This is a good time to take advantage of any empty space so that your garden continues to be productive after the bumper months of high summer. Beds may be coming clear as dwarf beans, peas, potatoes, salads, and other crops finish their productive phase. This opens the way for a quick bit of bed preparation, some soil enrichment, and a whole new wave of planting. Swift sowings of salads, beetroot, carrots, lettuce mizuna, rocket and peas can take advantage of the last few months of warm weather and more long-term plantings of broccoli, cabbages, swedes and cauliflowers will nourish us in the cooler months ahead if we get them in now. In warmer areas, if weather continues to look settled there’s the chance you might run the gauntlet of late summer fungal diseases like powdery mildew and get a last harvest of zucchini and cucumbers from seedlings planted now.
With so much produce available it could be time to borrow a new cookbook or two from a friend and take inspiration to prepare your harvest in exciting and delicious new ways. February is probably the most productive month in terms of harvesting summer produce with climbing and dwarf beans, tomatoes, zucchini, aubergine, cucumbers, sweet corn, potatoes, delicious soft fruits like raspberries and blueberries, to name but a few, all coming to fruition at once. In most cases, the more you pick the more your plants will continue to produce. Fresh is best and produce not only ripens – almost before our eyes – but it can be over-ripe very quickly if it is missed. So keep and eye on those beans, zucchini and peas.
Set up a composting system and start recycling now If you haven’t already got a composting system in your garden then now is a very good time to consider what could work well for you. Compost bins can be large or small and you can make your own or buy them from garden centres. The great thing about setting one up now is that it will give you a place to recycle all the garden waste that will be generated as you harvest and clear beds in the next few months. With a system in place now you’ll hopefully have a ready source of ‘black gold’ (well-rotted compost) ready for re-starting your garden early next spring. Link to compost bins page Link to videosmore
"Shield bugs can be hard to catch so take advantage of their habit of dropping off fruit crops by holding a plastic container with a few inches of water in the bottom beneath. The bugs make their escape by dropping off but fall into the water and drown – or you can dispatch them more swiftly as befits your conscience."
Blight is a serious problem for tomatoes and potatoes and, though it may be dry now, a damp end to summer can increase the chance of it rearing its ugly head. First signs of this fungal disease are rounded brown spots that appear on yellowing leaves along with blackened patches on stems. Affected fruit also develop unpleasant looking brown blotches that soon turn mouldy. Foliage quickly wilts and plants die. This is a very infectious fungal disease that spreads through air movement. Remove infected foliage as soon as you spot it - discard in your household rubbish and DO NOT ADD to compost or you will spread it’s spores through your compost. You are advised to uproot all tomato plants in the vicinity of any that show symptoms of blight – even if they appear to be unaffected. Process any unblemished fruit immediately – if you leave them to ripen on a windowsill you might get away with it in a few cases but its more likely they will succumb before ripening. Sometimes potatoes beneath the ground can be saved when dug up a week or so after foliage has been removed.
When handling plants its best to use disposable or washable gloves. Any tools – such as secateurs, loppers, knives, forks should be sterilized by dipping in or wiping down with a solution of 3 parts household bleach and 2 parts water (use all recommended precautions when handling bleach).
Save seed from beans and peas and put some of your fattest and healthiest cloves of garlic to one side for re-planting later on. Allow a few of your herb plants to flower and set seed and you’ll have free seedlings already scattered about in your beds by next spring. Seed from coriander, dill, fennel and parsley can be saved for cooking as well as for re-stocking beds and containers. Remove spent flower heads on calendula, marigold, zinnias, poppies etc. Dry flower heads and seed pods before storing seed sealed in paper bags or envelopes and popping into a sealed ice cream container in your fridge or stashing in a dry room for next year (remember to label clearly).
Pick the last of your tomatoes in cooler areas and save seed of any Heirloom varieties that have done well. To save seed, squeeze the gooey centre out onto toilet paper or kitchen towel and wait till it all dries. The seeds will be easier to handle and can then be stored in bags or envelopes for sowing in August and September.