Enjoy August in the garden. A lot has been achieved and there is much to enjoy. This is a month when the widest variety of vegetables should be ready to harvest. You can eat your way through potatoes, carrots and cabbages and on into aubergines, peppers and tomatoes.
The garden is doing what it does best at this stage and provided you keep on top of harvesting, a lot of the veg patch will take care of itself.
I know plenty of gardeners who allow the garden to become a wilder version of itself in August.
Maybe the enthusiasm of earlier months has waned. Don’t ignore watering, or major problems, but it isn’t a bad time to ease back and take a break.
Fruits should be ripening beautifully in the greenhouse now. Remove some lower leaves to allow sun and air to reach the fruits. This will speed up the ripening process. Keep tying stems in to supports and remove side shoots so you don’t end up with a tangled, bushy, and unproductive plant.
Harvest fruits as they ripen and be vigilant. I have had several tomatoes pecked by birds this year and had to resolve the problem by covering open doors with netting. This will also keep butterflies out and hence reduce caterpillar problems.
If plants are to bear a heavy crop then they really do need feeding every 7 to 10 days. There are good liquid tomato feeds available to buy, or you can make your own by soaking a porous bag of manure in a bin full of water. You can also add comfrey leaves, nettles (handle with care!) or teabags, into the mix to increase the range of nutrients. Seaweed also makes a good liquid feed but be sure to wash off excess salt and clean out unwanted rubbish before using.
I know it is the middle of summer, but I find something very pleasing in the rows of broccoli, sprouts and kale. These are growing to provide food from late autumn and on through the winter. They are hardy plants that can stand through rain and cold, but tall plants will suffer if they are knocked in strong winds. This is a good time to knock in stout poles and to tie each plant firmly to a support. It’s much easier to do this before plants grow to their full size and much nicer to work on a warm summer day than to struggle with fallen plants in the middle of winter.
Just a reminder to keep using short lawn clippings to mulch bare soil between rows of tall plants. This reduces the amount of weeding you have to do now. It also reduces the number of seeding weeds and hence reduces the weed problem in years to come.
Don’t give up if the weeds have taken over. You can do a quick grab and pull, or slash, or hoe: get the tops off and then cover the rest with mulch to regain some control. Any weeds that poke back through the mulch can be dealt with while they are small.
Plants are doing well this year and the earliest sowings may have already produced cobs. Pollen needs to fall from the male tassels at the top of the plant, down onto the silks where the cobs will form. Good pollination leads to a cob full of kernels. Poor pollination can lead to part filled cobs. If plants are grown close together in a block, then pollen usually falls where it should. If grown under cover, the tops of plants can get squashed against the cover and pollen spread can be limited. Give stems a gentle shake so pollen reaches all cobs. If necessary, you can cut the top off one plant and shake this into corners where pollen wouldn’t otherwise reach.
French beans have cropped well so far and climbing varieties are particularly prolific. In a good summer they will continue to produce beans for a few more weeks, but runner beans become the real star performers from mid August through to the end of September. Runner beans are easy to grow, provided they have some frame to climb up. Plants can reach 7ft with ease and tops may tumble over at that point. Provide extra support if needed. Stretch an extra bit of net, or drive in longer poles, if you have drastically underestimated the height of your frame. There should be plenty of flowers on plants now. Mist lightly with a spray of water in hot, dry weather to get the best set of pods from these early flowers.
Time to sow:
Spinach, Swiss chard, rocket, winter lettuce, winter turnips, corn salad, mizuna, spring cabbage, mustard greens and more, for autumn and winter crops.
• Joyce Russell is a West Cork gardener and author of The Polytunnel Book — Fruit and Vegetables All Year Round, the best-selling guide to undercover growing.