The Summer Garden

July is a big month for your garden – All that hard work that you put in earlier in the year will finally start to show. Now it’s time to enjoy it! If you have a vegetable garden you’ll probably find that by the end of the month you’ll have some gorgeous home-grown goodies to eat. By July, beans, lettuce, rocket, courgette, spring onions, strawberries and many early crops are ready for harvesting. At last it’s time to start eating and tasting. But, it’s not all that easy. Although you must put time aside to make the most of your garden this month, there is still plenty to be doing.

A good tip when growing potatoes, depending on the summer weather, is to water well during dry spells especially if you are growing potatoes in containers. Water is key to a good crop and potatoes in tubs easily dry out. In addition, it helps to get a good crop by ‘earthing up’ the potatoes. This allows more potatoes to form as the season goes on. To do this, as the potato grows and more stem appears above ground, you need to add more soil to the container, or mound up the soil in the plot, so that more of the stalk is covered. Depending on the weather, salad potatoes and earlies will be ready to harvest in July. How to tell when potatoes are ready to harvest? First, have they flowered? Potatoes are not ready to harvest until after flowering and then check if they are ready by gently scraping away the earth and see what you find; if the potatoes are too small or too few, cover up and try again in a couple of weeks. Plant second cropping potatoes now to give you new potatoes for Christmas. Plant your Christmas potatoes in pots or bags which can be brought under cover before the first frosts.

Parsley can be tricky to germinate and July is a good month to try. Sow in a line in the veg plot, (lines will help you to tell what is germinating seed growing in a line, and what is germinating weeds, which don’t grow in straight lines) and give parsley some time as it can be slow to germinate. Parsley will survive low temperatures later in the season and is an ideal herb for potting up and bringing indoors later in the year. Supermarket herbs are expensive and growing your own herbs is easy and cheap.

Keep picking peas and beans whilst they are young and if you have a glut, freeze. All the bean family freeze easily. Blanch them in boiling water for 2 minutes, plunge into an iced bowl to cool, pat dry and freeze. Keep picking all the peas and beans to encourage the plant to keep flowering and setting seed. Sow a last batch of peas and dwarf beans before mid- July for an autumn crop.

Broad beans are very prone to blackfly and it’s a good idea to keep pinching out the tips to stop the blackfly settling on the new growth which is the bit they really like. This also stops off the plant growth so the plants energies go to flower and bean production, not more growth. If the whole stem of beans has been picked clean of beans, cut it down near the base and you can often encourage more growth and a second crop. Leaving the roots of broad beans in the soil when they have finished is beneficial as the roots will decompose in the soil, releasing nitrogen.

This month is a good time to raise new strawberries from the runners of your existing plants. Just place a pot of compost near the plant, peg the runner into the pot, water well and leave for a few weeks until well rooted. Cut off excess runners to conserve the plants energies. This is helpful as strawberry plants are short lived, 3 years or so and they will need replacing. Raising runners is a way to have new plants for free.

Getting the most from your tomatoes:

Whether you are growing tomatoes under glass or outdoors the plants will continue to need a lot of attention. The essential step with tomatoes, to get the flavour and texture right, is to feed and water regularly. By now the plants will be growing vigorously and it’s important to divert the plant’s energy into fruits not foliage. Tomatoes need to be kept in check, nip out all side shoots, and thin down, which means cut off leaves to add light for when the flowers turn to fruit and to restrict growth. Once the plant has set 3 or 4 flower trusses, stop off the growing point and keep pinching it out until the plant stops growing. Feed regularly once the first truss has set with a specialist tomato fertiliser.

Still time to sow!

For successive crops you need to sow and plant successively, and in July there is still time to sow directly into the plot the last sowings of beans and peas. Salad crops, especially the fast growing ones, (such as rocket and ‘cut n come again’ lettuce) continue to sow through July, August and September, depending on the weather.