Some time at the beginning of July thing change in the veg plot. However hard the winter has been, however chilly the spring and however much May and June have been a wash out, we are almost guaranteed that July will be hot. As I sit writing this today (8th July 2013) the mercury reads 29•.
After the summer solstice temperatures begin to build up, but day length slowly starts to shrink. This seems to trigger everything into flower and fruit. Baby tomatoes suddenly appear, peas start to thicken, beans are on the climb and courgette suddenly begins to look strong and healthy. It is as if they all know that in the midst of this lovely warmth end of summer is already heralded.
This is a lovely time of year in the garden. It is time to enjoy the fruits of our labour and for savouring high summer's rich harvest. At the moment I am cropping lettuces, spring cabbage, potatoes, peas, carrots, kale, camomile, mint, fennel and all the herbs. Nasturtium, roses, Ipomoea, marigold, pinks, lily and snap dragons are all flowering in a glorious profusion of colours. Hollyhocks, lavender and Allium show bursting buds. The courgette and cucumbers are in flower and the first tiny tomatoes can be spotted in the growhouse.
Everything had been planted out and I'm starting to copiously feed and water this happy profusion.
But, in the midst of summer we must start thinking about winter crops. Pak choi, Russian kale, mustard greens and lettuce; Rouge d'Hivers have all set seed. That is a sure sign that planting time is just around the corner. Winter crops don't grow very fast. But seeds sewn in the next month or two will have plenty of time to develop into sturdy plants before cold weather is upon us.
The list is long. Autumn radish and carrots, Chinese vegetables, cabbages, brassica and calabrese of all sorts can be sewn now. The problem is - there is nowhere to put everything!
Try to find a semi-shaded spot somewhere, possibly where lettuces have been harvested and plant a few seeds as soon as possible. They don't need a lot of space. A plot 30cm square will produce a lot of seedlings. As long as they are regularly watered and sheltered from very hot sun, they will love the warm weather and the still long days. Alternatively, plant up a few seed trays. These can be transplanted as crops start to run over.
Autumn planting is, in many ways, far easier than spring planting. The soil is warm, there are cooler spots to be found and by August we often get enough rain to make hand watering a relatively infrequent requirement. Seeds sewn now are far less likely to run to flowers. The cool weather crops* will do much better now, putting on leaf and not flowers. *(this is a bit of a misnomer in our constantly cool climate. But received wisdom is that warm weather crops, like courgette and tomatoes are best planted in early spring, while the cool weather crops do best planted in late summer/early autumn. )
But just like all the weather windows we have in Britain, this one will close before long. Gales and squally rainstorms can damage delicate crops in September, soil temperatures tend to plummet come October, and frosts become more and more likely once November has broken. So make the most of this month and you wont regret it come winter.