Five Things You Should Do In August

August is a bountiful month on the allotment, the weather is (or should be, but you never know with England) beautiful and your plot is churning out produce quicker than you know what to do with it. Here are five things for you to crack on with in August.

Harvest

This may seem like an obvious one, but harvest your produce regularly. This stops the fruit and vegetables becoming too old and directs the energy to the fruits that need to ripen. For things such as sweet peas, beans, lavender and chillies; the more you pick the more they produce.

Preserving

Now that have you harvested your glut of fruit and vegetables, its time to preserve the excess. There are a plethora of recipes and types of preservation you can try; canning, chutney, jam, dehydration, cordial and even just good old freezing. Here’s a quick and easy jam recipe for some strawberry and raspberry jam.

Tidy up your tomatoes

Your tomato plants should be full of fruit and about to ripen by now, if you’ve planted them outside. Keep any top heavy plants supported by tying them to canes. To make sure that you can get the most fruit from your plants, pinch out all side shoots.

Pinch out your beans
Once your beans have reached the top of their support structure, pinch out any excess growth. This will redistribute the energy below to where it is needed the most – to produce the bean pods.

Feed your plants

Whilst watering your plants is crucial, feeding is just as important. Several plants on the plot will benefit from liquid feed. You don’t need anything particularly fancy, you can make your own feeds if you so desire. Nettle, comfrey, banana peel and even seaweed feed can be made at home. If you don’t want to go to hassle of making your own, then a basic tomato feed will do the trick.

Tomatoes, chillies, cucumbers, pumpkins and beans are at their best when they have been fed with extra nutrients. You will want to feed your plants once every 10-14 days.

Here’s a list of what you can sow for the last time in August:
– Potatoes; you’ll be able to harvest these in time for Christmas
– Lettuce; “Mixed Green (baby leaf)” and “Lotto Rossa”
– Turnip “Milan Mixed Purple”
– Chicory; “Rossa Di Trevisco” and “Palla Rossa”
– Perpetual Spinach
– Chinese Cabbage

You may be able to sow several July items in the first week or so of August, depending on the weather in your area.

Five Things You Should Do In July

Blink and you’ll miss it, somehow June is over. Hopefully you managed to keep on top of your to do list for the month. We all know that the tasks on the plot are never ending, but here are five things for you to do in July.

Thin out your fruit trees

If your fruit trees have not experienced the “June Drop”, then now is a good time to thin out any excess fruits you may have on your trees. With apples and pears, make sure there are no more than two fruits growing within close proximity of one another.

Keep an eye out for blight

Blight can be absolutely devastating to your tomatoes and potatoes if it is not caught in time. If you see any affected leaves on the tomatoes, remove them and place them in the general waste rather than the compost bin. Unfortunately, this may not be enough depending on how early you catch the disease. You may have to destroy the plant entirely.

Last year, our blight problem was exacerbated because we had planted our tomatoes too closely together. Plus, the clay soil didn’t help. To prevent tomato blight, make sure there is plenty of room between your plants and snip off some of the lower leaves and side shoots to allow the plants to breath.

Top tip: some of the side shoots may be big enough for you to plant on [from non infected plants]. Every hair on the tomato stem has the ability to become a new root.

With potatoes that have developed tubers, remove all of the greenery on the infected potato plant. This will help protect the tubers underground. If your potato is yet to develop any tubers, completely remove and destroy the plant as you will not get a successful crop. If you do not remove all of the infected areas of the plant, it will spread to more of your potatoes as potato blight spreads via the wind. The fungus can also lay dormant in your soil if any matter remains, so it is important to be thorough.

Train your unruly strawberry runners

Strawberries can spread like wildfire when left to their own devices, make sure to either pin down the runners you wish to keep in your patch or remove the ones you don’t want. You can also cut off small runners and plant them in a pot for them to set root. You can then plant them else where or give them away.

Pick your lavender

Lavender is a beautiful and versatile flower, which can be used in cosmetic and food recipes. Depending on the variety and your location, the lavender may well be ready to pick. It is best to pick it before the lavender heads bloom, but if it has bloomed it is still worth drying and using later on. It may lose its fragrance quicker than the lavender that has not bloomed. Also, by cutting your lavender you will prolong the production period.

