Fed up fighting weeds? Find some good ideas on how to keep them in control in an inspiring article by Jane Vyse, lecturer in Horticulture at Bicton College, Devon. And when you've got time to relax, enjoy a little poetry -

By William Cowper, 18th century poet

To study culture, and with artful toil

To 'meliorate and tame the stubborn soil;

To give dissimilar yet fruitful lands

The grain, the herb, the plant that each demands

These, these are arts pursued without a crime

That leave no stains upon  the wings of time.

Sounds like a call for sustainable gardening -this year's buzz word at Chelsea Flower Show.

Sustainable Gardening tips:

Improve soil condition and structure by adding compost and well rotted animal manure if available.

Conserve water by mulching bare areas of earth, using water butts and using drought resistant plants in the ornamental garden.

Protect wildlife by controlling slugs by biological methods or slug traps, protect plants from bird attack by netting where necessary.

Buy recyclable products for the garden wherever possible.

Maintain garden equipment.

NB Growing your own food reduces food miles, provides you with the freshest food you can eat and provides great exercise.

Growing Beautiful Vegetables:

Squash

Grow beautiful vegetables for a double crop - delicious, fresh produce and a beautiful allotment or kitchen garden. All squash are decorative, not only the inedible gourds. Try Turks Turban, a magnificent green and cream striped edible gourd. Sow seeds in a heated propagator at 16 degrees C in April (harden off gradually before planting outside) or in the ground where they're to grow, protected by cloches in May. Space 1 metre apart to give them room to trail and keep well watered. When gourds are ready to cut either eat straight away or dry well and store for up to 5 months.

Queensland Blue is another decorative, edible gourd. Handsome, green/blue ribbed fruit are large - reaching between 3 and 9kgs. They are delicious when cooked, store very well and crop in around 3 months. Sow under cloches in May or June or give a head start by starting them in a heated propagator at 16 degrees C in April/May (harden off gradually before planting outside). Space at least 1 metre apart - they are vigorous growers, water well and harvest from October to early November.

Butternut Squash are available all year round from greengrocers and the supermarket - grow them yourself and you can enjoy your own tasty Butternuts for around 8 months of the year. Sow from April - in a heated propagator at 16 degrees C (harden off gradually before planting outside), through May to early June, outdoors under cloches. These are not as rambling as the bigger squashes so can be spaced 60cm apart, but they do trail for 2 or 3 metres. Pick some to eat as soon as they are cricket ball size, allow others to grow bigger to harvest in late Autumn and then store in a cool dry place for enjoying through the winter. 

Patty Pan squash look like pies with a crimped edge - they can grow up to 15-20cm in diameter - when they're best used as decorative gourds. But when they're the size of a tangerine they're delicious baked, stuffed or sliced and fried. The hybrid, Sunburst, is a bright, egg yolk yellow. The seeds can be started early in a heated propagator at 16 degrees C in April (harden off gradually before planting outside)  or sown outside from mid May. Plant a couple of these on a compost heap and you'll get wonderful, decorative trailing vines with a good crop of attractive fruit.

Cucumbers

Growing outdoor cucumbers is easy, and if you chose a variety like Crystal Lemon adds a dramatic dash of colour to the vegetable plot. This yellow cucumber gives small round delicious fruits that are more easily digested than many of the usual outdoor varieties. Sow in April in a heated propagator at 16 degrees C (harden off gradually before planting outside) or sow outdoors from mid May to early June. Sow 2 seeds at each sowing station, when the plants have therir first 2 real leaves remove the weakest plant - if you're very careful you might well be able to grow this seedling on elsewhere. Cucumber plants need plenty of water to grow fast and give tender fruits. They will climb up trellis or wigwams if given a little encouragement.

Restina

This F1 hybrid cucumber is perfect for growing in and around the bottom of tall plants such as sweetcorn. It likes a warm, sheltered spot and in return will give high yields of small cucumbers best used as gherkins. It is quite robust and will succeed in less than perfect conditions, where it is a useful, quick growing green trailing plant but the yield will be less. Germinate in a propagator in late March, when growing well harden off gradually than plant out 80cm apart. Earliest fruits will appear in late June.

