June in the Garden
They say that weather we get on midsummers day will set the tone for the rest of the summer. That is a shame, because midsummers day has just passed, and it was a cold grey washout! These things must be taken with a pinch of salt, but we are probably due a cold wet summer, since the last few have been pretty good.
With the potential for a cooler summer in mind, I think I will sow another round of peas. Normally peas in August produce a disappointingly low yield and are beset by problems with mildew, but a cooler summer will see them right and the boundaries of what is possible move every year, so I think it is worth a punt.
The beginning of the month was hot, and it finally produced the rush of the growth that we have all been waiting for. The downpours in the middle of the month perked things up nicely and now we need a return of the heat to get the true summer lovers growing beyond the slugs. Planting with the weather makes a huge difference to the success of the plant. The courgettes we planted in the heat at the beginning of the month quickly grew tough and prickly and the slugs steered clear. The later plantings have not had the benefit of the heat and have languished a bit which gives the slugs an opportunity to strike. I am still hopeful that we will have enough warmth over the next few days for the plants to take the upper hand, but that does not mean that I will uncross my fingers.
Working with everything that nature brings is one of the pleasures and challenges of organic gardening. I was reminded of this fact this afternoon when we noticed hundreds of tiny ladybird larvae on the parsnips. Of course, I was delighted to see these tiny predators dressed in their fierce little dragon suits, but they do not arrive in such numbers for nothing and sure enough, a quick inspection of the parsnip growing tips revealed an infestation of aphids. The aphids will knock the parsnips back a bit, but they are strong plants and with the help of the ladybird larvae and then the beetles that they will turn into, the parsnips will prevail. The best thing I can do at this point is nothing at all. I will leave the ladybirds to feast for a few days and then if the aphids are still a problem, I will manually remove them with my fingers or with a sharp jet of water. I will never get them all, but it will reduce their numbers to the point where their natural predators will win the day.
Cabbage White Butterflies are not so easy to deal with. Of course, they have their predators – birds, wasps & shield beetles to name a few - but even one nest of caterpillar eggs can destroy a crop and the only solution is to use a net as a barrier to the butterflies. Unfortunately, we grow a lot of brassicas, and all are susceptible to the butterflies, so we have a lot of nets. I do not like the look of them in the garden, but it is better than skeletal cabbages and failed crops.
The fine mesh nets also stop the flea beetles that have been such a problem in the last couple of years. Flea beetles make tiny holes in the leaves of many plants, but especially brassicas. They do not kill the plants, but they make the leaves unsightly and are not welcome in the garden.
Thankfully for us, because of the poor spring weather, both flea beetles and cabbage white butterflies have been scarce this year, so we have not had to worry about them too much. However, a scarcity of prey means their predators will feel the pinch and I have heard that bluetit numbers are down this year because of the lack of caterpillars. Every silver lining has a cloud.
Now, at the end of June, we are looking forward to our Veg Box scheme starting up. I love growing vegetables, but not as much as I like harvesting them, so its great to have this outlet. We have been harvesting for the Rye Food Bank for a few weeks, and we will continue to provide for them, but the bulk of our produce will go to the Veg Boxes, which will in turn fund our other charitable work. In the first box we will have courgette, broad beans, tomatoes, peas, beetroot, pointed cabbage, and cucumbers amongst other things. Last week I tried the first cucumber of the season (grower’s perks), and I can tell you that it was delicious.
Our usual volunteer sessions are still running between 9am and 1pm on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday and we now have a ½ hour break in the middle. We are also looking for volunteers to help with harvest, prep and packing for the veg boxes on Friday mornings. Harvest is one of the nicest parts of the market gardening process, but it must be done right, so if you are an early bird and you think that you have the attention to detail then please let me know and I will talk you through the process. Of course, full training will be provided.