Get a head start

Summer may have only just begun, but it is now time to start thinking about sowing your autumn and winter crops to see you through the quieter months on the plot. By sowing your autumn and winter crops in July, you will literally be reaping what you sow. Carrots, hardy leafy greens and Swiss chard are a great place to start.

Once again I have raided my seed stash for you. Here’s what you can sow for the last time in July:

– Spring onions
– Carrots; purple sun, baby chantenay
– Borlotto beans, purple teepee bean, sunshine french bean
– Shiraz Mangetout
– Lettuce; Little Gem, Iceberg, “Webbs Wonderful”
– Pea “Kelvedon Wonder”
– Turnip “Sweet Marble”
– Kohl Rabi
– Beetroot; Rainbow mix, Chioggia, Red River

Elderflower Champagne

After much trial and error, I have finally created a recipe for a lightly carbonated, delicately floral elderflower champagne. This should make six 750ml bottles.

Ingredients:
– Twelve to fourteen elderflower heads
– Two medium sized lemons
– 600g sugar
– 1 heaped teaspoon of citric acid (optional)
– 4.5 litres of water plus an additional 100ml overage for any lost during the heating process.

Equipment:
– A large cooking pan
– Wooden spoon
– Tea towel
– Muslin cloth
– Funnel
– Ladle
– Scales
– Empty glass bottles, sterilised

When foraging, try not to take all of the heads from one bush.

Firstly, do not wash the elderflower heads. Give them a good shake over the sink to make sure there are no creepy crawlies remaining on your heads. Cut off as much of the green stalk as you can, as it is poisonous in large quantities.

Heat the water on the stove top. Once the water has begun to boil, pour in the sugar bit by bit and stir until it has dissolved. Once dissolved, turn down the heat to keep it hot but not boiling. Prepare and add in your sliced lemons and elderflower.

You can add the citric acid, but it is not essential. It adds a little extra sweetness and helps with preservation. Simmer for 5-10 minutes, stirring in intervals. Place the tea towel over the pan and let it cool. Over the next three days, make sure you stir your mixture 2-3 times a day to activate the natural yeast in the elderflower.

You will know that the mixture has become carbonated once the elderflower has risen to the top of the mixture. It is now ready to be bottled!

The bottles will need to be sterilised. If you need advice on how to sterilise bottles, please see here. Pour the champagne into the bottles using a ladle and a funnel. Place the muslin over the funnel to ensure that no bits make it into your final brew.

Make sure that you burp the bottles twice a day for the first week. Leave the bottles to settle for another week before drinking so that the yeast settles at the bottom. Whilst this drink is called champagne, it is actually very low in alcohol due to the natural yeast.

If stored correctly it can last up to a year, but it is best drank within six months. Once opened, keep refrigerated an drink within three days.

Five Things You Should Do In June

As spring slowly fades to summer and the days get longer, the list of jobs at the allotment is ever growing. There are always seeds to sow and weeds to hoe.

Keep on top of your weeds

If you follow the no dig way of gardening, please ignore this step.

We all know that weeds are the bane of our life, it is a never ending and fruitless task that we must do in order to keep our plot and plants happy. Weeds can be quite invasive and in some cases even damage your crop.

The weed you really want to worry about is Bindweed, whilst the flower is beautiful; it is a very invasive weed and needs to be completely destroyed. We have had to dig down to almost 3ft deep in order to remove all of the root. Make sure you remove all of the vine and the root, even the smallest bit can re-root. Do not put this in your compost heap, place it in the general waste or burn it.

Whilst brambles, dandelions and nettles can also be invasive; they have some fantastic uses. Brambles will provide you with blackberries and you can even weave baskets with the bramble stems. You can make a plethora of things with dandelions; such as wine, fritters and a honey like syrup. They are also an important source of early nectar for the bees. Nettles can make a fantastic fertiliser for your plot, just be careful not to sting yourself in the process. Nettles are also high in vitamin C and can be added to many recipes.

Mound up your potatoes

As the greenery of the potatoes grows, you must continue to mound up the soil around the base. By leaving only the top leaves exposed, this ensures that light doesn’t reach the tuber below. If light does reach the tuber the potatoes will turn green [and possibly contain toxins] and thus be inedible.

