In this latest installment Jason marvels at the magnificence of the mid-summer sun, reflects on the unruliness of radishes and prepares to scale the heady heights of the harvest yet to come.
It’s June 9th and the lessons are coming thick and fast this month. The first big one is that despite tying and staking, overhead watering is not much good for seed crops when they get to being fully grown. Next year I will be more organised and get drip lines down early on as it is always hard to do this once the plants are growing.
I have tried experimenting with growing peas up an old electric hen fence, but it is neither tall enough nor strong enough for the job. The plants have grown over the top by 2 ft and are now curling down the other side like a crashing wave of pea foliage and blossoms! Coriander that was looking good at 4 ft is now falling over itself at 5 ft and will make harvesting tricky, but it will survive.
Some lettuces are going to flower and they look healthy, so far, so good. Today it is 19 degrees and overcast with about 85% humidity. This is great growing weather but not exactly great drying weather. Peppers, Cucumbers, Melons and Squash are all slow to move but they will definitely thrive in this heat, what may be good for one crop can be bad for another. That is how growers with a big diversity of crops do well – despite never having ideal weather, the range of crops carry you.
The leeks that went in at the beginning of the month as bare root transplants are just starting to stand upright. Broad beans are setting pods, runner beans are flowering. The rocket, red mustard and kale are still ripening but will be ready for harvesting soon.
As the lessons come thick and fast, I am already planning that next year will be better. As a commercial grower everything always looked reasonably tidy and organised. The look as a seed grower is less so. For a start the plants are larger and are in the ground longer and as a result eventually become quite unruly. Another thing I hadn’t realised was how big a radish plant can get! Going back to spacing, which I mentioned in an earlier blog, my 3 ft between crops is starting to look very tight at this stage. I have ended up with sugars snaps growing 10 feet high with a row of red mustard 3 ft away that is almost lying on them, and the row of broad beans that are 3 ft to the other side of them. This is to say it’s far from ideal when it comes to ripening crops and the chance of getting a disease from a restricted air flow is greatly enhanced. This despite tying in and staking etc.
The lettuces that are beginning to flower are in poor position to benefit from good air movement and for avoiding moulds. They should be near the door openings without being outside, instead they are stuck along the edge of the tunnel as if an afterthought, who put them there?
I am realising that peas, and to a lesser extent broad beans, have no place in a tunnel when they will do just as well outside. I also need labels for the 8 going on 9 varieties of French beans that I have, at the moment the varieties are all in my head. Luckily all the beans are a different colour and I have photos of those somewhere…. Also, I hadn’t factored that they may cross pollinate, I had always gone on the assumption that they didn’t, however, reading John Navazio (The Organic Seed Grower, Chelsea Green) there would seem to be a good chance that they might. One would think I had never done this before, which in a way I haven’t. Not at this scale anyway.
We have just passed the longest day and have had our first real rain of June, about a quarter of an inch. My ground is quite a heavy clay so plants were growing quite well outside, but a bit of moisture on the surface will give them and the weeds a boost. Also, it has meant that I could plant beetroot ahead of the rain yesterday and also sow a final strip of green manures where last year’s beetroot and leeks had been growing. 80% of my outside ground now has a green manure growing in it, something it has never experienced before in the last 23 summers. The other 20% has Beetroot, Leeks, Onions and Kale for next years seed crops and bit of veg for our kitchen.
I harvested the first of the Rocket yesterday and some Red Mustard, there is more to come and already the 50 x 18ft seeding tunnel doubling as a drying tunnel is starting to look very full. I will have to move drying crops on quickly to make space available for future crops.
First fruit are starting to appear on melons cucumbers, pumpkins and squash. French Beans are climbing but no signs of any flowers yet. I have been doing a bit of hand weeding and tying strings for beans and will probably start lifting some garlic next week which means the drying space will come under even more pressure.
I had some watercress seeds ripening but when I went to harvest it yesterday something had got there before me! I blame the bullfinches I saw hanging around last week, probably the same ones that took my apple blossom buds this spring…
The 1st of July today, halfway through the year and we have just had a week of great weather, sunshine and heat – growth can be powerful if you get good weather mid-summer. All the hot weather crops are loving it, the first Tomatoes are starting to ripen. The first Lettuce seeds are looking good, first Peas are beginning to ripen and I even managed to salvage some Watercress, the smallest seeds yet. The outdoor crops are establishing well, Leeks, Beetroot and some Brassicas are all starting to move. The Ailsa Craig onions are looking strong, there are some sunflowers that are starting to head up. The green manure I sowed ten days ago is starting to cover the ground despite us having had very little rain this month, there are benefits to having a very heavy soil!
During the hot spell I ran out of Lettuce for ourselves, this has never happened in as long as I can remember, winter or summer we always had something for salad! This shows how after six months I have already come a long way from being a market gardener, this would never have happened if I were still selling in the market. My transition to seed grower is almost complete, now waiting patiently for my first big harvest, it feels very real.