June gardening jobs: plant maintenance, harvesting and dealing with a glut
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After such a long winter and cold spring, what a glorious few weeks it has been. The intense heat and sun forced me up and down to the allotment in the mornings before it became too hot to work. I often joke that I am solar powered, because my energy levels and productivity are always much better on a nice day. That said, I am very grateful for the break in the weather. Once you start gardening, you appreciate the rain so much more.
June is a particularly busy month in the garden. With the long days and warmth, everything seems to be growing at a million miles an hour. Blink and you miss something. We are finally able to plant out the remaining of our warmth loving plants (if you haven’t done this already do this ASAP) and the ‘hungry gap’ is now officially over. As each day goes by, you find yourself having to spend more and more of your time harvesting. You really start to feel all your hard work coming together and paying off.
One of the most exciting things at this time of year is when you start to see fruits forming on your tomatoes. You want to be doing everything you can now to create strong healthy plants that produce bountiful fruit.
I am not someone who would usually advocate using any form of fertiliser other than mulches. However, if you are growing your tomatoes in pots, they have a restricted root run so you should start feeding them once they start setting fruit. I’d recommend using an organic tomato feed such as this one. Alternatively you could make your own liquid feed by steeping comfrey leaves in a barrel of water for 3 weeks. This is supposed to be very smelly however so it is not for the faint hearted (but it is free!).
For cordon/indeterminate varieties, regularly check that they continue to grow up their support to prevent them bending into all sorts of shapes. Pruning your tomatoes by removing the side shoots is also important to increase airflow around the plant and reduce the risk of blight. Also remove any lower leaves that touch the ground. For those that don’t know, blight is an airborne fungal disease that affects potatoes and tomatoes. Blight spreads in warm, humid conditions.
For bush/determinate tomatoes, you do not need to remove side shoots. A little support is often recommended but they do not need training like cordon varieties so are generally much lower maintenance.
You may find that many of your climbing beans start climbing their way up their support on their own. However, some don’t always manage this so you may need to help them slightly. Do this by loosely tying them to their support. As a general rule of thumb when helping them along, most French beans climb anti-clockwise up their support, meanwhile runner beans climb clockwise. Isn’t it funny how picky plants can be?
When things bolt
The term ‘bolting’ means when a plant starts to flower to produce seed. Plants are usually programmed to do this at a certain time of year. Usually when a plant starts to send up a flower shoot, there is little you can do. Remove the plant, harvest what you can and plant something else. A couple of examples at this time of year are spinach and fennel. You can sow these again later in the summer for autumn cropping.
Sometimes plants may bolt if they are stressed. This is because the plant wants to complete its life cycle quickly if it thinks it will not survive. This is common if plants do not have enough water, for example. If you see a few plants of one crop starting to bolt, your best bet is to give the rest of the crop a good water and hope for the best. I failed to water my lettuce last week which now means many have bolted. I have since watered them frequently in the hope that any non-bolters will continue to crop a little longer until my next crop is ready.
Dealing with a glut
Strawberries and broad beans mark the end of the hungry gap and the start of the summer harvests. If you are new to gardening, it is easy to underestimate the time it takes to harvest produce and deal with it after. If you are dealing with a glut, it is good to find ways to store your produce so you can enjoy it year round.
Broad beans are great for freezing to use throughout the year. Common practice is to blanch them before freezing. Last year I did this, however this year I have decided to try freezing them without blanching. Hopefully they keep well and if they do, this will save me a lot of time and faff!
The cold spring meant that the strawberry flowers came out later this year, meaning that they weren’t caught out by any late frosts. For this reason, we seem to be getting a bumper crop of strawberries. To freeze strawberries (and all other berries), wash them, lay them out to dry and then freeze them on a baking sheet before transferring them to a bag. This helps to prevent the berries from clumping together in the freezer. Other ways to use your glut could be jam, infusing gin/vodka or making ice cream or sorbet. If you are short on freezer space, you could also try slicing and dehydrating them to use on your breakfast throughout the year.
This time of year is such a special time in the garden. Make sure you take some time to enjoy the work you’ve done. The long days make it much easier to spend more time in your garden. Take it all in. Take photos. Be proud of the work you’ve done and enjoy the (literal) fruits of your labour. If crops do fail, take notes, learn from your mistakes and do not be disheartened by it. There is always next year!