Climbing Beans

Runner beans will cover a fence, romp over trellis, grow over arches, or in the traditional way twist up bean poles in rows or wigwams. They are decorative, prolific and one of the fastest and most beautiful ways to temporarily cover an unwanted view or create a tall, flowerful display clambering up poles in a big pot.

Painted Lady is a traditional variety with  red and white flowers that are pretty enough to feature in a flower garden. Sow seed in pots, in a coldframe, in a greenhouse or on a windowsill during early April, alternatively in early May sow 2 seeds where you want a plant to grow, thin to 1 when the first true leaves have appeared. Start to harvest from July onwards - keep picking the beans as soon as they're ready because leaving them to mature means the plants stop producing and fewer beans.

Planting Fruit Trees:

Apples:

Bare rooted apple trees should only be planted during the winter - you can expect to lose 10% of them. Container grown trees are sold all year but are most likely to get off to a good start if planted in Spring or Autumn and will need watering during dry spells.

 

Plums:

Plum trees do best if they're planted in late Autumn. They will produce blossom earlier than other fruit trees so it's important not to plant them in a frost pocket.

Medlar:

A medlar tree grows slowly, but the wait for fruit is worth it if you like something unusual An increasing number of specialist nurseries offer medlars,. They thrive in a sheltered spot, and like an organic mulch in Autumn.

 Quince:

Plant quince trees during the winter. They traditionally do well with their roots close to water. The ripe fruit has an exquisite smell the Romans used to use it as a deodoriser in the toilet!

Making Compost

Making compost is good for your garden and for the environment. Many councils offerr seasonal discounts on plastic composters that will take all suitable household waste, grass clippings, torn newspaper, cardboard, pet hair etc. It will work faster if you add some manure - the sweepings from a rabbit hutch, some strawy chicken manure, but not dog or cat droppings -they contain 'nasties' that even the heat from a composter won't destroy - not what you want on your fruit and vegetables. Tuck the composter away in a sunny corner of the garden, if you suspect mice or rats may be around prop a couple of bricks against the bottom opening. Keep the bin contents moist but not wet.

And your reward is rich, dark, crumbly compost that will boost your crops and improve the texture of your soil.

Sieve out any slow to compost bits  and them back to the top of the bin.  

 Bean Feast

End of the season harvest, the pods of many types of climbing bean become too stringy to cook and eat by early  autumn but the shelled beans are still delicious. Enjoy them fresh or blanch and freeze to eat later.

Climbing Beans

A tall, leafy screen of green from mid summer to mid autumn. Beans like rich soil and need watering, but will give you a worthwhile crop in a small space. Anchor securely, as all that leaf makes them vulnerable to wind. 

Growing Runner Beans

Runner Bean flowers are so pretty they'd be worth growing even if they didn't give you an edible crop. During a dry summer they can struggle to set beans so it's worth encouraging bees by planting lavender or other bee attracting plants nearbye. Don't water from above the plants - it won't help the beans to set and might even knock flowers off. Water at night, at the roots, Pick continuously as soon the beans are big enough, if they start to go to seed they'll stop yielding.

Growing climbing French Beans

Climbing French Beans are happier in dry weather than the more traditional Runner Bean so it's worth growing some of both to get a good crop whatever the summer weather. Grow as for Runner Beans, start harvesting when they reach around 15cm and then carry on until frosts come. They can be frozen, don't need stringing and when small are good eaten raw.

Growing Borlotti Beans - a fresh taste of Italy

As easy to grow as Runner Beans, Borlotti Beans produce beautiful pink streaked beans inside pink streaked pods. Sow as soon as danger of frosts has passed, they'll climb up bean poles, bamboo poles, netting, strings and will a little help will clamber over fences. Harvest when you can see the beans bulging in the pds, strip out the beans and throw the pods on the compost heap.

