The memory of last July is seared into my mind. Recalled through a painful cringe.
The UK heatwave of 2018 was officially declared on 22 June. It lasted 12 weeks and was the joint hottest summer on record along with 2006, 2003 and 1976.
I struggled in the heat. The plot struggled in the heat in the continuous high temperatures, the lack of water and my inability to maintain it. I lost crops. The peas, so perfect until that point, frazzled on their climbing frames. Other plants ran to seed, stressed and frantically trying to reproduce before death came. Sweat was the fragrance of summer.
- Heatwave: 2018 was the joint hottest summer for UK
- Deaths rose 650 above average during UK heatwave – with older people most at risk
Meteorologists believe these blistering summer temperatures will become the new norm and although the Met Office officially state that the heatwave and lack of rain during the summer of 2018 was part of natural cycles, the risk of heatwaves is very real due to increasing greenhouse gases.
This is now our gardening life. It’s our entire life and it’s frightening.
In the introduction of her brilliant book ‘Grow your own vegetables’, Joy Larkcom writes:
‘In the shadow of global warming, we are learning, perhaps belatedly, the importance of caring for our environment, and that there is no better place to start than in our own gardens.’
Growing fruit and veg forces you to see, whether you are consciously looking for it or not, the intricacy and fragility of our natural world. We have a responsibility – an imperative rather, to look after it. If gardening can offer that simple change in our lives, I wish everyone to be a gardener.
What I’m sowing this month
Apart from another round of carrots, the seeds I’m sowing this month are starting in modules. I said last month that the benefits of starting crops in modules are significant. Conditions are controlled, fewer seeds are wasted and transplants of strong, healthy plants into the ground are much better at fending off pests and disease.
You don’t need much space to do this either. I have two mini greenhouses which allow me to grow a large number of plants in modules close to home and in range of my constant attention. The light and temperatures at this time of year mean things move pretty fast now too.
Kohlrabi: This is new for me this year but I’m just so taken by the strange, purple roots this plant provides. The name comes from the German words ‘Kohl’ meaning cabbage and ‘rabi’ meaning turnip. Hence the nickname the German Turnip. I actually started these in modules last month will plant them out on the allotment in the next few weeks.
Florence fennel: I didn’t have much luck with growing fennel last year, but I think I’d sown at the wrong time. This year, in line with Charles’ Dowding’s advice, I’m sowing this month. Fennel provides an aniseed taste to dishes but it’s not overpowering and works finely sliced in salads. If you eat meat then it works incredibly well with pork too.
Beetroot: This needs to be sown in the first week of the month but it worth rushing out to the potting shed to pop a few seeds into modules. It will provide a final crop of earthy roots in the autumn.
I have sown all my beetroots in modules this year, using the multi sowing method. It has worked a treat. Simply sow four seeds to a module and grow on for three or four weeks before planting out in the bed as a clump. I plant the beetroot clumps about 9 inches apart in all directions.
Doing this goes against the traditional approach but it works really well. The beetroot seems to love growing with the company and swell up in their little clumps. You can twist them out individually as each one reaches the size of your liking. This method is an efficient use of time and space.
Lettuce: We have enjoyed a lot of lettuce from the plot so far this year. It’s been a bit of a learning curve for me because I haven’t grown a lot of lettuce in the past. However, using Charles’ approach, you can actually get away with just three sowings throughout the year. One in the early spring, one right now and one in the autumn, you then harvest the outside leaves from each plant as they grow to provide a salad for the bowl throughout the week. The leaves grow and you pick again. Clever eh?
I sowed a few brassica plants last month. Swede, Brussel Sprouts (a bit later than planned), Winter Cabbage and Purple Sprouting Cauliflower. They have germinated and grown really quickly in modules in the little greenhouse and now, four weeks later, I’ll plant these mature seedlings out on the allotment.
One of the benefits of no-dig gardening is a huge reduction in annual weeds. I could count the number of them that have appeared this year on my hands. However, perennial weeds can take some time to get rid of and I’m trying to keep on top of bindweed and mares tail. Keep pulling it up.
I’m currently picking peas by the bucket full. The ‘Golden Sweet’ mange tout from Vital Seeds have been delicious raw in salads and the Kelvedon Wonder peas are now fat and firm in their pods. The plants are dripping with these crops.
How’s your gardens and allotments shaping up this month? What tasks are doing in July? Let me know in the comments below.
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