August 2008


Updates from August 2008.

July Salad

julysaladAh! midsummer, time of warmth and harvests. But it has only warmed up since 22nd July and as a result peas have been excellent, enjoying the cooler weather, and calabrese has been clear of caterpillars, with butterflies unable to fly in the rain – until recently! and indoor tomatoes are only just coming into their prime.

As well as savouring these fruits of earlier sowings, remember that a good vegetable garden has harvests all year long. See the archived piece for August last year to be reminded of all the sowings you can still make, mainly to ensure a good range of autumn and winter salad.

July this year has been a month of two halves with so much rain and thinder-clouds in the first half that my record for fortnightly rainfall was broken. We caught some massive storms and totalled 151mm by mid month, with less sun than in the first half of November. I am surprised that potato blight has been only mild (and the tubers of excellent quality), while growth of most vegetables was slow until the last ten days, especially of summer beans and squashes.

The photo shows some of my salad beds in late July. The striking patch of yellow is an endive called Bianca Riccia da Taglio, from Real Seeds, which has its larger, outer leaves picked off every week, the same as my lettuce. Sarah Raven enjoyed the colours when we were filming for a piece on micro-leaves and proper salads, in between the showers and helicopters.

I hope you are on top of the weeds and I have posted a new article on subduing weeds in wild spaces. This is in response to large numbers of requests for advice on dealing with overgrown areas, allotments especially. There is no easy answer or magic bullet, unless you want to spray Roundup. I prefer not to, but do not condemn anyone who uses that approach as a one-off tactic in achieving clean ground (see RHS archive for advice).

However you do it, once the ‘background’, perennial weeds are cleared, life becomes better and you have time to concentrate on the important task of building soil fertility. Weed-free soil with composted organic matter on top is then a fantastic palette to paint vegetables on.

The sowings and plantings this month will mostly be in soil that has already borne crops such as broad beans, peas, beetroot, carrots, early potatoes, salad and onions. As a second crop you can grow oriental leaves, spinach, rocket, endives, chicories and lambs lettuce. Keep them well weeded to stop any weeds seeding, thus keeping soil clean for next year, and treat any surplus of un-harvested salads as equivalent to a green manure, for eventually rotting back into the soil, or for adding to the compost heap.

Also keep some space bare for later sowings/plantings of spring cabbage and onion sets or plants in September, garlic in early October and broad beans in early November. These are important dates to ensure some delicious harvests next year, early in the summer before many other vegetables are ready.

Charles Dowding.