I tend to like June as a vegetable grower. The pressure of Spring has subsided somewhat, most of the garden has been planted up and in some cases we are onto second plantings in some beds, and everything is looking lush and beautiful.
However, as always with veg growing it is important to continue making successional sowings to ensure consistent productivity later through the summer, autumn and winter. This is important for salads, herbs and other crops like carrots, fennel, beets and chard.
We have been experimenting this year by undersowing crops with green manures and flowers, as well as sowing some of the paths with trefoil. The idea behind this is that rather than thinking of the paths as a bit of a nothing space that cannot contribute to the vegetable garden other than providing a space to walk on, we are attempting to have more plants photosynthesising. Therefore more root exudates are given out by the plants to provide food for microorganisms in the soil that in turn supply nutrients back to the plant after they have died. Many plants also form mycorrhizal associations, whereby the plants’ roots link up with hyphae of fungus and they mutually benefit one another. The hyphae of the fungus can in some cases penetrate the plant root and whilst the plant can give sugars and other carbohydrates to the fungus, the fungus can offer the plant access to more nutrients or water. This is a very simplified description of the relationship between plants and fungi, and the benefits can be far more complex such as increased pest and disease resistance for the plants when these mycorrhizal associations are made. So, by increasing the diversity of the plants in the ground, rather than simply growing a monocrop of one type of vegetable, these associations are encouraged more, and can be hugely beneficial to the vegetables that we are growing. This, along with fewer and shallower cultivations mean that the build up of fungus in the soil will develop and continue to benefit future plantings.
In practical terms, planting lots of other plants around vegetables that we are growing is not always simple. Timing is critical, and we don’t want invasive weeds to overtake. The undersowings will also need managing in some way to ensure that they do not compete too much with the vegetables for light, water and nutrients. We will mostly be using low growing plants such as trefoil, but also upright, but not bushy plants like buckwheat and linseed which will not reduce airflow too much around the vegetables. We will be mowing or strimming the paths to manage the trefoil, and also strimming some of the other plants before they seed too much. Other benefits that we can bring into this relationship is to plant or sow more flowers that encourage more pollinators and predatory insects into the garden. This will increase pollination of fruiting crops but also help to balance the garden in terms of keeping insects such as aphids and cabbage white caterpillars at manageable levels.
It is sometimes easy to think that we must always keep everything in our gardens very neat and tidy and constantly hoe everything off other than the vegetables that we are growing. However, it’s worth considering trying some new techniques like undersowings of vegetables to encourage a more balanced environment. Whilst it is a learning curve and there are bound to be things that we try that don’t work so well, overall the benefits will really show through the health of the vegetables.
WHAT TO SOW THIS MONTH: purple sprouting broccoli & January King type winter cabbage (early this month), french beans, chard, beetroot, chard, carrots, basil, late cucumbers, kale, fennel, salad leaves – summer purslane, buckshorn plantain, salad burnet, lettuce, chicory (Treviso and Palla Rossa varieties early in the month, other varieties later), endive, mustards and rocket (mesh to keep flea beetle off), goosefoot, anise hyssop, amaranth, orache, nasturtiums.
WHAT TO PLANT THIS MONTH:
OUTSIDE: Dwarf french beans, beetroot, squash and corn (if not already done), lettuce and salads, squash, runner beans, kale, chard, autumn cabbage
INSIDE: climbing french beans, cucumbers, basil, salads – goosefoot, summer purslane
OTHER IMPORTANT TASKS THIS MONTH: Undersow squash with a mix of red and white clovers, yellow trefoil, and other cornfield wildflowers—this will help to fix nitrogen, but more importantly cover the soil and provide organic matter and living roots for soil organisms to benefit from.