Garden to plate

It’s time to reap the rewards of your hard work in the garden – and get going on next year’s crops, too

 Swiss chard ‘Bright Lights’. Photograph: Richard Johnston

Swiss chard ‘Bright Lights’. Photograph: Richard Johnston

 

Coming from a family of fiercely competitive kitchen gardeners, August has always been the time of year when we literally put it all on the table, the month when our rival crops will be admired (and mentally compared), shared (and surreptitiously judged), with sincere (or semi-sincere) commiserations offered for those that failed and envious congratulations for those which proved especially productive.

But probably the most fundamental rule of this contest is that August is the month when family meals must be mainly made up of what can be freshly harvested that day. This might be a simple bowl of new potatoes unearthed from the soil just hours earlier, a salad garnished with scarlet dahlia petals, or a pea-green soup conjured up as a delicious solution to a sudden glut. Whatever the day’s pickings, it’s a joy to eat this way. Adding to the pleasure is the fact that despite July’s brief drought, this year’s harvest has been the most bountiful in years. Most plants flourished in the warm sunshine while the sorts of pests and diseases that were such a frustrating feature of previous wet summers (slugs, snails, potato blight and downy mildew to name but a few), haven’t been a problem.

In my own family garden, this month’s haul of home-grown produce includes potatoes, mangetout, sugarsnap (incomparable to their tasteless, shop-bought equivalents), peas, French beans, jewel-coloured chard, beetroot (mouth-wateringly delicious wrapped in foil and roasted in the oven), baby carrots, soft heads of ‘Greyhound’ cabbage, courgettes, juicy tomatoes and tender broad beans, as well as many different salad leaves and herbs. Autumn-fruiting raspberries, dessert gooseberries, a second flush of strawberries, as well as a multitude of tiny alpine strawberries are also there for the picking.

So far, so smug. Because where I’ve badly let myself down, aside from a few hastily sown drills of lettuce, oriental salad leaves and kohl rabi, is in planning properly for the months ahead.

So busy was I enjoying the harvest, I’d almost forgotten that August is a month of two faces. For while it’s one of the most productive in the kitchen garden, it’s also the last chance for gardeners – especially those with a polytunnel or glasshouse – to sow a variety of crops either directly into the ground or into modules/trays/lengths of guttering, for later transplanting.

Luckily all is not lost, as there’s still a few sowing weeks left before the lid snaps tight on what’s been a remarkable growing year (see below for a list of suggestions of what to sow and grow). Failing that, badly time-pressed gardeners can also buy a range of young module-raised plants from Irish online suppliers such as Quickcrop (see below). With just a little forward planning and some clever use of garden fleece/cloches, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how much productive growing you can pack into the next few months.

Crops that can be direct-sown outdoors in the kitchen garden this month or raised in modules/trays/ lengths of guttering for later transplanting into the garden:
Varieties of hardy lettuce, rocket, Swiss chard, oriental salad leaves (mizuna, mibuna, mustard, komatsuna, pak-choi, tatsoi), corn salad, winter purslane, lamb’s lettuce, scallions, baby turnips, annual spinach, beetroot, radishes, overwintering onions, spring cabbage, carrots (‘Early Nantes)


Crops that can be sown/raised in containers/ modules/ trays/ lengths of guttering for later transplanting/moving into the polytunnel:
Beetroot, potatoes, ‘Greyhound’ cabbage , calabrese, lettuce, lamb’s lettuce, chervil, oriental salad leaves (see above), rocket, winter purslane, Swiss chard, kale, kohl rabi, overwintering onions, scallions, annual spinach, French sorrel. (An August sowing of coriander will also thrive in a polytunnels but must be direct sown as it doesn’t transplant well).


Other tasks for the kitchen garden in August:
l Sow green manures wherever the soil will be left free of winter crops.
l Continue to side-shoot and feed tomatoes.
l Prune glasshouse-grown peach trees that have finished fruiting.
l Watch out for cabbage white eggs/ caterpillars and squash them if you find them.

Buy online and books to read
The range of three/four-week-old, organically-grown baby/plug plants currently available from Sligo-based firm Quickcrop (quickcrop.ie) is very extensive. For a small charge of €3.95, Quickrop will deliver plants nationwide.

Other online stockists of plug plants include theorganiccentre.ie, while for a detailed and entertaining online monthly guide to growing your own, check out nickykylegardening.com

Two excellent books on polytunnels are The Polytunnel Book by Cork-based author Joyce Russell and The Winter Harvest Handbook by Eliot Coleman.

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