Read on to see my update of September 12th, with advice for some imminent colder weather.
In Somerset it has been a wonderful August in terms of weather, I really cannot imagine a nicer month with only just enough rain (most of it at night or in brief storms), plenty of sun and the warmest August for nine years. Even the outdoor tomatoes are ripening and I have barely seen any blight on their leaves.
My experiment of Sungold tomato in sacks against a south facing wall has concluded with ALL of the fruit ripening on all three plants: do try Sungold if you like early, sweet fruit. Only drawbacks are it grows tall, so might be tricky if headroom is limited, and the fruit are prone to splitting as they mature. Bu the flavour, oh my! The experiment emphasises the value of compost, and asks questions of charcoal used in this way – it does not bring nutrients. Likewise I found that seedlings in charcoal potting compost went yellow more quickly than in West Riding compost.
Uchiki Kuri squash are looking fantastic with quite a few ready to harvest now, although I shall leave them until after the open day, and longer if it stays dry. Runner beans Czar and borlottis also are drying off but with no rush to harvest the dry ones unless it rains a lot.
On that note, there is NEW MOON on September 5th and it may usher in some autumnal rain, which will be welcome, and winds plus cooler air which is seasonal but less exciting.
Lettuce root aphid and outdoor salad
Pests have been tricky with noticeable lettuce root aphid, as plants are stressed in dry soil and the best plan for summer lettuce is steady watering to help them grow as long as possible, with no remedy for their root aphid – except to grow endive as well, because they do not suffer the root aphids and grow so well in autumn. I pick hearting varieties of endive for outer leaves, in the same way as for leaf lettuce; endive leaves are more bitter (healthy!) so are good when mixed with lettuce, basil, and the imminent new leaves of orientals and rocket. The first two or thee harvests of endive are of large leaves, then they grow smaller and are a nice size through autumn.
There is still just time for last outdoor sowings of rocket and oriental leaves, in southern Britain and only in September’s first week; lambs lettuce and spring onion too.
Salad leaves undercover
Mainly now it is time for sowing salads to grow through winter, under cover of any kind. Pretty well anything you fancy! sow the slower growing ones now, such as chervil, winter purslane, chard and land cress, then faster growing ones in mid month, such as oriental leaves, rocket, spinach and lettuce. Lettuce and endive can be sown now as they stand the winter well when a little older and do not risk flowering until next May at the earliest. I like batavian lettuce especially Grenoble Red and find that cos varieties get slug eaten in winter, and are less frost hardy.
Summer vegetables undercover
Peppers, chillies and aubergines should continue through September. We visited the Michaud’s at Sea Spring Seeds and Joy proudly showed us her amazing range of home-bred chilli varieties. They are growing more and more into the seed business and for part of that they grow many varieties to find good ones for stocking and selling seed; we tasted some tomatoes and confirmed the super flavour of Rosada cherry plum, also of Apero cherry (oval shaped).
Indoor tomatoes are ripening steadily now and you can water less, especially when there are few fruit left to grow and swell. I stopped the main tips three weeks ago and am sideshooting every few days, picking loads and have had success with drying slices in a dehydrator. I was amazed to compare weights before and after: the largest beef tomato of 530g shrunk to just 27g! with a weight (water) loss of around 95%.
Red spider mite has been more prevalent in this summer’s dry conditions, especially on cucumber and aubergine. Best remedy is regular moistening of leaves but now is mostly too late for that and plants with leaves half-yellow are best pulled out and composted. The pest does not overwinter in compost or soil, but might in structural crevices. however, don’t worry, as moist soil with compost should be enough to stop it recolonising plants next year – or it may be a wet summer! Do you remember all the worries this spring about slugs taking over?
Onions, garlic, storage
Even if some leaves are still green, you need to have all onions out by now, so they can dry off before winter. Bulbs of onion and garlic continue to swell after pulling as the goodness in any green leaves goes into their bulbs. Also with garlic, when bulbs are not fully mature at harvest, I notice how they continue to differentiate into cloves, for a month or so afterwards. All root vegetables are living plants, dormant in winter and waiting for spring to grow again. But don’t go dormant yourselves, as we can stay active through winter, just a little less than in summer.
Mid-September update, posted 12th
There is a strong theme now of overlapping seasons: autumn is upon us, while summer lingers, and winter looms! There is even a ground frost possible next week around 18th, although latest forecasts suggest it may be too unsettled and windy for a frost; just cool. So summer jobs like picking tomatoes are merging with the first autumn harvests of squashes, and now (up until 15th-20th) is prime time for sowings of winter salad to grow undercover.
As soon as you can after reading this, unless you already have, is time to sow oriental leaves, salad rocket, winter purslane and any other salads you fancy for growing undercover through winter and into next spring. You may already have sown lettuce, endive, spinach, chard, land cress – if not, there is still just time: plants need to be established before it turns cold, but if autumn is mild you will have some harvests up to Christmas as a bonus.
Harvests – Winter Squash
Winter squash have ripened well after all the sunshine: look for the necks to be shriveling before you harvest but as long as the skin colour is strong (eg dark red for Kuri, deep grey/blue for Crown Prince, dark beige for Butternut) then it is fine to cut squashes even if the neck is still a little soft, as long as you then keep them dry and on the warm side: anywhere in the house is ideal, so they can finish drying before winter. Of course you can simply eat them now, but any fully dry squash will keep through winter and give you options to cook them at any time until March or thereabouts.
After harvest you could sow a mustard green manure as above, or plant garlic and onions of over-wintering varieties, or broad beans later in November.
Tomatoes need care now, to water just enough for remaining fruits to swell, but as little as possible, to encourage ripening of existing mature fruits. Watch those forecasts and if frost is likely, pick remaining outdoor tomatoes; indoor ones should be ok for a while. Keep removing any new shoots. I reckon to pull indoor plants around mid October as it is usually so cool then that ripening becomes really slow. Outdoor plants may go on until late September unless frosted or blight appears: if so, cut off any infected leaves and remove infected fruits, then beyond end September best pick all mature fruit off outdoor plants to finish ripening indoors, on their trusses.