With the good weather and longer days, the garden is now probably overflowing with good produce – maybe more than you can eat. It is also time to say goodbye to some plants that are more sensitive to the heat such as broad beans, spinach and peas. There are many other things to harvest so that is not too much of a hardship.
Monitor the watering
High summer temperatures and the usual scarcity of rainfall make watering a priority at this time of year. As for the general garden, it is best not to do any watering during the day with any method that wets the plants rather than the soil.
Sprinklers, hose pipes and watering cans can all do more harm than good if not used properly. A drip irrigation system is best for the kitchen garden as it moderates the temperature of the soil without wetting the plants. It is important to use a good organic mulch on bare soil as this also helps to stop soils overheating.
This is also the time when you might be away from home for a few days and so you will need to find a way to keep the garden watered. You can ask a neighbour or friend to do this in exchange for the harvesting of supplies but if you have a programmed localised drip system, that will take care of the regular day to day supply of water. It is always worth asking someone to check the garden from time to time.
It is likely that the increase in temperatures will call for particular plants to be watered more frequently than others, for example, courgettes, Swiss chard, lettuces and tomatoes.
Competitive weeds are still vigorous so do not ignore hoeing and mulching which will save you many hours of weeding as well as reducing watering needs.
Clearing out beds that were occupied with winter or spring crops can make space for quick crop salad leaves etc. The compost heap will benefit from any plant remains.
Harvest regularly those vegetables or fruits that are mature and do not be tempted to leave produce to rot on the plant, heat and sun will soon spoil good fruit. If you have left produce too long, collect it as soon as possible to avoid build up of rots and diseases and ‘feed’ the compost heap, or your chickens!
Prolong the harvesting season for tomatoes, strawberries and melons by trimming runners and lateral branches. Sow autumn and winter cabbages, endives and lettuces.
Monitor fruit trees for pests, especially the fruit fly and apply organic controls if needed. These can include the hanging of pheromone traps. Sticky traps or nets can also be used and will help you identify the harmful from the friendly insects.
Providing a shade tunnel with good ventilation can reduce soil temperatures and give a longer growing season.
A good way of using up abundant harvests and preserving them for winter use is a solar dryer. This will dehydrate most vegetables and fruits, suitably prepared by slicing. Trays of prepared produce need good air circulation to carry away the moisture, always in the shade to preserve nutrients. There are some good designs for home-made solar dryers on the internet. Store in closed glass jars. To use the dried produce, simply soak before use.
For cabbages, beetroot, carrots and other root vegetables. This gives long term benefits with added nutritional and therapeutic properties. The traditional sauerkraut is produced this way and there are many tasty variants using red cabbage, carrots and red onions.
A small plot of earth where you can connect with nature, the seasons and the joy of harvesting your own produce makes an immeasurable contribution to the quality of our lives. Now is the time when you should be able to reap the rewards of preparations made in the winter and spring.
With thanks to The Mediterranean Kitchen Garden by Mariano Bueno – Growing Organic Fruit and Vegetables in a Hot, Dry Climate published by Francis Lincoln limited 2010 ISBN 9780711230644
By Rosie Peddle
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Mediterranean Gardening Association – Portugal