Growing Horseradish

There's nothing like the flavour of freshly dug, finely grated, fresh horseradish. But be warned, it will make you cry while you're grating it unless you wear glasses - and even then, you need to be quick!

Buy rooted plants from a nursery during the early autumn, plant in fairly fertile soil and the horseradish will happily grow and multiply until you start digging some up. 'Wild' horseradish grows in many places, on roadside verges, along the edges of fields and in the South East of England can often be found on the wind blown headlands of the Channel coast.

Potatoes Month by Month

January: buy Seed Potatoes and start chitting* them

February: get the first crop of the year by planting some first earlies in pots - chose big pots that can be kept in a frost free place until safe to put outside. Start with some drainage material, add at least 10cm of easy draining compost, plant the seed potato, when sprouts appear add 5cm more compost, keep on doing this until there are plenty of potato leaves coming out of the pot and compost has reached the rim. Finish off outside as soon as all danger of frost has passed - and enjoy the very first 'home grown' crop of the year.

March: make sure your ground is ready for the potatoes

April: time to plant! Traditional planting means digging a trench - a spade depth - putting in a layer of compost, covering with a thin layer of soil and standing the chitted potatoes on this, 30 to 40 cm apart, cover with soil so that there is a good 10cm of earth over the potatoes. The rows for Earlies and Salads need to be 45cm apart - allow 70 cm between rows for Maincrop. For extra early Earlies cover with fleece.

May: the very first Earlies, planted in pots, should be ready now. As shoots show from ground planted potatoes pull earth up around them.

June: start to harvest First Earlies, put the fork in from the side of the row and lift carefully.

July: Second Earlies will be ready for harvest. Salads are beginning but leave Pink Fir Apple in for another month. Plant special variety Christmas potatoes now.

August: Early Maincrops are ready for harvest now.

September: Late Maincrop should be lifted and stored for winter.

October: make sure all potatoes are out of the ground except Christmas potatoes.

November: Clear all ground used for growing potatoes and rough dig for frost to break up

December: If you planted Christmas potatoes this is the time to enjoy them - and tell all your friends how clever you've been!

 

First Earlies:

Accent: very early, high yield, good flavour, yellow flesh, oval. Low Blight resistance, high Scab resistance, Eelworm resistant.

Arran Pilot: heritage early scraper, most popular variety in UK, fine flavour, white, long oval. Moderate Blight resistace, High Scab resistance, susceptible to Eelworm.

Duke of York: heritage early scraper, famous flavour, matures to slighty floury, pale yellow, oval. Low Blight resistance, high Scan resistance, susceptible to Eelworm.

Epicure: heritage early scraper, high yields, famous flavour, good frost recovery, most popular garden variety in Scotland. Moderate Blight resistance, low Scan resistance, susceptible to Eelworm.

Foremost: true classic, also known as Sutton's Formost, early scraper, good flavour, firm, oval. Moderate Blight resistance, high Scab resistance, susceptible to Eelworm.

Home Guard: heritage early scraper, long term gardeners' favourite, white, short oval. Low Blight resistance, low Blight resistance, susceptiple to Eelworm

Lady Christl:modern, disease reisitant early, heavy yield, yellow fleshed, oval. Low Blight resistance, high Scab resistance, resistnt to Eelworm

Maris Bard: popular early scraper, high yield, good flavour, firm, matures well, white, oval. Moderate Blight resistance, high Scab resistance, susceptible to Eelworm

Pentland Javelin: popular early scraper, matures well, excellent cooking qualities. Low Blight resistance, high Scab resistance, Eelworm resistant.

Red Duke of York: heritage early, excellent flavour, good for all types of cooking, deep red, oval. Low Blight resitance, high Scab resistance, susceptible to Eelworm.

Rocket: very early scraper, modern, disease resistant, good flavour, high yield, white, round. Low Blight resistance, moderate Scab resistance, resistant to Eelworm

Sharpes Express: heritage early, excellent flavour, general purpose floury, long oval. Moderate Blight resistance, moderate Scab resistance, susceptible to Eelworm

Swift: modern, disease resistant, very early scraper, good flavour, grows well in containers and under glass/plastic, cream oval. Moderate Blight resistance, high Scab resistance.

