Updates from July 2010.
I am expecting this summer to have more hot and dry conditions than cool and wet ones, so some advice in this piece is about coping with drought. I hope it makes a change, instead of me writing about slugs, which I expect to be mostly absent until autumn.
As soil dries out, some vegetables can go quasi-dormant for a while, such as brussels sprouts and winter cabbage, also parsnips whose long tap root is successful at reaching deep-down moisture. Some vegetables just mature a little earlier than usual, such as onions and potatoes. Potatoes here are not bulking up, but there are some nice, medium sized tubers and at least there is no blight!
Some vegetables definitely need water, including salads, courgettes, leeks, beans, celery, celeriac, cucumbers and tomatoes. All of these grow much better when watered every few days.
But if water is limited, difficult decisions have to be made and we have to give priority to favourite vegetables, and in sufficient quantity for soil to become moist to a few inches down. Currently I am watering salad leaves, peas and cauliflower as well as everything indoors. I also wish to water courgettes, any beans that are flowering and then fruiting, and recently planted brassicas and leeks, until they show signs of growing away.
Soil which has received plenty of organic matter over several years will hold extra moisture, and is also easier to apply water to, especially when it has not been dug or cultivated. In my four-bed experiment, I find the two undug beds soak up water much more quickly than the two dug beds, whose surface quickly smears over, resulting in water running off the surface.
Indoor crops are growing fast in the hot weather, especially melons and cucumbers. The photo below shows melon plants which are already six feet high in the polytunnel, with fruit developing on some sideshoots.
Early July is a special time for sowing certain vegetables which help to extend the season of harvests, and to increase its range. These later sowings are also good for filling gaps after harvests of garlic, early potatoes, broad beans and salads. Seeds for sowing in the early part of July include dwarf french beans, to crop through September and take over from the waning output of earlier sowings beetroot for small, tender roots in autumn carrots, which will have time to make medium sized roots bulb fennel, less likely to bolt in autumn, but keep them watered in hot weather.
Salads can be sown at any time of the month, depending when you want to be eating them. To have nice firm hearts of radicchio, I recommend sowing before mid month, preferably in seed or module trays where it is easier to manage watering and to watch for slugs endives mature faster than radicchios and are best sown little and often lettuce are now coming ‘out of season’ as their autumn leaves are so prone to mildew, but if you want to risk it they can be sown until month’s end July is also the last chance for planting leeks, kale and purple sprouting if you have or can find some plants. And it is time to savour peas, courgettes, new potatoes, carrots and many other summer flavours from our plots.
July 14th Update
A small amount of rain is helping for now, but is used or evaporates fast too. There are more aphids than usual and cabbage butterflies are suddenly numerous; half of my plants are under mesh and half are not….
Growth has been good so far, with lots to pick. The first indoor tomatoes are ripening, peas are finishing, shallots are pulled. With vegetables are now coming to the end of their harvests, there are many opportunities for planting and sowing again. Since it can be difficult to achieve good germination in dry soil, planting often works better, with smaller amounts of water needed for plants in plugs and pots, than for whole rows of seeds.
Also it is too late, for example, to sow leeks; but if you have some leek plants, they can be dibbed in as soon as possible and should then grow to a good size before winter. Other plants (as opposed to seeds) that can still be set out include dwarf bean, beetroot, swede, kale, purple sprouting and winter savoy cabbage.
Seeds to sow now include bulb fennel, carrots, kale and calabrese. Also there are an increasing number of salads coming into season for sowing, such as chicories and endives if you like their slightly bitter leaves.
Then in two weeks time, at month’s end, it is the best time for sowing oriental leaves and rocket, which are by that time less prone to attack by flea beetle, and less likely to flower. To illustrate this, some komatsuna that I sowed in early July, out of interest more than expectation, is more than 50% damaged by flea beetle holes and has barely grown, while lettuce has been growing beautifully.
Also in late July and early August I recommend you sow coriander and chervil, which should then crop for a long period in the shortening days of autumn, when they also appreciate the damper air.
Many peas and broad beans are now finishing and it is worth clearing the yellowing plants as soon as the last harvests are taken, also to weed at the same time before any go to seed.