Vegetables to sow now, advice on growing tomatoes, coping with pests, large vegetables are good, hybrid varieties or not, making compost
July often throws up some unsettled weather. It changed from spring’s drought on the full moon of July 2nd, then there was some rain on 21 of the 29 days until the full moon of 31st – which is ushering in slightly warmer weather for August, though still mixed. Mean temperature of 16.7C (63F) was average, rainfall of 80mm (3.2in) was slightly above average, half of it fell 24th-26th.
August is time to sow lots of seeds, see below.
The big sowings to make now are any oriental leaves, salad and wild rocket, chervil, coriander, dill, land cress, claytonia and spinach.
Sow undercover endive and Florence fennel asap, for planting by late August.
Sow lettuce later in the month for planting in September to overwinter and pick next spring.
I now have a good stash of polystyrene trays found by Steph at a garden centre, cost 50p each as second hand, they will last for decades and grow great plants. Easier to plant from than most plastic trays.
Either sow direct in drills outside, or sow into modules 2-4 seeds, thinned or not according to how many you like in a clump, or sow in seed trays to prick out – I do this for lettuce, endive, chicory, parsley and some other salads. Most of the others I sow into modules and thin to two or three plants – depending how large I want the leaves to grow.
Tomatoes and late blight
Blight is the problem to avoid: it makes leaves wilted and translucent, very rapidly but only in damp weather. It smells horrible too.
Blight is not the only reason for leaves to show brown edges or spots and its good to know some of the others, before you cut pieces off or sacrifice plants without needing to! Black Russian for example is a variety to grow brown but un-blighted leaves.
If you do spot blight in a greenhouse or polytunnel, from zealous watering or rain blowing in, I would cut off all infected leaves and hope you can stop it entering plants’ stems. If it does, they may die, and before that the fruit often go brown before ripening.
If you spot blight on potato leaves, I suggest harvesting immediately. If time is short, cut the stems at ground level and put all the stem and leaf to compost. Potatoes can be left in the soil, but they may as well come out before slugs eat them.
This year in mid July I had good harvests of Charlotte and Estima second earlies, and the former will store in sacks until early spring. Sarpo are to harvest in late August, they resist any blight and are still growing fast. In fact the stems are annoyingly vigorous, even dwarfing some nearby courgettes.
A few of my uncovered leeks are already well eaten by the larvae of leek moth, the covered ones look fine. If using mesh to keep moths and butterflies off vegetables, make sure there are no small holes and that the edges have no gaps where crops are pushing the mesh up. I recommend mesh ahead of fleece which can get hot in summer and is more likely to tear. Fleece is more useful in spring, as weather protection.
Mesh, fleece and bird netting are useful to keep rabbits off too. Here I have only a few rabbits nearby, and they mostly eat clover and apple bark, but that can change.
In the greenhouse and polytunnel, I have a few caterpillars eating tomato leaves and fruit, and more than a few on basil, hard to find, they are small and bright green.
Hybrid varieties, or not
Comparing growth of some non-hybrid courgette and indoor cucumber, with hybrids, I am finding how differently they grow. I have grown F1 hybrid courgettes every year since 1983, after noting the poor yield from open pollinated plants. This year the latter are growing well but give half the number of courgettes, also they lose shape when larger, developing a fat end rather than staying cylindrical.
The cucumbers are better, Arvola from Bingenheim Saatgut, top flavour and with spiky skin. They grow on the first node of side-shoots so need careful pruning.
Breeders like F1 hybrids because they are less expensive to create, can be sold for more money , and us gardeners cannot save seeds from them. Hence my nervousness about growing too many hybrids. Currently I am harvesting seed of pea, lettuce and broad bean, onions to come.
One often hears that large root vegetables are woody. However this is not true when they have grown steadily in fertile soil. They are simply larger than small ones, often more dense and with a fuller, less sweet flavour.
My large roots are delicious, and letting them grow gives more to eat per area used.
A lot is about personal preference, chard is another example and I like the stems medium rather than huge. Its one of the joys of growing that you can select your favourite size of harvest.
Any heap which you have finished filling since the winter, and is not needed for spreading until autumn or winter, will benefit from a turning. You can do this in situ with proprietary tools whose fins retract as the handle descends.
Here I keep an empty bay beside the one I am filling, leave it 6-8 weeks after the last fill, then fork all of its contents into the empty bay. This week a rat jumped out when I started and I actually felt sorry for it trying to escape from the empty bin which (lined with plywood), so I asked it to promise to stay in the heaps and not come in my veg store, then it wriggled out!
The compost pleased me, soft and crumbly already, from ingredients assembled between March and May.