Winston: modern disease resistant early scraper and earliest baker, good flavour, cream oval. High Blight resistance, high Scab resistance, Eelworm resistant.

 

Second Earlies:

Catriona: attractive heritage early, excellent flavour, cream oval. Low Blight resistance, moderate Scab resistance, susceptible to Eelworm

Estima: popular, reliable high yielder, good flavour, matures well. Moderate Blight resistance, high Scab resistance, susceptible to Eelworm

Kestrel: modern disease resistant, excellent flavour, matures well to become good baker - and for chips, white, long oval. SLUG RESISTANT. High resistance to Blight, moderate resistance to Scab.  

Marfona: popular high yielding, stores well, large waxy baker, yellow oval. Moderate resistance to Blight, moderate resistance to Scab, susceptible to Eelworm.

Maris Peer: popular high yielding, excellent flavour, beutiful plants with purple flowers - looks good in pots. Moderate Blight and Scab resistance, susceptible to Eelworm

Nadine: modern disease resistant, record yields, very waxy, ideal for exhibition. Moderate Blight resistance, high Scab resistance, resistant to Eelworm

Saxon: modern disease resistant, excellent creamy flavour, good yield, perfect texture for mashed potatoes. Moderate resistance to Blight, high resistance to Scab, resistant to Eelworm

Wilja: Britain's favourite Second Early, high yields, large tubors, versatile, yellow, long oval. Moderate resistance to Blight, high resistance to Scab, susceptible to Eelworm

 

 Main Crop:

Cara: Allotment favourite! High yields, exceptional disease resistance. White, short oval. High Blight and Scab resistance, resistant to Eelworm

Desiree: the world's favourite red potato, drought resistant. Red, long oval. Moderate Blight and Scab resistance, susceptible to Eelworm.

Golden Wonder: Heritage flavour, Scotland's favourite. Floury and delicious. Russet long oval. Moderate Blight resistance, high Scab resistance, susceptible to Eelworm.

Kerrs Pink: Floury, general purpose, Ireland's favourite. Leafy foliage keeps weeds down. Round, pink. Moderate Blight and Scab resistance, Eelworm susceptible.

King Edward: One of the best roasting potatoes, traditional favourite in England. White oval. Low Blight resistance, high Scab resistance, susceptible to Eelworm.

Majestic

Maris Piper

Pentland Crown

Picasso

Romano

Sante

 

 Salads:

Charlotte

International Kidney

Pink Fir Apple

Ratte

 

 Storing potatoes:

First Earlies - eat as you harvest

Second Earlies - as long as the skin doesn't rub off can be stored for a while in dry, dark bags.

Maincrops can be stored in thick brown paper or hessian sacks as long as they've been lifted in dry conditions.

* chitting means to grow some sturdy sprouts on the tubers before planting. The easiest way to do this is to stand the potatoes on large, flat egg trays, don't let them touch each other and put in a cool but frost free place. They need some light, a spare room or frost proof shed is ideal.

 

................................................................................

August in the UK is Hairy Caterpillar time of year again - there are 2,500 varieties of moth so identification can be a problem. Avoid the really hairy ones as they make most people's skin itch. Safest not to touch any that look even slightly hairy, even cats and dogs can react to them. 

Italian plum tomatoes growing outside can be prolific. Once established they'll go for several days without watering except in the hottest weather but for the biggest crop water well in the evening. If you buy plants from a nursery make sure they have well formed 'trunks' - it shows they've been well grown and will thrive inside a greenhouse or in a sheltered spot.

 Yellow courgettes are fun but never seem to provide as big a crop as the green varieties. Try one yellow one chopped up with several green, stir fry and sprinkle with chopped marjoram.

 

 

Bolting Lettuces?

