Growing your own Vegetables and Fruit
Enjoy growing and eating fresh veg and fruit when you want it.
Here, help is at hand month by month so you can see what you should be doing on your plot when growing your own vegetables and your own fruit. The weather and where you live make a huge difference to what grows, or not, but doing anything is better than nothing. Use the links above if you want specific information on a fruit or veg, or to see what you should have done last month.
Storage of crops you have grown and want to harvest becomes an issue this month. Freezing is an option with fruit, but only if you have a big freezer! Not many of us are lucky enough to have cellars, or barrels full of sand as people used to.
The key to successful storage is the condition of the crop you harvest. Make sure it is clean and dry and can be kept somewhere cool and dark. Dig up one, or two to make sure they are ready.
With all stored crops, you should check them regularly and remove any that are rotting. The smell is often a giveaway, and if you’ve smelt rotting potatoes, you’ll know it forever! The phrase ‘one bad apple can spoil the whole lot’ applies to all stored crops. As they rot they give off a hormone that ripens the rest of the fruit.
If you have grown runner beans you will have too many! You can blanch and freeze them, or eat them. But pick them you must, every other day, and you’ll have beans for maybe eight weeks. If you stop picking they will stop production, so even if you can’t eat them, or freeze them, you could give them away or put them on the compost. French beans seem less prolific, but they crop for a short time, so you need some plants sown in succession to keep yourself in a good supply.
Tomatoes will be starting to ripen and get heavy, so make sure the plant is well tied to a stake. Snap off any ‘laterals’ (little leaves that try to grow between a big leaf and a stem, and if left start to flower and exhaust the plant). Keep watering and bi-weekly feeding the plants. If you have big old leaves that are shading the fruit, cut them off now so that sun can get to the tomato and ripen it. If the plant is at the top of your stake, trim it off so it grows no higher.
Cucumbers and courgettes should be harvested as they get to the size you want. This will make the plant produce more flowers and more fruits. Large courgettes are marrows, and good for a laugh, but not to eat. Cucumbers that are too ripe aren’t nice to eat, the pips are huge and the flesh watery. If you’ve got three or four pumpkins on a plant, be happy with your lot and keep cutting off the growing tip so the fruits swell rather than producing anymore. If you are hoping to have huge pumpkins or squashes then you will have to water them well now. Put an upturned plastic bottle near the plant, (with the base cut out) and water through this everyday. All these cucurbits will love some seaweed extract in the water, as they are hungry plants. If there is plenty of sun, great, if not, remove big leaves that shade the pumpkin or squash so that they get the maximum of the suns ripening rays.
When you harvest a cabbage, you can cut it off at ground level, and put unwanted leaves on the compost heap. Pull out the root and remove it from your garden in case it carries disease. Clean up any yellow or mottled leaves. Similarly, any potato plants that don’t look well should be dug up and removed from your garden. Brassicas that are still growing should be covered, but if not (or anyway) keep checking for caterpillars and pick them off. If you’ve got a writhing mess of caterpillars it’s because you did not cover the plants, so plan this for next year! Just keep picking them off for now, hourly if necessary.
Your onions must be ready now! If the stalks have flopped, or the foliage yellowed, then they are ready to be lifted. On a dry day, carefully pull up the onions, using a fork if necessary, and lay them on the dry soil, or a wall, or a conservatory floor; anywhere dry and warm. If you can create a sort of raised bed for them on chicken wire this will help they dry on top and underneath as well. After a couple of days, store them somewhere cool and dark. If you store them damp they will start to grow again, using the bulb as fuel! Onions will store better if their outer skins have been toughened by drying out in the hot sun.
Potato blight happens at this time of year, it’s a fungal infection that can ruin your crop. Check your plants and remove any that have brown patches on the leaves. Blight tends to affect later varieties, more than early. You can still eat the tubers if they are not infected, but check them first. Spraying with compost tea or seaweed extract helps to keep the plants healthy. Blight is caused by spores that are in the air and settle in the ground.
Your fruit bushes need to have the fruit harvested and to be kept well watered or mulched. Make sure you’ve thinned your apples and pears so they can get lots of sun and ripen. Always remove diseased fruit, and try to have just two fruit per branch/spur waiting to ripen. Plum branches may be hanging down laden with fruit. You should prune them now, and you can do that to branches which are so heavy with fruit they look like they will snap (can you really eat all those plums?). If you have not got much plum fruit, prune back unfruiting branches to create new wood and fruiting spurs for next year.
