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Nikki's advice

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Nikki's advice for July and August

July and August can be the hottest months of the year (and hopefully dryer and warmer than May & June...)  It's the peak of the growing season and the harvest starts now in earnest. 
In July you should be eating French & runner beans, courgettes, carrots, beetroot, onions, new potatoes and summer salads.  Strawberries, currants, gooseberries, Summer raspberries and blueberries.  In August you should be eating broad beans, early sweetcorn, tomatoes, peppers, chillies and aubergines.  There are still jobs to do but be sure to take the time to sit back, relax and admire your productive garden.

Jobs to do in July & August

Sow:  a late sowing of peas, runner and French Beans, carrots, oriental veg, salad leaves, spring cabbage, autumn & winter salads and Swiss chard.  You can sow cabbages, broccoli and kale in a nursery bed or in modules for a crop in Spring.

Birds love fruit, especially juicy berries and cherries, so unless you don't mind sharing protect your fruit trees and bushes with netting before the fruit ripens. 

Tomatoes - nip off the sideshoots from tomatoes regularly (if you didn't do a second sowing of tomatoes and think we may be due a lovely hot Autumn, try popping the nipped off side shoots into a vase of water for a week and then pot up - they'll root quickly and give you a later crop) and tie in the stems.  Remove the lower leaves and any leaves shading the fruits from the sun. 

Feed tomatoes and peppers with a liquid tomato food weekly once the first fruits forms.

Nip out the growing tip of aubergines once the plant is 18 inches high, this will encourage it to fruit on side shoots.  Don't over water as they dislike being 'boggy' and keep misted as this deters spider mite and whitefly.

Pick courgettes, runner & French beans regularly.  Nip out the top of bean plants once they've reached the top of their support.

Earth up potatoes (this helps protect them from blight and stop the tubers from going green), Brussels sprouts and brassicas (to prevent wind rock).

Dry onions by leaving them on the top of the soil or on a wire rack for a couple of days.

Take off any leaves shading squash & pumpkins, this will help them to ripen.

Fruit: Summer raspberry canes that have already fruited this year can be cut down to the ground once you've harvested, tie in this years new shoots - these will fruit next year.  Tie in black & hybrid berries.  Summer prune plum/cherry trees once you've harvest the fruit.  If you're apple and pear trees are young or overcrowded with small fruits, reduce the number of fruits - this will help the remaining fruit to develop to full size.  Tidy up strawberry plants by removing old foliage, destroy any leaves/fruit showing signs of grey mould - pin down runners if you want to make new plants.  Strawberries produce most fruit during their 2nd & 3rd years, after this they tire so be prepared to replace old plants with new or propagated plants to keep the berries coming.

Transplanting:  if you sowed winter and spring cauliflowers, Brussels sprouts, leeks & kale in nursery beds in the spring, transplant them to their permanent home now and keep them well watered.

Housekeeping: keep hoeing the weeds on sunny days, water regularly.  Even after rain the soil can still be dry under the surface - concentrate watering efforts on young seedlings, fruit and fruiting/podded veg, leafy salad and veg like spinach/lettuce, potatoes once they have flowers, plants in pots & new fruit trees.  Remove any dead or diseased crops.  Damp down the greenhouse in hot weather and ensure you're keeping it well ventilated.

Clear the ground as you harvest and if you're not using the space for sowing or transplants consider sowing some green manure.  This will cover the ground to keep the weeds at bay and can be dug into the soil later in the season to enrich it.

Pests & diseases: if you've not netted your brassicas look for the eggs of butterflies regularly and rub off.  Blackfly on beans can be washed off or sprayed with a weak solution of washing up liquid.  Asparagus beetles should be picked off and crushed (very satisfying).  Peas should be protected against moths with fleece.  Look out for caterpillar holes on leeks - and pick off the offenders.  Check potatoes and tomatoes for any signs of blight.  A sprayed solution of Bordeaux mixture (not the sort you enjoy with Sunday lunch but a copper based fungicide) can be effective in offering some protection against blight.  This mixture can also be sprayed, after harvesting the fruits, onto cherries, apricots and peaches to treat bacterial canker.

