Kitchen Garden Rethink: Summer Sowing

Allotment

There really is no other way of saying it, this year the kitchen garden has been pants. Record breaking hot March weather, subsequent and unremitting torrential rain, persistent cold temperatures, fuming storms, in addition to exceptionally lethal slug vandalism and uncanny pigeon mutilation, amount to the perfect recipe for disaster. With the bulk of painstakingly grown produce mullered, and end of June nearing, one can’t help but wonder if there is still a chance to avoid the vegetable isles at the supermarket?

There is some minor comfort knowing that gardeners around the country have reported similar problems, where even the most expert of veg gardeners acknowledging non existent, or in the very least, crummy harvests. Frustratingly, even weather protected crops are at risk of failing in the greenhouse. Humid conditions create the perfect breeding ground for beastly fungi, such as the Fusarium1 which wiped out all my cucumbers. Worryingly too, reports of tomato blight are circling, leaving us gardeners with absolutely no laurels to rest on.

The incessant failings in the vegetable garden have been thoroughly disheartening to say the least. After the previous years’ bumper harvests, this year was to be even better. Plans and lists made, seeds purchased and sown, and even courses followed to ensure constant harvests throughout the year. The ‘Year round veg’ Sarah Raven course, was very constructive, where the good lady shared her wisdom, on the merits of cut-and-come-again vegetables, focusing on those capable of high square inch productivity, such as; (a.o.) lettuces, spinach, chard, kale, peas, beans, courgettes, and cucumbers. Though sadly, even with all this factual ammunition, bumper harvests have proved illusive as the weather simply did not play ball. Even more painful, yours truly acquired a huge colander to harvest the precious treasure, but has so far only collected oodles of dust.

Heath Robinson contraptions dominate in pigeon battles
Only surviving lettuce under netting
Alcatraz protection for second sowing Mangetout Shiraz
Originally stunted, Broad Beans starting to look the part
Sole but welcome Artichoke
Elephant Garlic buds starting to swell
Amni Majus thriving in cutting patch
Amni Majus and Borage
Scene of the Crime: Cottesbrooke Plant Fair

Too late to grow veg?

Apart from the rather jarring ‘late-starter’ charachterisations often associated with this question, the much reported answer always seems to be; radishes. As lovely as they are, in my view radishes do not constitute harvests. The aspirations here, are higher than the humble radish, included though they will be.

Just as late flowering perennials, some vegetables are much better suited to late season sowing, where days are long and warm(er). Furthermore, many of the pests that plague gardens in spring, present less of a problem late in the season. Now, if the army of slugs and pigeons in this garden have read that memo, remains to be seen, but just as a precautionary measure, a batch of remorseless nematodes have been applied.

Additionally, there is still time for last sowings of half hardy annuals, such as French and Runner beans. The prospects for the (late season) kitchen garden are therefore good. Granted, there is no guarantee the weather conditions will be conducive for summer sowing, but I’m game for a punt.

Summer sowing plan

Beyond the radish, there are a great many crops that are perfect to sow now and in the coming months. These include the half-hardies that one can still sow now, successive sowings such as salad crops, and looking ahead, the crops for autumn and winter. Note, the list is by no means comprehensive, but includes the vegetables that I am keen to sow, or sow again, as the case may be.

Salad crops;

  • Mizuna (sow August – April)
  • Mustard Leaf; Red Giant, Golden Streaks, Red Frills (sow August – April)
  • Salad Rocket (sow August – April)
  • American land cress (sow August – April)
  • Spring onions (sow April – September)
  • Red Russian Kale (sow April – September)
  • Pea Shoots ‘Serge’ (sow February – October)
  • Spring onion (sow April – September)
  • Radishes (sow February – September)

Leafy greens;

  • Spinach (sow August, September, March and April only)
  • Cavolo Nero (sow March – July)
  • Red Bor Kale (sow March – July)
  • Chard (sow April – September)

Root & other vegetables;

  • Beetroot (sow April – July)
  • Carrots (sow April – July)
  • Leeks (sow April – July)
  • French beans (sow April – July)
  • Runner beans (sow April – July)

Herbs;

  • Coriander (sow August/September)
  • Basil (sow May – July)
  • Chervil (August/September)
  • French Sorrel (February – July)

If that fails, or as a possible supplement, young veg plants may also be purchased at the local nursery. Plant purchasing is not the cheapest option, but if requirements constitute just a couple of plants, it saves excess seed and/or plants, going to waste.

Cucumber-gate

The demise of my cucumbers was noted by the talented gardener, Mrs Philippa Burough of the much photographed and soon to be visited, Ulting Wick garden, who subsequently and very kindly offered two replacement cucumber plants.

Pick up was arranged at our mutual destination, the Cottesbrooke Gardeners’ Fair, at the Niwaki garden tool stand. Somehow, the sheen of all things shiny and sharp at Niwaki and the lovely setting that is Cottesbrooke, clouded my (already failing) memory and unfortunately and foolishly, the much needed replacement cucumbers were only remembered long into the car journey home. Remorseful, guilt ridden and dejected, I hence culpably remain cucumber-less, especially as the sowing window (February/March) has long since past. I cannot apologise enough to lovely Philippa Burrough, for my shockingly absentminded oversight.

And what of the cucumbers? They are now in the care of Mr Jake the tool man Hobson, of Niwaki, himself. I hope he takes good care of them, and realises that they don’t need pruning….

Footnote

  1. Wisdom kindly bestowed by the witty and far too wise for his own good, Mr @simiansuter