July in the garden
It’s high summer and long, hot and dry days are with us. Drought conditions are often the norm in July, although thunderstorms and heavy rain can be added to the mix. Watering is important as the garden gets thirsty, but striking a balance is equally important - this precious resource is in limited supply. Hopefully you’ve got some water butts already in place to save rainwater but it’s not too late to put some in now, or use a makeshift water collection tank - anything will do as long as it holds water.
Bear in mind when you are watering, a quick sprinkle here and there can do more damage than good, as it encourages the plant to produce surface roots rather than deeper ones which can access water reserves lower in the soil. So try and keep soil mulched to conserve water: use cardboard, green waste or compost to put between rows – mulching will also keep weeds at bay. Do keep on top of your weeds by hoeing as much as you can on dry days – an old saying goes: one year's seedling is worth seven years weeding.
Harvest crops daily and check any plants needing supports or ties are secure, especially after any heavy downpours or hailstorms. As crops are maturing and being harvested regularly, it s also the time to get away for a break or holiday so ask a friend or neighbour to look after any watering requirements in return for free produce so you don t come back home to a glut or parched plants.
Look after indoor and outdoor tomatoes, ideally pinching out side shoots (if not a bush variety) to leave a single cordon growth. Remove lower leaves to ripen fruit quicker. Pinch out tops of runner beans when they reach the tops of their supports to encourage ripening. Take up and store shallots as the foliage begins to wither. Well-formed seed from a few plants that have no more flowers to set can be saved to provide seeds: try saving some from broad beans, peas, French beans and later on, runner beans.
Compost old leaves, runners and straw of harvested strawberries and layer healthy runners from virus-free stock, rooting these into sunken pots. Cut the new plantlets off the mother plant once they are firmly established. Continue training fan-trained, cordon and espalier trees and prune new growth to keep their shape. Prop up heavy cropping branches of trees and protect peaches and other fruits against birds, wasps, earwigs and other pests.
Try and be a ‘good housekeeper’ in the garden and wash all gardening equipment after use. This is especially important with secateures, trowels, spades and forks, which can spread disease from plant to plant very easily. Keep any potting-up areas clean and tidy, too, and leave plant pots, seed trays and planting containers out to bleach in the sun after use to kill any nasty pathogens for next year.
Sowing and planting
Make sure your winter crops are sown: do these directly in the soil or in growing modules if you don t have a space at the moment. Plant out late cauliflowers, leeks, sprouting broccoli, winter cabbage, celery and Brussels sprouts. Keep on with successional sowing of fast maturing crops like lettuce, radishes and beetroot, all of which can be intercropped between rows of slower maturing crops to make good use of space and soil.
- Pick courgettes before they become marrows. I make huge pots of ratatouille throughout the summer which makes good use of gluts and also provides plenty for the freezer to enjoy in the winter
- Preserve surplus harvests where you can and cut and dry mint and other herbs
- Second early potatoes can be lifted now; dry them well before storing. Watch out for blight as affected potatoes will not store
- Raspberries are ready for harvesting now: yummy, definitely one of my favourite fruits in the garden
Philippa Pearson is a professional horticulturist and gardener, and she looks after a large estate in Hertfordshire amongst other projects. A keen and passionate gardener all her life, Philippa lives in rural Cambridgeshire where her ever increasing organically maintained vegetable and fruit garden provide a year round harvest of interesting crops, despite being on heavy clay