Just to say the word August is enough for the mind to be redolent of thoughts of summer holidays, the harvest, or hot afternoons sitting in a shady corner of the garden, watching fruit ripen and bees pollinating the runner beans.
August can be magical, but she has many a sting in her tail. She lulls you into thinking that summer will never end, and yet September will come, brisk and fresh on her heels and cold October, will undoubtedly follow.
This is the holiday season, but leaving the vegplot in high summer, even for a day or two, always transports me into fearfulness. If it is hot, I worry that everything will have wilted and if it is cold I fear that everything will have caught a chill. However, rooftopvegplotting is about learning from your mistakes. Every time I go away I take time to make a point of observing how the plot looks on my return. I check how well the automatic watering system has performed, whether the hydraulic greenhouse roof has opened adequately and just how much things have grown.
The name of the game for summer crops is, pick, pick, pick. Beans, peas, tomatoes, carrots, cabbages will all go over if not regularly cropped. By now many of the spring planted lettuces have gone to seed and the ground needs to be cleared to make way for other things. If I go on holiday I pick as much as possible before I go away, taking it with me quite often, to provide a store of fresh food for the first few days of my holiday, or a supply of red tomatoes for picnics.
Alternatively you can preserve and pickle things. Look at the article glut for more details.
Remember that sun angles are sinking. Soon that shady spot will have the chill deadness of winter upon it. Before I go away I move plants into more protected spots, perhaps finding a bit of extra sun for tomatoes or tarragon, perhaps pushing carrots or lettuces into shadier places.
I have a self-watering system, that is thoroughly checked before I go away and any stray pots will have a tray of well watered gravel beneath them.
For the gardener this is a schizophrenic month. I must continue to harvest and nurture the summer crops, which will be at the height of the bounty while at the same time thinking of autumn and winter stores.
It is always difficult in the rooftopvegplot to find room in mid-summer for seedlings. If you don’t want to leave seedlings, then you could buy a few plug plants, in the week of your return. That will keep succession cropping of lettuces and greens in place. These plugs can be popped into the soil and enjoying August's warm, often damp, evenings they will flourish to picking size before you can say "salads".
As I crop the new potatoes, I re-plant some if the pots with lettuces, radishes and herbs. This year I picked chervil seeds right of the plant and scattered them straight onto fresh soil. As I prune back I also take soft cuttings of lavender, mint and tarragon, which should take in any patch of warm soil, watered by August rains but still enervated by her sunshine. The cuttings, if they take, can be moved to the greenhouse later.
If I go away for two or three weeks there will be casualties in the plot. But I also know there will be delights when I return home. This summer I discovered that the Marmande tomatoes had grown large and juicy while I was away. If I’d been at home I would have been tempted to pick them too soon, robbing us of the most delicious salads during September.
Try to strip out early summer veg before you go away, leaving the soil bare for the two weeks of the holiday. That has a tremendously beneficial effect on the slug population. Slugs don’t like bare warm soil, so they slope off elsewhere. When I return from holiday, I can re-invigorate the soil with compost and plant leaf crops. Lettuces and Chinese leaves don't need high levels of fertiliser. Later in the season there will be more time to turn over a whole bed and apply the chicken pellets. Now I shall re-sow straight away.
Gardening is all about taking risks. I have no idea what the weather will be like one week from now. I don't know in August whether we will have a languorous warm autumn or whether, come September, we're in for Siberian conditions. But whichever it is to be, I am prepared. I have hardy winter crops like kale and sprouting broccoli, I have toughies like rocket and Chinese leaves planted in strategically warm spots and I have cloches at the ready should darlings like tarragon, basil and delicate young lettuces need an extra helping hand.
It will be two more months at least before I can give the greenhouse over to winter crops, but until then, like the boy-scouta, I am prepared for pretty well any eventuality.