If your summer raspberries are now finished, cut the fruited cane down to the ground (the foliage will probably be mottled and yellow). New unfruited shoots that look strong and green should be tied to a support to survive the winter. Don’t touch autumn fruiting raspberries, as they’ve yet to produce! You can also trim any fruited gooseberry or redcurrant bushes. Removed damaged wood and branches going into the centre, and then trim back outside shoots to remain with four buds.
Pot up the runners of strawberries to give you new plants. You can weigh down the runner with a stone.
Keep your plot tidy this month, clearing away dead leaves and spent crops. Weeding is often difficult if the ground is hard, but you can still hoe off at the surface.
Watering should be carefully done in August, as the ground can be so hot and dry that it will evaporate before doing any good. Water early in the day or late at night, and mulch with grass mowings, newspaper, compost after watering.
If it’s too hot (or wet!) to be in the garden, sit down and plan what you could be sowing for autumn. And then do it! And make a list of what you would do differently/the same for next year.
And also, order some green manure seeds, and plan where to sow them. Ideally they can go where you will have bare soil over the winter. There are many green manures available from the Organic Catalogue, and Suffolk Herbs. They grow easily, keep the soil healthy over the winter, and can be dug in or composted come spring. If you do not get round to doing this, empty out your compost bin in September and tip the lot onto the ground to protect it!
Make sure you are sowing some winter and spring greens now, so that you don’t have to rely only on your stored food over the winter months. You can also try sowing some chard, spinach, lettuce and they should be fine if the weather stays good for the next few months. If August is very hot and dry, the spinach, rocket, lettuce may bolt, but, nothing ventured, nothing gained! Keep the seedlings partially shaded and you could be lucky. Don’t sow seedlings and then go away for two weeks leaving them to fend for themselves. Wait until you are back from your hols so you can water them as they germinate.
Plant this month:
Summer 2007 was a bit of an odd one, with more rain than usual. Blight hit potatoes and tomatoes, but the tubers seemed OK. The problem was finding a dry sunny day to lift them! Similarly the onions were huge, but endless rain meant they got bigger without being lifted. I continued picking salad crops, and broad beans and some French beans, but the outdoor cucumbers looked sad, and the courgettes slowed down. The beetroot, parsnips and carrots were delicious having done well in the rain.
In 2008 there was a lot of very heavy rain for all of August 2008, but with hot sunny periods (half a day) as well. The plot let us pick lots of beetroot, potatoes, calabrese, the last of strawberries, first of autumn raspberries, parsley, lettuce. Blight seemed to hit the toms and pots so we stripped the leaves off, but sadly it proved to be too late. Carrots that germinated then disappeared, presumably to slugs and snails. At home still lettuce, parsley, basil, chives, rocket, plus dwarf French beans, courgettes, peas. Sunflowers and sweet peas were looking lovely. Toms were ok, and produced lots of small fruits and Globe artichokes growing well.
2009 saw the plot go mad. It was dry for the first two weeks of August then heavy rain one day, warm sun the next. The runner beans shot past the top of their poles, but there were lots of beans on them, peas and mangetout appeared everyday, the carrots and beetroot were perfect, parsnips looked odd but tasted fine, potatoes continued to be lifted, onions were lifted and left to dry on 22nd, the raspberries are fat and the wasps love them when they get there first. The picked and stewed blackcurrants were so strong on flavour. The kale and cabbages look majestic, but most have bolted with big yellow flowerheads. The globe artichokes were huge, and the rows of sweetcorn look nearly ripe. The damsons and plums are looking nearly ready to eat, as are the outside tomatoes. At home the beans are pathetic, the peas are great, nasturtiums, sweet peas and phacelia have grown huge, and courgettes, lettuce, rocket, chives still produce. The carrots and beetroot seedlings have disappeared, but the radishes survived. The sweetcorn is very stunted, but the newly planted leeks look ok, and the Tumbler Tomatoes that flowered all summer are now producing lots of little red glossy fruits. Oops, at home I accidentally cut back old summer fruited raspberry canes, but took out new ones a well! So, not surprisingly the canes are stunted for August 2010, but there is a bit of fruit.
