Welcome to one of the most plentiful months of the year! After the warm and dry spells we had in July everything desperately needed water and we have now had copious amounts of rain. Everything in the garden is lush, greener, bigger, happier – a real pleasure for any gardener and for plants and wildlife alike. This is a month when every trip to our growing space sees us going back with plenty of fruit and vegetables – the perfect time to cook and enjoy our lovely fresh food; to make our friends and family happy with anything we have in excess; and to start making jams, pickles and chutneys. A time to sit back and enjoy the rewards of our hard work and appreciate the beauty of being in nature amongst our plants.
Sow, plant, propagate
The beginning of August is the perfect time to sow lots of veg, particularly leaves – this should give us enough time to grow strong seedlings by the end of the month, ready for a long autumn and winter to come. This is also a less active time for predators and therefore an easier ride in terms of preventing our crops from being savaged by pests and diseases.
A lot of vegetables are far hardier than we might expect and that can easily survive at temperatures of -10C - precisely the time when we are most in need of vitamins and minerals, particularly Vitamin C. Cold-hardy veg that can be sown this month:
- Oriental leaves - mizuna, mibuna, pak-choi, mustards, Chinese cabbage, leaf radish. They tend to bolt during the summer heat and it’s easier to grow them as autumn, winter and early spring leaves. Sow them from late July to mid-August at the latest and they’ll have a good chance to grow before the cold kicks in.
- Rocket – sow till September, harvest till winter and leave it to be dormant till the spring, when you’ll see tender fresh leaves.
- Chard – this is the very last chance to sow it, so hurry up if you haven’t already done so. Try different varieties including Rainbow and Swiss chard.
- Spinach – sow till max mid August and will happily overwinter outdoors
- Winter radishes
- Kale – a real winter champion less susceptible to clubroot and cabbage root fly that boasts a variety of leaves, from mild-tasting Red Russian to Nero di Toscana for cut and come again leaves.
- Corn salad – sow third or fourth week in August for first leaves in December and early spring
- Keep sowing salad leaves such as lettuces, rocket, land cress, claytonia, chicory and lambs lettuce.
- Turnips – sow now and harvest it before Christmas, they grow as fast as radishes and don’t really like frost.
- Spring cabbages – sow till the end of the month for harvesting in the spring.
- Plant out cauliflowers, cabbages, broccoli, and kales.
- Leeks need to be transplanted this month.
Those who don’t have an outdoor space shouldn’t be discouraged – a few pots and containers on windowsills will give us plenty of fresh leaves throughout the winter.
August is a great month for lots of tasty salad crops, as well as a wealth of other delicious fruit and veg:
- Check French and runner beans daily and pick regularly – the more you pick the more they produce
- Keep harvesting salad leaves. When picked small chard, beetroot and curly kale make your salads more interesting, tasty and colourful.
- Harvest the first fresh, tangy tomatoes
- Beans, onions, shallots, garlic are all ready now – lift the last of them, dry them out, hang them and enjoy over the next few months
- Keep on harvesting all leaf beets such as perpetual spinach and chard – assuming they haven't bolted already
- Cucumbers will have started giving us fruit from the end of July – make sure you pinch off the male flowers (the flowers on a stalk) as they make cucumbers bitter.
- Harvest carrots and beetroot
- Herbs – harvest and use fresh on your salads or when cooking or put into bundles, hung upside-down and dry to use over the coming months
- Keep harvesting courgettes or they will become marrows and stop fruiting
- Pick gooseberries, raspberries and blackcurrants as soon as you can to encourage more fruit and inspect red and whitecurrants regularly to catch them, when they are at their most plump and juicy
• Prune summer fruiting raspberries - unlike autumn fruiting raspberries, summer fruiting varieties produce fruit on one-year-old canes. After harvesting, cut back all canes which have produced fruit to ground level. Select 6-8 of the strongest young canes which haven't fruited this year and tie in. Cut back the rest of the young canes to ground level.
• Prune side-shoots off your grapevine to make sure the fruit has enough sun to ripen
• Summer prune established apple and pear trees growing as cordons, espaliers or any restricted forms. Check this link for more information.
• Propagate your strawberries by letting some of the runners root in situ or by placing them in pots filled with compost and pegging them down. Don't let more than five runners grow from any one plant. Cut the runner from the parent plant when they have rooted and plant immediately.
Jobs to do
- In spite of the hot weather we enjoyed in July, blight is slowly creeping into our growing-spaces, hitting members of the solanaceae family– potatoes and tomatoes in particular. Remove infected parts immediately and burn them. Find out what blight looks like and what to do if you spot it.
- Cover carrots with fine mesh or fleece against carrot root fly. If you’ve intercropped your carrots with strongly scented plants, the likelihood of them appearing will be reduced.
- Look out for caterpillars on winter greens. Cover them with fine netting to stop butterflies laying their eggs. If you have a small garden, check each leaf and make sure event the smallest shade of white doesn’t develop into butterfly eggs.
- Dig up a new strawberry bed when you have a chance if your current strawberries have been in the same bed for over three years, as this it when they start becoming less productive.
- Support your asparagus, particularly on windy sites and whenever they are in danger of being knocked over and spoiled as this will have an effect on next year's root development.
- Feed your pumpkins, squashes and tomatoes.
- Create spaces for beneficial wildlife in your garden – avoid pruning your hedges too severely as they provide shelter and food for wildlife; sow more marigolds around tomatoes and peppers to attract hoverflies; make lacewing hotels and the adults as well as their larvae will feed on aphids.