For many gardeners, mid-summer can feel like a time of limbo. The summer garden is at its peak and appears to require little in the way of help to deliver up a daily harvest, but it is still too early to begin the autumn plantings that will ensure fresh vegetables throughout the winter. So what is one to do in the big outdoors? I, for one, can think of a multitude of tasks. In fact mid to late January is an especially important time to be in the garden for a number of reasons.
I spent this week ‘chopping back’ and containing. The growth on the chives and bunching onions has been prolific over spring and early summer and it was drowning out my less vigorous sun-loving herbs such as rosemary, sage, thyme and marjoram. It was also keeping the soil around them damp – not something these Mediterranean plants enjoy. While I was at it, I chopped back the rosemary wands by half to prevent the plant becoming ‘woody’, and carried the branches inside to dry out the leaves for winter use.
I also took the opportunity to tie back the leaves of rhubarb and potatoes which were encroaching on the carrot and beetroot beds. This is the time of year when our winter root crops can do with all the sun they can get and it is only too easy for them to be swamped by other plants. Unchecked, the zucchini bushes were staging a take-over of the area occupied by lettuce seedlings and baby rocket but a length of trellis kept them contained. Young silverbeet plants had all but disappeared beside a row of maturing cabbages and some self-seeded dill was towering over a row of little white cocktail onions which had almost given up hope of finding sunshine. Sticks, netting, and string were all employed to help everything find a place of its own – and stay there!
Just as plants at this time of year require a helping hand to access light and sun, so they also need feeding. Most veges have been in the ground, now, for around 3-4 months and nutrients are becoming depleted. Perhaps you have heard of the term ‘a side dressing’. This refers to adding nutrients to the soil where plants are already well established. If you are in the habit of using artificial fertilizers, ‘a side dressing’ is a little sprinkle close to (but not touching) growing plants. If you are an organic gardener, as I am, your ‘side dressing can be delivered in the form of compost and animal manure dug gently into the soil alongside plants. Better, still, however, is to feed the plants with liquid manure (taking care not to contaminate parts of the plant which you are harvesting).
Vines heavy with fruit require special attention in mid-summer. My sugar-snap, snow and podding and sweet peas were all pulling away from their netting supports this week, and the climbing beans were wandering in directions they were never intended to grow. In the greenhouse, cucumber and tomato plants were threatening to tumble back on themselves. Out came the old pantyhose (much softer and stretchier than garden twine) to hold back and hold up growth, and order was restored.
Far from sitting back and watching everything grow, I find that mid-summer is the time to be out and about in the garden. After all, when you reach your prime, there’s nothing like a make-over to have you looking your best!