Nikki's advice for May and June

The growing season is now well underway - May can be the busiest month on the fruit/veg plot.  Remember to protect yourself against the sun - experts say that (in the UK) if your shadow is shorter than you are... the sun is strong enough to burn you!  Having said that we're not safe from late frosts in May so keep an eye on the weather forecast and be prepared to protect tender crops with some fleece or cloches.  The most important tasks during May/June are watering, feeding, supporting and protecting.

Pests - protect carrots, parsnips and brassicas from pests with fine mesh or insect netting.  If you do get a black/whitefly infestation soak or spray with insecticidal soap.  Butterflies lay their eggs on the underside of brassica leaves, these should be rubbed or washed off.  Greenhouse pests can be controlled now with Biological Control (these are Do-Good bugs you can buy which eat bad bugs).  Protect fruit bushes/trees and brassicas from birds with netting.  Slugs and snails can be trapped in beer traps or controlled by an application of Biological Control.

Weeds - stop weeds in their tracks by hoeing on sunny days - make sure your hoe is nice and sharp and slide the hoe so that it's flat across the ground, chopping through the stems of the weeds on a warm dry day will cause them to wilt and die.  This is fabulous, gentle exercise if you keep on top of it... if you've got a large area or a lot of weeds tackle it a section at a time.

Seeds - keep sowing... asparagus peas, broad beans (final sowing in May), outdoor cucumbers, runner & French beans, beetroot, carrots, lettuce, calabrese, herbs, onions, spring onions, parsnips, peas, rocket, spinach, turnips, radishes.  Soak the drill before sowing if it's been dry.  A second sowing of tomatoes can be done in the greenhouse at the end of May.  Sow pumpkins, squash and courgettes under cover and transplant them in June.

Seedlings - thin out beetroot, carrots, lettuce, parsnips, spinach and turnips to avoid overcrowding - the final spacing information is on your seed packets, this doesn't have to be done in one go... gradual thinning provides some insurance in case some of your seedlings die off and some thinnings, like carrots, are delicious in salads.  Water the crop a couple of hours beforehand - they'll come out more easily.  Thin carrots in the evening when the carrot root fly is less active - they're attracted to the smell the foliage gives off when disrupted so disrupt your carrots as little as possible.

Plant out -  if you've raised seedlings under cover and want to get them outside, acclimatise them first by hardening them off.  You can either put them in a cold frame with the lid raised during the day and closed at night or simply put plants outside during the day to get them used to the change in conditions.  When planting out Sweetcorn remember that it is wind pollinated and so needs to be planted in blocks

Legumes - support broad beans (stakes) and peas (canes or twiggy sticks).  Sow French and runner beans where they are to grow or in a deep pot in the greenhouse, if sowing outdoors you will need to protect them from frost.  You can continue to sow maincrop peas, mangetout and sugarsnaps every four weeks to keep a steady supply coming.

Alliums - if you sowed leeks in a nursery bed or pot you can transplant them to their final home when they're about the thickness of a pencil.  Either drop them individually into a 6 inch deep hole and water in or transplant them in small groups. 

Brassicas - May is really your last chance to sow cabbages, cauliflowers, Brussels sprouts and calabrese.  If it's fine weather sow them directly outdoors, if not start them off under cover.  These plants need room and a long growing season - if you've not got room to spare grow them in a nursery bed and transplant them to a final home when space becomes available later on in the season.  Firm them in well and don't forget to protect them from cabbage root fly with collars and from birds/butterflies with some netting.  Pick off any yellow leaves to prevent the spread of mould and downy mildew.

Potatoes - draw soil up around the potatoes as the shoots grow to protect them from frost and prevent the tubers going green (green tubers are poisonous).  Early potato varieties can be lifted when they start to flower.

Tomatoes - are not hardy so if you're intending to grow them outside wait until your certain all risk of frost has passed before you put them out.  Smaller cherry sized fruiting tomatoes have a better chance of ripening well outside.  Tomatoes have a dual root system.  They feed using thick roots at the top of the plant and drink using long fine roots at the bottom.   If you're growing in a greenhouse bed or in the soil outside sink a thick pipe or plastic bottle with the bottom cut off next to it and angled towards the roots when you plant - this will allow you to get water down to the drinking roots.  Tomatoes need steady watering so water them every day.  Start feeding the tomatoes once per week when the flowers set, not before, directly onto the soil so that the top feeding roots get the benefit.  Train them up canes or twine and remember to pinch out the side shoots of cordon varieties.

