The year has tipped into September, and the light feels softer, the evenings are chillier….A keen gardener knows that these changes signal a return to action after the less frenetic high summer months, so let’s get busy with the herb garden, harvesting veg and trimming hedges…………..
Helping the herbs
Many herbs are so easy to look after, it seems almost bonkers not to grow a few to brighten up the flavour of food (even my husband who has never willingly pulled up a weed can maintain a very productive herb patch outside his beloved kitchen..) You truly don’t need to have some massive herb garden in the shape of an Elizabethan ‘knot’ or some such (though these can be wonderful, of course), just a sprig of mint from a pot on a balcony or in a window-box can do wonders for a saucepan of boiled potatoes. Add a pot of chives that you can cut-and-come-again, and perhaps some parsley for making a deliciously fresh sauce…………..
As you may know, there are annual herbs like basil, dill and coriander that are sown in spring to give you a harvest for one year, and there are also biennials like parsley and chervil, that are sown one year then flower and finish the next. There are also lovely perennial herbs like oregano, mint, chives etc. Give your herbs some love now, to keep them performing into autumn, or to set them up for success next year. Here are a few ideas for you:
1. If you have a sunny windowsill, or a bit of greenhouse space, try potting up some chives, oregano, mint, basil, parsley or lemon balm to give you more shoots to harvest for weeks longer than if they were outside. Just dig up a plant with a good root-ball, pot it up into peat free compost and bring it indoors.
2. Lots of perennial herbs come very easily from cuttings taken now. Try rosemary, sage, lavender, lemon verbena, hyssop or thyme. You just need un-flowered shoots 2-4″ (6-10 cm) long, take off the lower leaves and the soft tip, and insert them into pots of gritty compost up to two-thirds their length. Water and label them, and leave them in a propagator, closed frame, cold greenhouse, or just on a windowsill with a plastic bag fixed over the top (take it off from time to time to release the condensation).
3. Trim back all the spent lavender flowers, to keep your plant in a nice neat shape, though it can be dodgy to cut right back into old woody growth, because those bits might not re-grow shoots next year. Keep harvesting basil as long as you can, so that it will stay bushy.
4. If you have clump-forming plants in your herb patch that have been a little too enthusiastic this year (i.e. spreading far and wide and leaving a woody un-productive middle), September is a good time to tackle them. Oregano (marjoram), thyme, mint and lemon balm can be particularly prone to such behaviour. Don’t hold back. Chop away any old stems, lift the clump and pull it to pieces! Chuck away the oldest parts and pick out the best of the outer divisions to keep. Honestly, these are tough plants and can take it. Refresh the soil with a little fertiliser before you replant these young divisions firmly and water them in.
If you’d like to find out a bit more about growing herbs, do check out a blog that was part of our DigYourOwnaForCorona series back in the spring. The link is at the end.
We are well into harvesting time now, and I hope that you are finding all sorts of nice things to eat in your patch – beans, perhaps, or peas, lovely salad plants, onions, spuds, leafy greens, courgettes, cucumbers and fruit. Middle Growbag Laura was showing off with her first melon of the season this week, while I was gorging on our newly-ripened grapes………..
Picking at the right time is all about vigilance. Try to have a little check round each day for crops that are nearing readiness. For crops like peas, beans and courgettes, you need to keep picking in order to persuade the plants to keep producing. So if you do get too many for your own use, do pick them anyway, and give them away.
It’s a really good idea to pinch out the tops of cordon tomatoes now and take off a few leaves – it will give the remaining fruit much more of a chance to ripen on the plant.
I find that insects will give me good hints about when fruit is ready. For instance, wasps and flies massing around the grapevines or the pear trees, and making a few small (or large!) inroads into the fruit flesh, tell me that it’s time to harvest. Pick pears just before they are soft enough for you, and let them finish ripening inside for a couple of days. Apples are ready when a gentle lift with your hand will cause them to come away from the branch.
And if you’re new to veg-growing, and you are not having as much of a golden harvest-time as you’d expected, I implore you not to give up. Revel in anything you ARE able to pick, then make lots of notes about what went wrong as well as right. You’ll have learned so much about what works on your patch, whether it’s a window-box or a massive allotment. Use that knowledge to do even better next year, and rest assured, I doubt there is a single veg-grower in the whole country, young or old, who’s happy with every single one of his crops – in this year, or any year!
- September can be a very good time for establishing new plants. Many of us have had downpours recently to moisten the soil which is still warm. I like to add mycorrhizal granules to the roots of shrubs and trees I am planting which can really help root-development.
- Give evergreen hedges a final trim so that they will remain looking neat through the winter.
- Use grass-seed to make any necessary repairs to the lawn, and keep the area damp until the seed has germinated.
NB: For more about herbs, here is our Herb Heaven blogpost
More NB: If you’d like more gardening chit-chat from the3growbags, just enter your email address here and we’ll sen you a new post every Saturday morning