Monday, 7 September 2015

LATE SUMMER CROPS AND WINTER SALADS



LATE SUMMER CROPS AND WINTER SALADS


Late summer is that in between time when harvesting most of this years crops is in full swing, but we find there is still some growing time left to get a fast maturing crop sown for use in late autumn and into winter. The early peas and broad beans are the first to get harvested and old plants pulled out and composted. Both of these plants have nitrogen fixing nodules on the roots so leave behind feeding for the next crop as they rot down. I just clear the site, level it, and rake a deep tilth ready for some seed sowing. Early potatoes and onions are also often lifted off the ground at the end of August allowing more land for a late crop. Sweet corn would also be harvested mid to late August, but I find them quite slow this year running about three weeks late.

The weather plays a big role in the success of late sowings and this year it has been quite wet as well as cool, so pick your moments carefully and don’t do soil works if the surface is wet.
Lettuce salad leaves, mizuna, land cress, rocket, mustard and radish are all quick to mature so an early September sowing can be quite successful. This should give a wide variety of salad leaves and roots to pick from autumn to winter.
Spring onion and winter lettuce are also added to this group, but I find they are best sown in cellular seed trays in good compost in my cold greenhouse. This gives them a great start for planting out in early September.

I sow my outdoor seed a wee bit thicker than normal, just in case the weather is not in our favour, but also as some seed supplier’s germination may be a wee bit questionable. I hear too many tales of germination disasters and I know it is not always down to poor gardening skills. If germination is brilliant the seedlings can always be thinned out and the thinnings used for additional plants or given to a friend.

As more land is cleared from lifting potatoes, turnips, summer salads, beetroot, carrots, summer cabbage and cauliflower in early September there is still time to continue sowing. It may be too late for autumn salads, but not too late to catch a green manure crop of clover, tares or mustard (as long as there is no clubroot problem). Plants chosen for green manures have deep and heavy root systems that break up the soil, and many have nitrogen fixing nodules on the roots so adding to the nutrient value of the soil. A green cover over winter also prevents loss of nutrients in the soil from winter rains and melting snow. Winter digging is also less damaging on the soil if it has a green cover over it. However try to complete all digging in of green manures a couple of months ahead of the next crop to be sown or planted, and always before they try to set seed.

Late summer fruits
Autumn raspberries, brambles, figs and perpetual strawberries continue to crop and are at there best after a few days of sunny weather. Autumn raspberries have really enjoyed this cooler wetter year and berry size has never been bigger. However figs are a different story. I had a potential one hundred plus wee figs on one tree. Figs need a long warm climate and this is not their best summer. The foliage was so late to grow that it could not support a heavy crop as it is the leaves that create the food supply to help the fruit to grow. There was just not enough leaves early on so the plant did a June drop in August by shrivelling up a few figs. I am still getting a great crop of really large figs with the first ones ripe in mid August, but I may not reach my potential of one hundred.
There’s always next year.

Wee jobs to do this week
Any potato varieties affected by blight should be lifted after clearing off all the foliage and dumping it. Choose a dry sunny day for lifting and leave the potatoes in the sun for a couple of hours to dry off so they can be stored in a cool dark place. They should last into next spring, but keep checking them for any sign of rotting.

END

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