Although gardening is a year round job, summer is when just about everything is reaching its peak. Regardless of where you live in the UK by now all the hard work is paying out. All those plants that have been nurtured from seed, protected from bugs and pests, kept free from weeds, are either reaching the point of harvest or flowering their hearts out.
On the allotment, I’m now harvesting on a near daily basis. We’re buying very little vegetables from the supermarket, and what we are buying is to plug gaps either before our own veg is ready or where we’ve got a gap in our successional sowings of lettuce and beetroot. It’s great to be self-sufficient, even if only for part of the year, our grocery bill goes down and we have fresh vegetables just a short walk away.
My advice has always been, if you’re not sure what to grow, grow what you like to eat. That way, you will save money on your own grocery bill and if space is short, you won’t be wasting any.
Protecting Your Assets
I’ve written before about keeping pests and unwanted visitors off of your crops. Whether it’s scarecrows or netting to keep pigeons away from brassicas or beer traps to stop slugs munching lettuce, the Summer can also bring the challenge of too much heat. Some plants will benefit from not being too hot, as much as some don’t like being too cold, and the frosts of winter. It’s a balance. The warmer weather also means a need to water more, keeping plants healthy and from not drying out. Gathering and holding water in water butts or troughs when it rains, will mean that you can use it when you need it, and will give some protection from hosepipe bans during summer droughts.
The Garden Isn’t Just About Growing Things
A garden isn’t of course just about growing things. At this time of the year, it’s a place to sit outside and enjoy. Even with our typical British summer, there is plenty of opportunity for some sunshine and relaxation and reap the benefits of your hard work. For me being able to come back from a mornings work at the allotment, and then sit and have a light lunch in the garden amongst the aromas of the roses, watching different butterflies move from plant to plant - including in the scruffy corner where we deliberately grow stinging nettles, as they attract a range of butterflies including Comma and Red Admiral - is the perfect way to relax after grafting on the plot.
Over Before It’s Started
By know some of the crops that were planted at the start of the season, like broad beans are nearly over. I’ve now harvested all of mine, and I’m just thinking about what to use the space for. On my plot, that part is going to be potatoes next year, so having the broad beans, which leave good levels of Nitrogen in the soil is a good thing, but it does give me a chance for some quick growing crops if I want to. More lettuce, radish or beetroot; anything that’s quick growing will suffice or a late summer / early autumn growing of green manure, like red clover would be also be an option. Sowing a green manure, is good for the soil, providing nutrients lost to your harvested crops, but it will also help to suppress weeds, meaning less work removing them.
Plant of the Month
This is harder than it might otherwise be this month, as there is so many to choose from, but I’m going to pick rainbow chard. It’s a very versatile veg, but one that is quite sensitive to being picked. It droops quickly, so you almost never see it in the shops, as it’s nearly impossible to store in our modern distribution centre driven network. It’s a case of pick, and cook as soon as possible, but it’s great as a veg by itself or as a constituent in something else, like a quiche:
Rainbow Chard Flan
2 or 3 stalks of rainbow chard, (if you can’t get any rainbow chard, baby spinach will work just as well),
1 medium red onion,
2 cloves of garlic,
4 or 5 medium sized mushrooms,
150ml single cream (or creamy milk),
100g strong Cheddar cheese, (you can replace with a 50:50 Cheddar / Stilton mix, for a bit more flavour)
1 sheet or shortcrust pastry (or equivalent made from flour & butter)
Desert spoon of rapeseed or olive oil,
Salt and pepper to season,
Knob of butter to grease flan tin.
- Preheat the oven to 200°C (180°C fan), gas mark 6.
- Grease the flan tin with the butter, and line with the shortcrust pastry, and set aside. (You can make this quiche without the pastry, if you want a lighter dish, but it won’t keep as long.)
- Finely chop the onion, garlic and mushrooms, and saute in the oil in a frying pan on a medium heat, be careful not to burn the garlic.
- While the onion mix is cooking, mix the cream and eggs together, and whisk until well combined.
- Finely grate the cheese and add to the cream and egg mix. Save a little cheese to add to the top of the flan before cooking.
- Chop the Rainbow chard and add to the onion mix, continue to cook, but only to lightly cook the chard. Season to taste and remove from the heat.
- Tip the onion & chard mix into the flan tin and distribute evenly over the pastry.
- Give the egg, milk and cheese mix another stir (it tends to settle out), and add on top of the flan contents. Ensure that it spreads out to cover the entire flan.
- Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top of the flan.
- Bake in the oven for 30 minutes or until the flan is a golden brown on top, and the centre has solidified (test with the blade of a knife).
- Remove from the oven and serve. Works well with salad, new potatoes or chips. Can also be allowed to cool and served cold.