it seems to be having some very good results. I’ve only had 3 tiny weeds in 2 months in a bed of leeks which I covered with a layer of 1cm of my compost. It bears out Elaine Ingham’s work that pioneer weeds only like soil with low levels of fungi.

    There are a few changes I’ve made to the way I make compost. I now make the piles in batches, so a pile is put together in one go. I then add a large amount of wood chip to all the garden cuttings and lawn mowings, trying to get the batch as evenly mixed as possible – each batch is about 80 x 80 x 100 cm, and included in each batch is 4 wheelbarrow loads (80 litres each) of woodchips. I also add quite a bit of water (30 to 60 litres). We have a couple of chickens, so I include 3 weeks of manure from them – ideally I would have 10% of the pile manure to really keep temperatures high for 3 weeks. The temperature reliably gets up to 70-75°C and maintains that for about 6-8 days. I turn the compost every 3 days for the first 3 turns then a couple more turns after about a week each, and then leave for 3 more weeks. It is a bit labour intensive, but I have virtually no weeding to do and the plants look very healthy with no added fertiliser, so I think I come out ahead overall. There are also signs that it is turning my hard clay soil into a very nice loam, but I think I need more time to evaluate that one.

  • charles Post author

    Jeremy – this is brilliant, and what a great no-weed result.
    I did not know of the specific link between fungal rich soil and low germination of pioneer weed seeds, it makes perfect sense as one reason for weed-free no dig gardens.
    That sounds a fair amount of wood chip, how big are the largest pieces? Is it from your own garden, so fresh (greener) chips?
    I agree with your point about spending more time on composting, less on weeding, probably time neutral, but with bigger harvests.

    • Jeremy

      A typical piece is about 1.5 cm x 1.5cm x 0.5cm, although some are up to 5 cm long. I sieve the compost through a fairly coarse mesh before I put it on the beds, and put the oversize material back through the composting process. This takes about an hour, and I am not sure whether it makes much difference. Interesting opportunities for some trials!

      The woodchip came from a tree surgeon, so not sure how young the wood was. About 5% of the load was leaves so I guess a fair amount was green wood. I was looking for deciduous wood, as the coniferous wood has tannins in that need to sit for a year to leach out. As it turns out I think I had about 20% coniferous, and it has worked out fine.

      • Rhys

        Jeremy

        There is a farmer in the NW USA who uses wood chip as a 10 year mulch, once he has created a good topsoil below. He says he does nothing else, as the wood chip provides a slow-release mechanism of nutrient provision, along with the ability to absorb a lot of water during heavy rainfall.

        Don’t know if you want to experiment on a small patch doing that sometime, but it appears you have the resources to do so if you wish…

      • Jomcb

        Gosh…clever.
        I wonder if the forum can advise me.
        I will have 1/4 acre, north west seaside Donegal, at foot of mountain, probably never cultivated land.
        I will have 8 years to mulch, before permanently living there and was thinking to do annual mulch from local firm, with sowing then of, say, vetch.
        Was thinking of initial wood chip mulch…??
        Lasagne layering seemed a good idea.
        But what for each layer??
        Thanks

  • charles Post author

    Thanks Jeremy its helpful information. The pieces sound quite large, I think your sieving is probably worthwhile, just for the largest pieces of wood which otherwise might be buried in a succeeding application of compost.. I flick them onto pathways.

    • charles Post author

      Jocmb you need to google the aforementioned farmer to learn more.
      Remember that he may be in a climate/soil of few slugs.
      If you have access to the woo, its worth looking at, not otherwise imo for Donegal. Also depends what you want to grow.

      • Jomcb

        Thanks.
        A food forest…so fairly tough specimens, but as far as I can judge before living there, the area is now thin on soil.
        Will take photos of weeds etc. when I live there…just such an opportunity, given the 8 years to build resilience in the soil.
        Have got all your books so will re read.