Early August means the highest of high summer! Whatever is on your mind, it can’t halt the corn reaching as high as an elephant’s eye, or the fruit ripening on the branches. Let’s be thankful for that at least, and get on with some tasks like sowing winter salads, make some new sempervivums, and assessing your garden triumphs and failures…………………….
Still the season for sowing!
Are you one of the thousands of folk who tried veg-growing for the first time during the pandemic? Perhaps you even joined our 3Growbag beginners’ romp through the subject in our DigYourOwnaForCorona campaign? (By the way, the whole set of DYOFC articles is available here).
Like every gardener there has ever been, you’ll have had successes and failures, but I hope the former outweighs the latter. And at the very least, you’ll want to carry on with the thrill of growing-your-own next year and beyond.
Obviously the main season for seed-sowing of veg was late winter and spring, and if you heeded the advice to keep sowing things like peas and lettuces, you should be harvesting happily well into September. BUT with a bit of canny planning, you could be picking things to eat right into October, or even well into the New Year!
I’m talking about rocket, quick-maturing varieties of lettuce, mizuna, corn-salad, perpetual spinach and oriental leaves of all kinds. There’s even such a thing as a winter lettuce with the glorious name of ‘Black-seeded Simpson’! I’ve never grown him myself, though. You might also be tempted by more unusual salad leaves like winter purslane or salad burnet.
You basically use the same technique for sowing any of these seeds:
- Use multi-purpose peat-free compost to fill a seed-tray, pot or almost any container in fact, as long as it has got drainage holes in the bottom.
- Scatter the seeds over the surface and cover them with a thin layer of compost. Sow quite a few because these late-sown seeds tend not to make much new growth once you’ve started harvesting the leaves.
- Label the tray (and a sowing-date is a good idea, especially if you’re sowing several batches in succession).
- Water the tray gently using a rose on the can.
- Leave the tray in the greenhouse or on a windowsill for about a fortnight until they germinate, keeping the compost damp but not soaking.
- Prick the seedlings out into modules when they are large enough to be handled.
- Gradually get them used to being outdoors over about a week – outside during the day, inside at night. Then they are all ready to be planted into beds, pots, window boxes etc. to enjoy through the autumn and winter.
Go on, I double-dare you to have a go at this, and polish up your vegetable-growing credentials even more!
Those of you who have been following our blog for a while, will know that I’m very enthusiastic about the reflective side of gardening. I love the names of plants, I love the planning and siting of them, learning what they will and won’t do, finding out more all the time. I’m sure that many, if not most, of you feel the same as I do, seeing this passion for horticulture as (cliche-alert!) a journey rather than an arrival.
The middle of summer is a great time to go out into the garden with a notebook and a pen, and write down some of these thoughts while the evidence is slap-bang in front of you.
To show you what I mean, here are a few notes that have already made it into my little book:
- I’d been tiptoeing around the fabulously fragrant Bourbon rose ‘Mme. Pierre Oger’ for years, treating it like any of the other once-flowering old roses with a light prune at the end of the summer etc. It’s only now, having almost inadvertently cut it back quite hard in February, that I realise that it is a fabulous repeat-flowerer! More flower-buds forming all the time like a Hybrid Tea. Who knew? Well, I probably should have done, but there you go. I know now.
- I had no idea that zinnias, as in the feature photo, are SO attractive to insects like hoverflies – I must grow more next year……………
- I think the time might have come to dump the raspberry canes. Of all the fruit we grow – apples, pears, plums, figs, Japanese wineberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants, grapes…. – they are by far the most disappointing crop each year, no matter what I try. All they actually seem to enjoy doing is growing in the wrong place. Is it birds? Watering? Weeds? Feeding? Lack of mulch? Don’t know, and actually don’t care any more. They’re History!
So there you are – some of my garden reflections, now you need to get going with yours, and make your patch even more perfect next year.
Sweet little sempervivums
Here’s a nice little job if you’re into succulents. August is a good time to split the offsets from the main plant to make new houseleeks (Sempervivum), or the closely related but tender echeverias.
Turn the pot upside-down, and tap the rim to drop the plant out into your other hand.
Pull apart or snip off the little rosettes round the side, making sure that each has a short stem or some roots.
Plant the offsets into pots of gritty compost then leave them a couple of days for the cut stems to callus over a little before you water them in.
- If you grow sweetcorn, harvest the cobs when the tassels are brown, and your fingernail pushed into a kernel releases a milky sap.
- Pick woody herbs like sage and hang bunches of stems up in an airy, cool place to dry and store them.
- Prune out the oldest fruit-bearing wood from blackcurrant bushes as they finish producing this year’s harvest.
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