June 2013


Updates from June 2013.

Update June 15th

It is a great pleasure to compare this June with the same month ;ast year, when rain was endless and sunshine so rare. We should count our blessings, despite the seemingly endless wind and lack of any great warmth! I am hoping that a combination of solstice and then full moon on 23rd may improve the weather pattern, but on the whole it looks like a rather Atlantic summer. Plants need some warmth to help them catch up, many are still behind normal, trees more than vegetables.

At Homeacres most of the first wave of planting is now complete: during the last three weeks we have planted climbing and dwarf beans, celeriac, squash, courgette, leeks, autumn cabbage and outdoor cucumber La Diva. No sweetcorn as there are lots of badgers nearby. In the tunnel and greenhouse I have planted basil (cropping already in the greenhouse), melons, aubergine, peppers, experimental sweet potato and cucamelon. Lots of excitement in store, and tomato plants have some little fruits on. My new sowings in the first half of June include beetroot, swede, kale and cabbage for winter, lettuce for summer’s second half and a few endives. Now is good for sowing carrots and beetroot outside, soon it is time to sow Florence fennel, a little more kale for late plantings and the last dwarf beans for popping in any gaps in July.

June harvests have been exciting and the polytunnel has been especially remarkable:

We have enjoyed platefuls of peas from plants which Steph sowed in November, and the pea plants in modules were pretty potbound when I planted them on a snowy day in January. Now three feet high and still laden, including a volunteer mangetout which has been especially sweet. Beetroot planted on April 14th from a module sowing in March have yielded many bunches already for High Street Organics in Bruton, and  some golden Boldor beetroot is now tennis ball size, from a planting made just six weeks ago in the tunnel. Amsterdam Forcing carrots which I sowed on top of manure-on-grass in January have just finished, one was seven inches long; yield was lower than if the mulch had had more time to settle, but still worthwhile. And all the indoor summer crops like tomato, cucumber and basil are racing away now: Sungold tomatoes put on 10cm new growth last week and have small, bright green fruit.

At the same time, there are a lot of perennial weeds to keep my trowel occupied, such as bindweed everywhere, and couch grass in a large, middle part of the garden. On the other hand, buttercups are pretty well expired and dandelions have dwindled to thinner and more occasional shoots. The new abundance of vegetable growth is helping to reduce growth of perennial weeds, while dry weather has made it easier to trowel them out, and to reduce the germination of annual weeds.

If you can find time in the summer, turning compost made in colder weather, which is often of vaiable quality, will give you really nice compost to spread in the autumn.

The three beds of a Natural Agriculture, Shumei experiment are proving interesting, especially the undug one with no compost or manure, where plants are struggling to grow at present. I imagine the grass and weed roots are still being digested by soil organisms and that is reducing nutrients available, with no extras from compost on top for the recently planted beans, squash, celeriac, beetroot, leek and cabbage. On the Shumei dug bed, which also had no compost, growth is fair; and strongest growth is currently on the adjacent undug bed which had two inches of old cow and horse manure on top. Both the undug beds had been covered with polythene from March 2nd to May 19th, about eleven weeks and barely long enough for all the pasture roots to die off, as some ryegrass and clover is re-growing, albeit weakly.

On the undug bed with no compost, the green sward of February had turned into a yellow surface of dead moss and old grass, with some clover trying to re-grow. At first I thought to mulch it with cardboard between the vegetables, then decided that made too light a surface and might blow away; also the thin strips of card between rows of vegetables had a lot of light-admitting edges, curling upwards and allowing weeds to survive underneath. So I removed the cardboard and used my trusty copper spade to skim an inch off the mossy surface and turn it over, to reveal dark soil on top. It is not pure no dig, but seemd the best option in those circumstances and it will be interesting to compare growth and results between the three beds.

*POTATO BLIGHT*

I hate writing about this but it has to be done, the season is upon us, Keeping leaves dry is key, ok indoors but tricky in rain outside! There are two sorts of blight and I have already had some EARLY BLIGHT which must have overwintered on the seed potatoes I bought. It is much slower and less harmful than late blight, thank goodness:

Brief review of experiments so far

Growth is interesting on all the experiments and here are some snapshots of a few, starting with the first two beds I filled, way back in December 2012. All experiments have the same veg on each pair of beds; see how they are growing:

Soil-compost experiment

Dig/no dig experiment

Cow manure/compost experiment

Bed using biodegradable black polythene as weed suppressant

Tomato trial with Grochar

Conservatory, outside and in

Posting of May 31st

Weather Report

MAY

Rainfall mm

Temp C

SPRING*

Rainfall mm

Temp C

1998

78

14.4

from

267

10.1

1999

44

13.6

March

174

9.9

2000

89

13.1

to

314

8.9

2001

24

12.8

May

251

8.8

2002

109

10.5

three

253

8.8

2003

52

11.0

months’

