August Vegetable Garden Update

Growing puple podded shiraz peasAs you know my top priority is keeping you happy so when I noticed a sunny spell outside the office window I sped over to the Quickcrop garden to take some photos. I was concerned, you see, that you might be feeling a bit low stuck in the office or wherever you are so thought I’d add some colour to your screen.

I think I mentioned in an earlier communication that I have begun to add annual flowers to my vegetable beds both to attract and support pollinators but also for their visual appeal. As it happens it was not the flower beds but the fruit and vegetables which were jumping out at me on my photo shoot as they basked in their Summer finery.

Purple pea flowersThe photo above is of late sown ‘Shiraz’ peas which have a beautiful purple flower just as pretty as sweet pea but also produces striking dark purple pods. My wife Siobhan loves these flat ‘mange tout’ peas which find their way into nearly everything when they are in season. Like any peas ‘Shiraz’ are easy to grow and are great value for the splash of colour they add to the garden and your dinner plate.

The orange flowers behind are runner bean ‘Enorma’, a very reliable bean with high yields and large beans. Personally I like to pick runner beans when they are still small and tender but you can let them fill out if you like larger beans or want to ripen them for storage.

Freeze fresh runner beansFreezing runner beans.
Runner beans can be difficult to keep up with when they are producing beans (you need to keep picking them) but they can be easily frozen if you have too many. It is usually recommended to part cook (blanch) them before freezing but the process is a bit of pain and will probably mean you won’t do it. Siobhan handles peas and beans by freezing them in a single layer on a baking tray and putting them in bags when frozen. She doesn’t bother blanching and the peas and beans still taste great. The soggy blanched versions on the other hand are, in my opinion, revolting.

Grow blueberries on acidic soilFeeding and watering blueberries
Back to the pretty pictures and a shot of my blueberries starting to turn from peppermint green, through to lilac, and finally to their characteristic dark indigo colour. My blueberries are growing in a large raised bed full of acidic soil I dug out of my boggy field; they seem happy with this arrangement as previously they were in the boggy field themselves but are now much healthier looking in the dryer conditions of the raised bed. Any heathland berries (including cranberries) are funny like that; they want acid soil (which is usually wet) and yet they prefer well drained roots.

If you have bushes that aren’t thriving it is worth testing the pH of the soil compost to make sure it is acid enough (ideally around 4.5). Also remember if watering blueberries in pots you need to be careful with the water you use. If you live in an area with hard water and have problems with limescale the tap water will be alkaline and will raise the pH of the compost over time. Your blueberries will not be pleased.

As regards feeding blueberries they are not demanding plants. I apply blood fish and bone sparingly in the Spring and don’t feed later on. Avoid using any high nitrogen feeds as this will encourage lots of green, leafy growth but very few berries.

Feed cabbage nitrogen based fertilizerFeeding Cabbages
What will like a nitrogen based feed are members of the cabbage family like my ‘Stonehead’ and ‘Rodima’ cabbages above. Any leafy greens will like nitrogen; cabbage, broccoli, Brussel’s sprouts, calabrese, cauliflower and kale will all benefit from a seaweed and poultry manure pellet spread around the root zone if they are not looking as vigourous as they should.

Plum tree CzarPlum ‘Czar’
I don’t know what to say about this one other than I wish I had removed the yellow leaf with the holes in it before I took the photo! These are plumbs obviously which are starting to ripen, the variety is ‘Czar’ which yields impressive harvests of small purple/blue plums with a really good tart plum flavour. This tree is just 3 years old and is already giving a lot of fruit, I have another up near the house that is being equally generous. We will be carrying ‘Czar’ this year along with a range of tree fruit all for Autumn planting and will cover planting and pruning when the season comes around.

Blight disease on potato leavesPotato Blight
Not such a cheerful picture this time, this is blight infecting the leaves of my lovely ‘taters. I am not getting too upset as I don’t spray for blight so this is inevitable and happens every year. Unfortunately the disease has shown itself quite early due to the relatively warm and wet weather we’ve had in July so it is already time to take action.

You can slow the spread of blight by removing and disposing of any effected leaves. This is not a cure but might get you a few more weeks of growth from the tubers before you eventually have to cut and dispose of all the foliage. Remember a bit of blight on the leaves doesn’t mean there will be blight in the tubers. The infection spreads from water droplets (containing blight spores) falling from the leaves on to the potatoes below and as long as you have earthed up your crop they will probably not have reached the potatoes under the ground. You can compost blighted leaves as the disease can only survive on live plant tissue, just be careful there are no small potatoes in with the foliage or already in the compost bin.

Remove potato foliage to stop blightOnce the blight has infected over two thirds of the leaves you should cut them right down to the ground leaving bare soil. Don’t dig the crop straight away as you will spread any blight spores on the soil surface through your crop. You are better to leave the potatoes in the ground which will have the added advantage of the skins thickening (curing) which will mean the will keep longer in storage. The exception would be any tubers breaking the surface of the soil which will likely have been infected so should be disposed over away from the garden (not on the compost heap).

Weed free onions Harvesting Onions
You can see my onion ‘Santero’ above growing in a ‘Grow-Grid’ mat to keep the weeds down. You can see just how well these mats work once the onion swells and fills up the planting hole and covers any bare soil. As you probably know onions are shallow rooted crops so can be difficult to hoe between without causing root damage. I use the same 3 Grow-Grid mats every year for both onions and garlic and find them excellent, they save me a load of time and haven’t deteriorated at all so well worth the twenty odd quid they cost.

You will know when your onions are ready to harvest when 70% of the leaves turn yellow and fall over, usually starting around mid August. If you are having a wet Summer (which often happens round here) the onions can stay green for longer and may need a helping hand to trigger the ripening process. To do this give each onion a tug to break some of the roots and they will get the message.

Raised pond shop
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