GardeningÂ Â by Joyce Russell
We have had some glorious weather this summer and there could be plenty more to come. Beds and containers dry out quickly on hot sunny days and a few millimetres of rain may not be enough to soak the ground again. Keep on top of watering. Containers and hanging baskets need a good soaking every couple of days or every day if temperatures are soaring. Garden beds don't dry out as fast, but if you see white powdery mildew on the leaves of pumpkins, cucumbers and courgettes then you know that they aren't getting enough water. These plants are thirsty and will suffer if the ground is allowed to get too dry before watering.
These should be a blaze of colour now. Some plants finish flowering before others start and this can lead to gaps where things don't look quite so interesting. Annuals can be the answer, since these often flower right through the summer. Such humble plants as the pretty nasturtium will grow in most soils and spread to fill empty sections. Leave the seeds to ripen and fall on some plants and you may well find new plants grow from these next year.Â
Removing dead heads will tidy up the look of a border as well as pushing some plants to produce fresh flowers. Not all plants will keep flowering or produce a second flush, but foliage is usually an easier thing on the eye than browning flower heads.
Don't forget that flowers need water as much as fruit and vegetables. Established perennials will have deep root systems that are more tolerant of drought. Newly established plants don't have such an established underground structure and can soon wilt. Give a good soaking as soon as the surface dries out.
Tomatoes in the greenhouse
Tomatoes are ripening well and there should be some to pick on most days. Once a truss starts to colour up then there is no stopping it. Larger varieties take longer to ripen than small ones, but you should soon see them all producing perfect fruit.
Watch out for blight, which shows as grey soft patches on leaves. Grey mould can be a problem too, but don't worry if you have difficulty distinguishing between the two: the simplest thing is to remove any diseased leaves and limit the spread of spores. Try not to wet leaves when watering if you want to reduce the chance of blight destroying tomato plants. Small dark brown dots on leaves (where the dots don't spread out and turn into blotches) can be a sign of a virus disease. This isn't much of a problem, but keep an eye on affected plants in case your diagnosis changes. Irregular watering can lead to curled leaves and also to brown dark patches at the blossom end of tomatoes. The latter can also be a sign of too acid a soil, so scatter pure woodash around plants to raise the soil pH.
French beans have been cropping for a couple of weeks. The slim long pods are delicious if used before they fatten up and start to swell beans. Keep picking if you want the plants to produce more flowers and hence to keep cropping for many more weeks. Climbing French beans can crop right through into the autumn if plants are healthy, supported, and you harvest often enough.
Runner beans usually come in a few weeks later. They can crop further into the autumn too. This spread is ideal if you want to extend the bean glut. The good news is that beans freeze well. Choose young, sound pods and make sure to remove any strings. You can dip them in boiling water to blanche and then freeze bags of beans. I prefer to freeze them in a spicy tomato sauce or in a mixed vegetable dish. This takes a small bit more work, but it makes a simple meal to lift from the freezer when the beans and tomatoes are no longer growing.
This is the perfect time to make some sowings for cold weather crops. Sow spring cabbages, Swiss chard, spinach, beetroot, winter turnips, parsley, kohl rabi, Florence fennel, pak choi etc now and you will have plenty to pick and eat through autumn, winter and into spring. Sow salad leaves and lettuce too and sow more again in the coming months if you want lots of winter salad to harvest.Â
Some of these crops, such as fennel and pak choi, do better in a greenhouse or polytunnel than outdoors. If you don't have either, then use a cold frame or cover small plants with a cloche in the autumn when things start to cool down. Â You may have to settle for smaller bulbs, but in an average winter you should still get some useful plants.