Although August is the height of the summer, and it’s worthwhile taking time to stop and smell the roses, the vegetable gardener also has to be aware that autumn is just around the corner. That doesn’t have to be a depressing thought! It just means you need to harvest any crops that won’t survive the first frosts, and that you may want to preserve some so that you can have a homegrown taste of summer during the winter months. You should have some new crops on the way to look forward to, and be thinking about potting up herbs to bring under cover for the winter.
It’s also a great time to look around the garden and think about what has worked well, and what hasn’t. Make a note of any favourite crops you want to grow next year, and investigate whether you can save seeds, or divide perennials. Have you got the time and energy to expand your growing area next year, or do you need to cut back a little and concentrate your efforts? It’s also a great time to stock up on gardening supplies, whether you pop to the garden centre or head to an online store such as Lionshome.
If your runner beans aren’t setting, it’s probably due to a lack of water, so drench the soil (not the plants!) well twice a week to try and boost them back into production. Pinch out the tops of tomato plants to stop them growing and taller, encouraging them to concentrate on growing and ripening the fruits that have already set. Remove old leaves from courgettes and pumpkins, to help the fruits ripen, and start staking winter brassicas as they get tall, or they may suffer from wind rock in the winter weather.
And, believe it or not, there are still plenty of seeds you can sow in the garden, for harvests from late summer through until the autumn.
Vegetables to sow in August
- Leafy herbs – basil, parsley and coriander
- Chinese Cabbage and other Oriental vegetables
- Lambs Lettuce (Corn Salad) , a very hardy winter salad leaf with a soft texture and mild flavour. You can eat the flowers next spring, too!
- Land cress (American cress). An excellent substitute for watercress that is very hardy, surviving even the toughest winter.
- Winter lettuce for harvesting in November and December
- Japanese onions. Sow seed now or source sets to plant in September/October.
- Salad onions (winter varieties)
- Peas. Sow early varieties now for an autumn harvest.
- Winter radishes
- Spinach perpetual and Swiss chard
- Spring cabbage
- Winter purslane (Claytonia or Miner’s lettuce), another hardy winter salad. Produces small, mild leaves.
What to harvest in August
It’s time to think about digging up the onions, shallots and garlic, giving the bulbs a chance to dry in the sun before you plait them up (or take the easier route and string them up in nets!).
Beyond the alliums, it would probably be quicker to list what you can’t harvest in August! This is the time when soft fruit is ripening, you’ll be hard pressed to keep up with the beans and courgettes, the tomatoes are ripening thick and fast alongside the cucumbers, and you may even have some ripe peppers/chillies and aubergines in the greenhouse. Plus the salad greens, root vegetables, leafy greens and sweetcorn. August is always more about finding recipes to deal with plentiful produce than scratching about to find something to harvest.
Think about green manures
Green manures are plants that are grown to benefit the soil, rather than to be harvested. After growing to a certain point, there are dug in to add organic matter to the soil. (In a No Dig system they can be cut back and left on the soil surface, or removed to the compost bin).
Green manures tend to be sown in the spring or the autumn. They can be grown as cover crops, to protect soil that would otherwise be bare from the worst of the winter weather. Some green manures are nitrogen-fixing, others have deep roots that break up heavy soils. Still others are grown simply for their ability to suppress weeds.
Now is the time to think about whether you want to sow a green manure this autumn, and which one is right for your situation.
(This post has been produced in collaboration with Lionshome, but the advice and opinions it contains are mine.)