Trim back your herbs

Herbs are due their annual trim to refresh the growth and provide you with an ongoing harvest of herbs throughout the summer. Sharp snippers are the preferable way to trim back the herbs, but a good pair of scissors will do the job. Any sort of blunt instrument will damage the plant and possibly stunt future growth.

You may find that some of your herbs have already started to flower, this really isn’t an issue. The majority of herb flowers will be edible and put on a wonderful display; chives especially! Plus, the bees won’t complain. Some of the herbs you have cut off may not be as flavoursome if they have flowered, but are still perfectly adequate to add to salads or for drying.

Protect your delicate crops

Our crops need help from time to time, everything is starting to come into season so now is the perfect time to take some precautions.

Brassicas are a favourite of whitefly, pigeons and caterpillars (to name a few). A brassica cage is a great way of keeping out most of your unwanted visitors. The smaller, finer netting is the best to use so that birds and other small animals do not get tangled up in the netting. You can also net your fruit bushes and strawberry patches, although this is not integral.

Straw is also a great addition to your allotment for keeping pests at bay. By lifting your fruit or vegetables off the ground with straw, this will help prevent slugs from eating them. Slugs and snails hate anything rough on their bodies. This works well for strawberries and courgettes, but there many other low lying growers that would benefit from this.

Woollen slug pellets around your crops are a great alternative to the classic blue slug pellets. Once water is applied to the woollen pellets, it forms a rough mesh that the slugs will not want in contact with their bodies. It is also chemical free. The blue pellets contain Metaldehyde and are poisonous to animals that eat slugs and snails, such as; hedgehogs, birds and the French.

Water well

I know this seems pretty obvious, but it is extremely important that you water your plants well. Make sure that you are allowing the water to soak deep into the soil so that the root system of the plant will grow further down into the soil, which in turn will ensure a strong and stable plant. If the water only reaches the surface area, the root system will be shallow and affect your crop. The type of soil you have will affect how often you need to water your crops.

I have raided my box of seeds to see what can be sown for the last time in June. Here is your last chance to sow these vegetables:

  • Garden Pea (Early)
  • Cabbage – Golden Acre
  • Cauliflower – All Year Round, Macerata Green
  • Red Kuri Squash
  • Rhubarb [Swiss] Chard
  • Cucumber – Japanese [Zipangu], Gherkin, Tasty Green, Crystal Apple and Lemon.
  • Basil – Sweet [Original] and Mrs Burns Lemon Basil
  • Spring Onions
  • Broccoli – Green and Summer Purple
  • Poppies and wild flower seed mixes [until October]

The sowing months are a general guide so please take into consideration the weather and soil in your area.

Have a fruitful month!

Slow & Steady Wins The Race

The rain has finally fallen. The ground has been terribly dry over the past month; although it has been recorded as the warmest April on record. This has made preparing the ground for planting a nightmare, as I have mentioned previously. Surprisingly, we have not needed to buy a clay breaker for the soil.

With Spring now in full swing, its wonderful to see everything burst into life once more. The greenhouse is full of vegetables that will be ready to plant out in the coming weeks. Frustratingly, a little mouse decided to devour all of my squash and pumpkin seeds. I only realised this after waiting two weeks for the seeds to germinate, but not to worry; I planted some more last week.

There are also two new additions to the planter area. A smaller tyre and a raised bed made of pallet wood. We have planted several crowns of rhubarb in the raised bed in hopes that it will fare better in there rather than in the ground. As previously mentioned, it had been attacked by a pest last year after moving it. The clay soil probably doesn’t help either, so fingers crossed for a crop next year. We have planted a few cloves of garlic into the smaller tyre, but as it has not been through a frost I’m not so sure how well it will preform. There are also plans to grow either a gherkin or a cucumber up the smaller tepee.

The bean plot is now ready and raring to go, although I definitely have more beans growing than I have sticks to grow them up and there are still more that I need to plant! Digging was a breeze due to the moisture the soil had retained from the rainfall.

Just behind the herb tyre I have planted a variety of colours of Gladioli. I thought by planting them in a line behind the planter area rather than scattered throughout the border area, it would create a more defined, uniform break in the planting areas. Unfortunately for one little bulb, I had forgotten that I had planted them and my fork when straight through it.

There are still so many seeds I need so sow and there just aren’t enough hours in the day or enough space in my greenhouse. Perhaps we need another plot…