Its time to think of summer harvest – granted, it’s still months away but now is a good time to sow seeds of aubergine, capsicum and tomato somewhere warm and sunny. Sowing and planting kohlrabi, early peas, mizuna, beetroot and carrots where soil is workable and periodically sun-kissed should serve up some welcome produce in spring. August is a last chance to plant garlic. For those with a long-term garden plan its time to plant asparagus crowns for a succulent, spring harvest that could keep recurring for up to 20 years.
Leeks, cabbages and turnips sown last autumn should be ready around now along with broccoli, cauliflower and kohlrabi. Early season avocados can be harvested when they reach mature size. Pick them when they are still hard – they don’t actually soften on the tree – keep them at room temperature for a few days and they should be ready. Tamarillos are often at their best in August and olives are also ready for trees to be shaken onto a sheet or tarpaulin – the easiest way to gather them quickly.
"Chitting potatoes (a fancy term for allowing them to grow little roots) before planting gets your potato crop underway quicker. Find out how to chit potatoes "
If you haven’t done so already, take time to plan what you will grow and where you will grow it in the coming spring and summer season. It helps to sit down with pen and paper, if you don’t get it all right first time round its easier to rub things out rather than having to dig them up! Sort out the tall growers like climbing beans and sunflowers from the shorter sun-lovers like bush beans, carrots and beetroot. Plan your planting structure so that it works for both the heavy producing slow growers like tomatoes and aubergines as well speedy catch crops such as lettuce, radish, rocket and basil that can grow and mature quickly around them.
Remember to group your plants into their relevant families if you are doing a crop rotation scheme.
Differing plant groups attract specific pests and are susceptible to certain diseases, they also utilize specific nutrients and benefit from the right soil conditions. If crops are grown in the same place year after year then the nutrients required by those plants can be used up – leaving soil spent - and the pests and diseases that attack them can start to find a permanent home. As a result, plants become weaker and yields drop until crops ultimately fail altogether.
The idea behind rotating crops is to prevent this build up of pests and diseases in any given part of your garden and to make sustainable use of nutrients in the soil. Crops are grouped together according to preferred soil type, required nutrients and the types of pests and diseases that threaten them. These groups are kept together and
moved to a different bed or planting area with each new season which helps to keep the garden productive.
Native birds as well as thrushes, blackbirds, sparrows, finches etc are an important part of any garden’s diverse and sustainable ecosystem. We should encourage them because they need good habitat and they enrich our lives with song, display and company. Birds are also a key part of keeping a food garden healthy and productive. They prey on slugs, snails, caterpillars, aphids – generally without trashing crops - and this relieves pressure on plants.
To attract birds into your garden put out the odd apple, handful of grains or oats on a table to encourage rather than fully feed them. Their appetites are what you want so they’ll go hunt for slugs and snails. Bird baths are also a great bird attraction, keep them filled with fresh water in dry spells. Thrushes in particular love to bash snails on hard surfaces so place a few flat rocks around and they will reward you with smashed and empty snail shells. Grow sunflowers and allow plants like parsley to set seed – this will be an important autumnal boost.
It’s true that birds will sometimes uproot pea seedlings, pull up newly-planted garlic cloves and they do sometimes have a bit of a ‘root around’ in soil – though they are probably after slug eggs, small snails and caterpillars. Try and see this as behaviour that can be tolerated - after all they do a huge amount for us. If anything gets too destructive you can use mesh and cloches to protect vulnerable plants and succulent fruits. If you do cover crops with mesh, leave some produce for the birds when you have satisfied yourself with your own harvest.
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