We are half way through the year and the hard work undertaken through the early part of the year is literally beginning to bear fruit, harvesting salad vegetables, early potatoes, cabbages, cauliflowers, peas, beans and soft fruit is always an exciting experience and the billowing floral displays in our borders bring a fresh kaleidoscope of colour and interest. We have been cutting sweet peas for the house for the past month and there is no better pleasure than the perfume that fills the room, a true sign of summer.
I’m often asked about what I do about pests and in particular Aphid (Greenfly,Wallflowers and their relatives) their population boom can be quite unnerving as the rose buds disappear under a sea of marauding insects. If like me you are reluctant to use chemicals then there are a few things you can do to reduce the problem, and to encourage predators. Aphid are a key food source for birds, ladybirds and lacewings so it is important to make sure they do not go short.
A good way of reducing the number of aphids on the plant is to wash them off using a fan nozzle on the hosepipe. It will not eliminate them all but it will reduce their effect on the plant, and many of them will be picked up by birds and fed to their young. We do feed the birds all year round which means they are always around and eager to help control many of the insect pests we have. Vine weevil grubs found when repotting plants provide a tasty treat for our Robin population who are very vocal when a small saucer of grubs appear on the bird table.
Biennials are a group of plants that generally live for two years, growing into an established plant in the first year from seed and in the second they flower, common examples include Foxgloves, Sweet Williams, Icelandic poppies and of course Wallflowers.
Traditionally we sow them in June/July of the previous year so now it is an ideal time to sow them. They can be sown outside in a prepared seedbed or seed-trays, the resulting seedlings are then planted out to grow on, usually there is space in the vegetable garden for them to be planted in a row, where an early crop has been harvested. lightly fork rake and firm the soil, make a shallow drill with the edge of a hoe or by pressing a broom handle lengthways into the surface producing a shallow drill. Sow water the drill before sowing, sow thinly and cover with a little fine soil. Keep an eye on the drill and water with a watering can fitted with a rose if the soil looks to be drying out. When the seedlings are about 1-2inches, (25-50mm) either thin to about four inches (100mm) apart or transplant to the same spacing somewhere else on the plot. The plants will establish through the summer and early Autumn and can be transplanted into their flowering position during September/Early October. Although plants such as Wallflowers have traditionally been used in bedding displays and containers, there is no reason why they shouldn’t be mixed amongst border plants and shrubs, providing you have a little space for them to develop.
Although many hedges are beginning to look a little untidy it is important to leave them until all nesting birds have flown the nest. This can be as early as July but depending on the season could be in August. Its a good idea to walk along the hedge before you think of trimming and see if the birds are still active, and where you see a nest wait to see if you can hear any chicks, do not disturb or try to look too closely as disturbing them can cause the parents to abandon them. Once you have identified the plant you have as a hedge then check on the web to see when and how many times you should trim as it varies with different species. If we have had a long dry spell don’t forget that your hedge needs water just like your garden or vegetable plot, so if you can water during very dry spells.
In the hustle and bustle of summer we often forget to sow or plant vegetables that will mature over the winter months. I tend to grow late crops of Leeks that can be harvested from November through to March, I purchase Leeks that can be planted out late July and whilst I could grow them from seed, space and time are at a premium this time of year and a little help from someone else is always welcome. Manny of the seed companies sell plants too and whilst the range may be limited the hassle of sowing and pricking out is much reduced. I also grow Brassicas, in the form of Winter Cabbage, Kale and Sprouting Broccoli, I sometimes sow and sometimes buy in plants. We don’t need hundreds of plants so a couple of dozen plants(12-24) are more than enough for us. Some of the root crops such as carrots, beetroot and turnips can still b sown but in the case of carrots take precautions for carrot fly.
Next Month, ( Feeding hungry plants, Filling gaps in the veg garden, Planning a fruit garden.)