125

8.7

2004

53

13.3

totals

179

9.7

2005

48

12.2

 

201

9.8

2006

108

12.9

 

200

9.3

2007

160

12.5

 

243

10.5

2008

115

13.7

 

331

9.4

2009

46

12.2

 

145

9.5

2010

30

11.5

 

151

8.7

2011

49

12.6

 

94

10.4

2012

43

12.5

 

209

9.3

2013

60

9.9

 

139

6.8

*Spring is March, April, May

So it was a cool spring, remarkably cool compared with the last fifteen years. Both the May and the spring temperatures in the table for 2013 are an extraordinary deviation from average, and it was certainly the coldest spring I have known since I started growing in the early eighties. Just recently there was ice on the tiles here on 26th and 27th, though only a few leaf tips of beans were frosted, so it must be that soil holds more warmth than roofs, thank goodness.

Now June has arrived and with it some wonderful, summery warmth. Rather the opposite to last year when the reverse happened! So there is every chance to see some good growth now as plants start to catch up.

The cold weather has not helped my December plantings of asparagus and raspberries. The former sent up a few weak shoots which were eaten by slugs, and the latter must have had their new buds frosted in March, and are sending out some new growth now, but weaker than usual. I may need to replant some raspberries next winter and have just planted some more asparagus crowns which came from Seeds of Italy at RHS Chelsea. Normally it would be too late to plant asparagus, but nor this year!

Sowings and planting

Be encouraged if you still have sowings to make, this is a great time for sowing, even parsnips, asap. Swede also is good to sow now, direct or in modules, in the first week preferably. Carrots and beetroot sown by mid month have time to grow large before winter, and after mid month is a good time to sow bulb (Florence) fennel, as it is more inclined to fatten up when sown towards and just after the longest day.

Here is to give you an idea of plant size when they are ready to go out, from raising in modules:

Some seeds are best put on one side until late summer, such as spinach which is now in its flowering season, also oriental leaves and salad rocket. The last two are soon coming out of their flowering times but are prone to insect attack in summer, so I would wait to sow them in early August, for healthy leaves through autumn.

There is still time to sow lots of French and runner beans and they may catch up any sown in May, which have not enjoyed the cold nights and consequent attention by slugs. Courgettes and outdoor cucumbers also can still be sown, but squashes need to go in as plants now.

Here is a review of making beds in February, and planting them recently:

Heavy Soil

I am finding that Homeacres lies wetter than Lower Farm and is better suited to dry weather than rain, so the spring has actually been favourable for me with healthy growth of spinach, lettuce, Daubenton kale, salads and calabrese. Leaves are glowing and I have sold a lot more than I expected, despite the attentions of a high population of leatherjackets eating many plant roots. When pulling out some spinach plants in the greenhouse, which had given many harvests, I found a leatherjacket under about every third plant. Soon they should be turning into craneflies or daddy long legs, but there may be other soil pests lurking such as wireworm, I shall know by late summer. I think that feeding the soil with plenty of organic matter helps plants overcome such stresses.

Organic matter also holds precious moisture, possibly useful as I think we may have some longer dry spells this summer. When watering plants in soil, aim to give enough that moisture can penetrate a few inches down, so it is a reserve for a few days and you can avoid needing to water every day. I water in the morning, every three or four days in the polytunnel/greenhouse, and only occasionally for salads and new plantings outside. Giving water in the morning allows the soil surface to dry out before nightfall, giving less chance for slugs to be at home. For plants in modules and containers, daily watering is needed and also you can give water in bright sunshine if plants are wilting – it is one of the many gardening myths that watering in sunshine scorches leaves, all explained in my next book, appearing March 2014.

Weeds are an issue here at the moment, especially couch grass which sends up so many new shoots, compared with dandelion, buttercup and dock whose growth is more concentrated from one root and easier to extract with a trowel. I am concerned at the extra time needed for removing so much couch, and now bindweed too. Mulches of compost help, as emphasised by the Shumei experiment where a no-dig bed with no organic matter, after eleven weeks of polythene on top of the grass, has started to re-grow its ryegrass (not couch for a change), whereas a similar bed next to it which is covered with two inches of cow manure has no grass re-growing, so far!

You can make liquid feed now and here is an idea how to do it, without adding any water to leaves, so that the black feed smells sweet!

Day out