Mulch - mulching will help keep in moisture and keep weeds at bay. 

Fruit - remove any suckers that appear at the base of fruit trees and bushes.  Water fruit growing in pots regularly and feed with a high potash feed. Put up codling moth traps in apple trees.  Thin apples, pears, plums, peaches, nectarines and apricots in June.

Did you know?

Temperatures can rocket in the greenhouse in May/June.  The 'greenhouse effect' means that the air inside your greenhouse heats up quickly when the sun is shining, this hot air rises and needs to be able to escape through vents in the roof.  As the hot air escapes, cooler fresh air gets sucked in to replace it through the lower side vents and it is this natural circulation of air that prevents your plants from cooking.  So, make sure your vents are opened up during the day and are adequate in size and number for the size of your greenhouse (Royal Horticultural Society recommends that roof vents should be on both sides of the roof ridge and equivalent to 15-20 percent of the floor area). You should be keeping your max temperature below 28 degrees C.


Water is essential for all plants to survive and although many established plants and shrubs may cope quite well as they can draw reserves from deep in the ground, vegetables are quick growing crops which need regular watering.  Here are some tips to help you water wisely:

Put saucers under pots/containers to capture excess water, the plant will take up the excess when it starts to dry out.  Don't leave pots to stand in water for long periods however.

Water in the evening when it is less likely to be lost through evaporation.

Collect and store water wherever possible - rainwater from roofs, garages, greenhouses etc can be stored in water butts.

Mulch around plants to keep in moisture and ensure your soil has plenty of organic matter dug in.  Water storing crystals are useful in containers.

The RHS suggests that soaking to a depth of 30 centimetres every 10 days is better for plants than watering to a depth of 1 centimetre every day.

Stick your finger in the soil to test for moisture and to learn how often your crops really need water.

Keep the area free of weeds - they will be using your valuable water resources.

Consider using drip irrigation especially for thirsty crops which suffer stress when subject to sporadic watering, eg tomatoes, courgettes, cucumbers.

Bare soil will lose moisture so cover any bare areas with black plastic.

Use 'grey' water from basins/baths/showers to dampen down the greenhouse or on ornamental plants (household detergents and soaps will not harm them).

Invest in some trickle irrigation.


Nikki's advice for March and April

March and April are busy months on the veg plot, the days are getting longer and the weather (touch wood) is warming up.  The growing season really does start here!

First timers

Size isn't everything!  there's no point in taking on more than you can manage - you may end up ignoring your plot or hating the sight of it as a result.  However, being organised, growing what you know you eat and choosing the right spot in your garden will lead you down the path to success.  Your plot should be sited somewhere reasonably sunny & sheltered, on well drained ground.  Veg gardening doesn't have to be ugly... so give your veg the best possible spot.

Jobs to do in March

In the greenhouse sow 'slow to develop' crops like tomatoes, aubergines, cucumbers and chillies.  To provide the warmth required for germination I've made a propagation bench in my greenhouse which consists of some polystyrene boarding (from the DIY shop) with a heated mat on top of that, and then some capillary matting on top of that.  I sow seeds into small pots or modules (2 in each in case one fails) and place these directly onto the matting.  Water the pots beforehand to prevent washing small seeds away.  If you're unsure about how deep to plant a seed, a good general rule is to plant it by it's own depth but hopefully there will be clear instructions on the seed packet.  Cover with some black plastic or newspaper and keep them moist using a fine rose on your watering can.  As soon as you see green shoots appear remove the plastic/paper covering to expose them to the light.  If both seeds germinate, remove the weaker one by cutting it at soil level with a very sharp/clean knife or scissors - I wipe the blade after each cut to prevent spreading disease.

If you don't have a greenhouse you can sow inside and keep pots on a windowsill or in a conservatory/porch.  If you have underfloor heating anywhere this is an ideal surface to keep pots while the seeds germinate, just don't bake them!

