It has been a tricky growing year, what with the cold, dry Spring… followed by a fairly good early summer, and then a cool, damp August. This year May’s rains waterlogged our soils and made totally unsuitable conditions for much of the veg that we were getting in the ground. A lot of the plants sat there and yellowed as they couldn’t access the nutrients because the ground was too wet and cold, resulting in unfavourable conditions for the life in the soil to make nutrients available for the plants. So, everything looked pretty dreary in June, but as it started to dry up and the sun came out through June and July the plants soon picked up and we began to see good growth. We had a bad batch of seed compost this year which resulted in many plants rotting off at seedling stage, so we had to sow cucumbers, beans, courgettes and squash multiple times and these were all planted much later than normal. Thankfully, some of these plants actually benefited from being sown later, especially the squash which settled in far quicker than normal and look to be the healthiest squash crop we have ever grown! Now we just need a bit more sun to ripen all of the squash and other fruiting crops through September.
Our favourite parts of the garden this year have been the beds of flowers that we have sown that divide up the plots of the rotation. They were simple to grow and have required no attention whatsoever, but provided so much for insect life, which in turn brings more birds to the market garden as well as increasing pollination of some of the veg plants and many of the flowers also attract predatory insects, which keep numbers of pests in balance. We have had no problems whatsoever with aphids this year, and this is a sign of strong, healthy plants, but also a balanced ecosystem. The flower strips have buckwheat, sunflowers, dill, mallow, borage, cornflowers, persian clover, phacelia, summer vetch, calendula and more, and they are literally buzzing with life. It is this balance between creating a productive market garden along with a beautiful space for ourselves to work, and providing nectar rich flowers for insects to thrive that feels really important to us, and each year we strive to strike this balance by managing the space in ways that encourage more and more life both in the air and in the soil.
We have also been trying out intersowing green manures into crops that we have planted through August. The idea is that any August plantings get hoed about a week after planting, and then another week after that. On this second hoeing we either drill or broadcast a mixture of buckwheat, phacelia, black oats and linseed and then the hoeing beds the seed into the soil. If necessary it is then watered in, or we wait for the rain to do that. The crops get harvested through the autumn and once they are harvested the green manures take over and cover the bed and stabilise the soil with their roots, meaning that the winter rains do not wash away valuable topsoil. The living roots in the soil provide that important connection with soil life, and maintain a good environment for the soil biology to thrive through the autumn and winter. This means that when it comes round to Spring we can kill off the green manures by mowing and covering with black plastic and the soil life will be there and ready to make links with the new spring plantings, making nutrients available to them straight away. This is an essential part of organic growing, and is the below ground version of providing the nectar rich habitats above soil with the flower strips in the garden. It is all about trying to create a more balanced system where we encourage favourable conditions for insects and other living things. This in turn provides better conditions for the vegetables to grow.
WHAT TO SOW THIS MONTH: Direct sown outside: turnip greens, leaf radish, red russian kale as salad leaf. Sow in trays: Now is the time to make sure you start sowing all of your overwintering salad leaves if you have a glasshouse or polytunnel, or even a sheltered spot on a patio. Leaves such as winter purslane, landcress, rocket, mustards, corn salad, endive, chervil, lettuce should be sown from the beginning of the month through to early October.. Also spring onions for overwintering in a cloche or tunnel/glasshouse
WHAT TO PLANT THIS MONTH:
OUTSIDE: salad leaves: leaf radish, winter purslane, landcress, rocket, mustards, overwintering spring onions, spinach and spring cabbage.
INSIDE: overwintering salad leaves (at the end of the month and into October), chard, coriander, chervil and parsley.
OTHER IMPORTANT TASKS THIS MONTH: Get your squash in by the end of the month and cure them either in a glasshouse, polytunnel or ideally in your house – this will make sure that the skins are hard and will last through the winter.