Try gently frying the leaves of your

bolted lettuce in a little walnut oil -

they taste like chicory.

 

Hot news! Strawberries  Borage!

Plant them in the same bed for lots of Strawberry Sundaes 

Hot news! Strawberries  Cabbages!

Keep them in separate beds or your Strawberry Shortcake will be just biscuits...  

 

DO NOW:

Water in the evening - plants take up the water through the night and make better use of it than if you water in the morning when a lot of it evaporates in the sun.

Keep hoeing between rows, try to create a weedfree 'dustbed' surface that's dry and loose on top.

Keep sowing salad crops 'little and often' to avoid gluts.

Keep topping up the compost bin, heat makes it accelerate.

Mulch as many of your beds as possible to cut down on watering and supress weeds 

 

GOING ON HOLIDAY?

Try to find someone to swap watering duties with - they water when you're away, you water when they are.

Don't forget to tell them to harvest your crops and enjoy them when they're ready - otherwise you'll come back to a lot of bolted lettuces etc

Get everywhere as weed free as you can before you go - weeds will work overtime when you're away.

Wherever you go have a look at other people's gardens - and come back inspired!  

Strawberry 'lore': gently pull a strawberry in 2, share it with another and you'll fall in love (might be a better bet if you share a punnet)

 

NOW:

AUGUST

Mainly scorching but rain in some areas. UK vegetable farmers are expecting a poor harvest so worth keeping on sowing your own.

JULY

A very hot month, constant struggle to keep growing plants watered. A lot of interest in unusual vegetables - the RHS magazine has a focus on allotment holders who've come to the UK from far and wide. An Italian flavour on 1 allotment, including bitter tasting salads. Gourds on a Jamaican inspired plot, Eastern European vegetables on another. Worth experimenting to discover new favorites.

JUNE

End of the month: saved from near disaster after strong sun and drying winds by enough rain to soak the ground and refill the rainbutts. Everthing catching up from the late start although some gardeners say their early potatoes are on a go slow. Still time to sow some late peas as long as you can be sure of giving them enough water.

Early in the month

Very mixed results because of the weather.

Allotments on heavy soil are virtually waterlogged - best advice is to keep off until they dry and use boards to walk on even then.

Medium draining plots - potatoes are thriving, but so are slugs. There's a new, hedgehog friendly range of slug pellets and increasing enthusiasm for nematodes, although you have to be really lucky with the weather for the latter to work.

Runner beans that have been protected with fleece look pretty good.

Slugs have munched through most early planting of courgettes and squash but there's still time to catch up.

LAST MONTH:

MAY                 

Weed alert!

Horsetail or Marestail - whatever you call it, it's back for the season.

If you want to eradicate it quickly current advice is to spray with glyphosate, but remember this is not a selective weedkiller so you have to wait several weeks before planting anything on treated soil.

Be careful to pick up all pieces of the horsetail when weeding because even a tiny bit will grow a new plant.

Covering with a 'weed proof' membrane and planting through it can work, but you need to leave the membrane down for at least a full year, preferably two or even three. 

Same treatment will work for couch grass, another 'pest' that creeps along under the soil to emerge whenever there's an opportunity.

 

Enjoying Now:

Asparagus

Rhubarb

Radishes

Lettuces

Spinach

Growing now:

Potatoes

Broad Beans

Sweet Corn

Courgettes

Cabbages : Red & Green

Cauliflowers - including Romanesque

Tomatoes

Just about Everything!

Sow:

Most areas are now frost free so sow

Salads, Climbing beans, dwarf beans

But be prepared to cover with fleece if the weather turns

Net:

Soft fruit - bullfinches are about

Apples and pears do best in a fruit cage or be prepared to share your crop with the birds

Cherry trees are birds' favourite - individual trees look good in old net curtains, use clothes pegs to clip to the end of branches

 

   

 

GOING ON HOLIDAY?

Try to find someone to swap watering duties with - they water when you're away, you water when they are.

Get everywhere as weed free as you can before you go - weeds will work overtime when you're away.