There are a few hardy seeds that will germinate at fairly low temperatures (they won't need to go onto a heated mat) - chard, spinach, broad beans, leeks, coriander, oregano, dill, beetroot and peas can be sown into modules or small pots now.

Potatoes - plant first earlies in the middle of the month and start 'chitting' your maincrop potatoes.  To chit potatoes, pop them 'rose' side up in trays or egg boxes and leave in a light frost free place, but not in direct sunlight (a non South facing windowsill is ideal).  When the shoots reach 2 inches, rub off all but the 4 sturdiest shoots.

Now is the time to plant new asparagus crowns and perennial herbs like mint, tarragon, rosemary and lovage.  It's also probably your last chance to plant garlic bulbs for harvesting this year.

To help warm up the soil in your plot ready for sowing/planting you can cover it with some polythene (carpet or cardboard would also work but let's face it.. not that attractive). 

Improve your soil - now is a good time to apply a general fertilizer before seeds/seedlings are planted. 

Jobs to do in April

April is a tricky month... the weather can be lovely and mild but frosts can soon return.  With weed seedlings appearing in the garden (a certain sign that outdoor germination is possible) it's tempting to start sowing.  If you'd like to try your luck sow just a few seeds outside and another batch under cover - if the weather turns and your outdoor seeds fail you have others to fall back on.

In the greenhouse or inside sow 'quick to develop' crops like butternut squash, pumpkins and courgettes, french and runner beans, sweetcorn and basil.  If you didn't get around to it in March you can still sow aubergines, chillies, peppers, cauliflower (summer/autumn), celery, cucumbers and tomatoes.

Unless there's snow or hard frost you can now sow some hardy crops directly into your soil - salad leaves, beetroot, chard, carrots, spinach, oriental leaves like mizuna, mibuna & komatsuna.  You can sow leeks directly where you'd like them to grow or in a 'seed bed' which is basically just a nursery area where your seedlings can develop - the seedlings can be transplanted later in the season either individually or in blocks.

Potatoes - you can plant your second earlies at the start of the month, maincrops can go in at the end.

Pot on tomatoes and cucumbers but keep under cover as these plants are not hardy.  Tomatoes should be re-potted deeply as they'll grow feeding roots up the stem that gets buried (remove any leaves that would be under the soil) and remember that cucumber stems are very fragile and will need the support of a cane or string as soon as they reach 6 inches.  Keep an eye on all seedlings growing in modules or small pots, they can quickly become pot bound... you may see tiny roots appearing out the bottom of the pot.  Pot on regularly.

Try this....

To get ahead, peas can be very successfully sown in lengths of guttering on the greenhouse bench, either leave the ends open so that excess water drains away or if you're super tidy you can purchase ends for your guttering and drill drainage holes in the underside of the pipe.  Fill the pipe with compost and sow a staggered row of peas about 1 inch deep.  (if you've got mice, soak the peas for 10 mins in warm water, dry roughly so they're just damp and then tip into a small container of chilli powder to coat before planting) .  After about 6 weeks they should be ready to plant out.  Make a trench the same size and shape as the pipe and slide the contents into it - although peas are hardy keep some fleece handy to protect them from frosts.

Clear a weedy area of the garden by growing potatoes there.  Potatoes are thugs!  They will out-muscle most weeds and when you lift the potatoes the weeds will be wrapped around the roots and can come out too.

When sowing directly - if your soil is dry, water the drill well before sowing.  If your soil is very wet sprinkle some sharp sand in the drill before sowing.  To prepare your bed for sowing, weed thoroughly, dig over and rake the surface when it's dry - you're aiming for a 'crumble topping' consistency.

Unless you're blessed with unlimited space and time it pays to concentrate on growing crops that either taste superior when freshly picked, e.g. asparagus, tomatoes & sweetcorn, or, varieties of crops which you love but are difficult to find in the shops e.g. Pink Fir Apple potatoes, golden beetroot, Crystal Apple cucumbers, or, crops which you eat every day in smallish quantities e.g. cut and come again salad leaves & fresh herbs.


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