Hartley Magazine

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Planting for second crops in midsummer

The greenhouse has now been planted up with tomatoes, cucumbers, aubergines and some basil, and the growing year is underway. I want to say ‘finally’ – it is finally underway. It all happened quite late this year – that long, cold, wet spring really didn’t lend itself to early sowings and plantings, even under glass, and never mind that the urge to be out there sowing and planting was pretty low in itself…so I am hopeful and slightly nervous as to whether everything will have enough time to do what it needs to do in this shorter than usual growing season. The greenhouse will certainly help, creating a little microclimate and magnifying and concentrating whatever sun and warmth we do get.

All of the seedlings that were sown in the greenhouse but intended for a summer outdoors are also planted out now too, and by dint of us being pretty patient (read: late), and hardening everything off really well before planting out, we have had very few losses to slugs and snails, even in this bumper year for them. So the weather is now gentle and summery, the conditions for growth optimal, and everything is in the ground and growing away nicely, It’s a good feeling.

It’s also exactly the moment we need to start thinking about the next lot of plants, and to do some successional sowing. You can now of course sit back and look forward to the coming harvests, but if you repeat a few of them now, they will pick up the baton when this first lot starts to run out of steam. The process of sowing at this time of year is nothing like as intensive as the spring sowings – partly there is just less to do as you cannot do second sowings of any of the plants that take a long time to mature, like those greenhouse mediterranean vegetables for instance. But it is also just a much easier time to grow things than temperamental spring, with its great swings of temperatures and ever present risk of frost. The weather now is made for growing.

I have started off by sowing a few courgettes and a few herbs. My first batch of courgettes aren’t yet into flower or fruit but once they start they will knock themselves out abundantly producing. They often burn themselves out by August, but by then my new plants – growing fast in the warmth, will be ready to pick up the baton.

I’m also direct sowing some dill, which likes to go undisturbed, and so has never really enjoyed me sowing it in the greenhouse and planting it out later. It wants a sunny spot with well drained soil and a lively fine seed drill filled with fine compost and with a bit of luck I can then thin out the plants I don’t want without disturbing the roots, and have a good crop of my absolute favourite summer herb.

Lastly for now is some rocket. We bought some plants from the garden centre forgetting the number one rule with rocket, which is that you don’t sow it before midsummer. Rocket is one of a few plants – oriental leaves among them – which flower in response to shortening days, and so spring sown plants will always be spindly and running to flower and seed. Those sown after midsummer will spend the rest of the summer fattening up into nice leafy plants with no thoughts of flowering.

This is also a good time to sow some more peas, mange touts, French beans, lettuce, carrots and beetroot and I will be doing all of those in the next week or so, and making sure I have harvests right into autumn.