2010 finally saw the tomato fruits appear on some of the outdoor plants, the rain and sun must have got them going. Apples are waiting on the trees and the first Victoria plums and damsons have been eaten. Early potatoes are still being lifted, but they are big, and a bit scabby. The pumpkin fruits are small but pretty, and there’s courgettes, broad beans and raspberries a plenty. Onions, shallots and garlic were lifted and left to dry, and look and taste pretty good considering the dry weather. There would have been lots of beetroot to pick, but the rabbits got there first, but have left the carrots and parsnips alone, for now. The green manures of trefoil, clover, buckwheat and ryegrass have all germinated, and the phacelia is still flowering. Lettuce, rocket, peas, chives, courgettes are all still going in the plot at home. Despite many very heavy rain downpours, the soil still seems very dry.
2011 has been recorded as the coolest summer for a “generation” but not the wettest, as 2009 holds that record. Yet we had such a warm and promising spring. The sweetcorn in the plot has not done well, it never really got going, but in the fields about all looks fine. Similarly it’s taken ages for carrot and beetroot to germinate, and I’ve done a later sowing with fingers X. Only now are the beetroot big enough to pick. Tomatoes in the glass pyramid have ripened and been eaten, but I didn't risk growing any outside this year. Potatoes have been great, and the onions lifted mid-month were big, just not many of them. The Victoria plums are delicious, and so many, and so heavy they have snapped branches off. Similarly there are lots of autumn raspberries around, and big juicy blackberries. The Purple sprouting broccoli came through in July and again in August, and one big Savoy cabbage that had survived the winter was finally picked and eaten this month. Lots of small broad beans have been picked and eaten, but for the love of it, not the taste. The sunflowers are smiling, and look perfect with their deep yellow heads. The courgettes are still going, but no pumpkins seem to have developed. The dill smells lovely in the fruit bed when brushed past, and I’ve grown fennel for the first time, and some germinated and is growing well. The dwarf beans have done well, but the runner beans never got going before the slugs or snails felled them. Elsewhere I see them growing tall in other people’s gardens. The rhubarb is delicious and sweet, even though the stems are green.
2012 was the wettest summer for 100 years, and probably holds the record for the most slugs and snails. I have had no courgettes, and a smattering of lettuces, no beans or peas which would have loved the wet if they’d survived the snail attacks. The early potatoes were great, and in the green house there are tomatoes and cucumbers. The sweetcorn is tall, but no ripe cobs, yet? There are no plums, but the raspberries are lovely, and the rhubarb has kept going all summer. The cabbages have survived but are very small. A friend’s plot, on dry soil has produced lovely cabbages, broccoli, lettuce and courgettes.
2013 has been a lovely warm and sunny August, and summer (the warmest and driest since 2006). My courgettes have fruited, but are titchy, so I will have to sort the soil out, others I have seen elsewhere are enormous! The onions did well, and are drying in the green house, and lettuces have bolted before they could be all eaten, but there’s been plenty of it. I have a few tomatoes in the green house, but they suffered early on when I went away and they fried without watering. The broccoli was huge, but quickly went and bolted, and the large red cabbages were shredded by caterpillars when I turned my back. Chillis and peppers sown outside have grown well at the school plot, as did the beans and courgettes. But at home the soft fruit has been a delight with raspberries, gooseberries and blackcurrants. Leeks have gone in for the winter, and then it’ll be back to sowing onion sets again. Sunflowers everywhere look bright yellow and welcoming, and with cosmos flowers huge and continuous the veg plot looks pretty if nothing else.
2014 I lifted some beetroot and carrots, but only enough for a meal. Same with the leeks, and blackcurrants, but they were still delicious to eat. So I went out and got backs of free horse manure from a local farm and put it on the patch. The soil has felt like sand, so I am going to pile on stuff all winter. The rocket, lettuces and chives are still picked daily which is lovely. I had a cucumber in the green house, but suddenly the plant got mildewed and died. The courgette plants in the green house flower beautifully, but no courgettes appear. In the patch there is one large pumpkin which is looking good and getting lots of tlc. The tallest sunflower ever has finally started to fade having looked beautiful all summer.
2015 August was a dry month, and not to sunny, but warm, and some torrential thunderstorms one weekend. The courgettes carried on, as did the rocket and lettuce, and there were some blackcurrants. The Autumn raspberries fruited early but are big and delicious. Carrots, beetroot were Ok, and the pumpkins are growing, but they look like squash so maybe I got the labelling mixed up. The mauve poppies that seeded around were so pretty, and I’ll keep the seed heads, and nasturtium, borage, phacelia and sunflowers have kept the plot looking pretty.