Making the most of your vegetable gardens

Don’t be distracted by a garden of full and plenty, says Kitty Scully.

Without a shadow of a doubt it is at this time of year that vegetable gardens are at their most seductive. Who can resist the allure of a garden full of colourful edibles lavishing fresh berries, flowers, fruit, veg and herbs on every plate from breakfast through to supper? Harvesting finally upstages heaving as top of the job list. As meals steadily satiate and garden beds empty, space is also created for a fine array of versatile vegetables that can be sown and transplanted this month. And there are plenty of essential garden jobs to keep gardeners on their toes. These include feeding, weeding, staking, netting, dead heading and side-shooting.

Feeding

Continue to use those feeds made earlier in the season because these ‘teas’ are taken up instantaneously by plants giving an instant boost to veggies at this vital part of the growing season. Flowering and fruiting plants such as peas, beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, squashes and courgettes will thrive on a feed of comfrey every two weeks.

Leafy greens will love nitrogen rich nettle feed and if you want to make a general multi-purpose tonic, why not mix the two together or use a seaweed feed. Seaweed extract is well worth the investment as it contains a balanced mixture of nutrients and minerals. Fruit Hill Farm stock a tried and trusted product called Health-Sea Liquid Feed and this is available at www.fruithillfarm.com.

Weeding

During dry spells weed growth is kept in check but the first downpour of rain will generally generate weed seed germination en masse. It is vital to keep the hoe moving where possible and weed between plants little and often before unwanted weeds smother and takeover. Ensure to keep on top of this as it also eliminate some of the many places slugs love to hide out.

Staking & Netting

Many tall plants will need support — the obvious ones being peas and beans, which are generally supported with wigwams and netting from the get-go. Tomatoes and peppers growing indoors will certainly require staking due to heavy yields. Staking can be simply a utilitarian exercise but depending on materials used it can be a creative exercise as well.

Exchanging shop bought bamboo for more rustic hazel or willow sticks and jute twine can make a world of difference to the aesthetics of the plot. Brassicas may require netting covering the beds but ensuring plants are allowed to grow to their full potential. A decent net will prevent the cabbage white from laying eggs, whilst also keeping pesky pigeons at bay.

Dead Heading

Dead heading is not a job exclusive to ornamental flowering plants and will help extend the period of production for edibles too. Pea, beans and courgettes are some of the best examples but instead of removing flowers, the seed pod or baby fruit is removed as soon as produced. This timely harvest will encourage plants to produce more seed pods and tender fruit. If left unharvested, pods will mature and dry out and courgettes will overnight transform into marrows thus consuming all the plants energy and inhibiting continued production.

Side Shooting

If you have been brave enough to chance growing tomato plants outside or played it safe and are growing them in a sunny conservatory, depending on the variety, they will require staking and side-shooting.

Bush varieties will do their own thing but cordons, with their single tall vertical stem will always need a cane or string for support and side shoots removed.

Side-shooting curtails the amount of energy a tomato plant spends on producing leaves thus encouraging the production of fruit. Once the plants have set about six good fruit trusses, the growing tip can be pinched out to stop growth and encourage the ripening of the fruit.

Remove old and excess leaves also to ensure forming fruit soak up the maximum amount of sunlight available. Cucumbers need side shooting too and unruly squashes can be kept in check by pruning growing tips and redirecting the plants energy into swelling fruit.

So late summer is the season when absolutely everybody is enthusiastic about food producing plots. However, try not to get lost in the bliss of ‘glamour’ jobs such as harvesting and side-shooting lest one forgets to make those quintessential late summer sowings to maintain the production levels of your plot.


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