Reaping rewards

Blackcurrants are ripening.
Blackcurrants are ripening.

JUNE is the month we start to reap rewards for all that early planning of edible garden crops.

The rich mulch applied to fruit bushes and canes well before spring arrived was part of it. Just as important was the organic material dug into land earmarked for potatoes, peas, beans and onions.

Ripening raspberries.

Ripening raspberries.

Whether we grow plants for their leaves, roots or fruits, the soil must be capable of storing the moisture that is so essential to their development. Recent dry conditions have shown the benefit of it.

The payback began for us with leaf lettuce and radish crops which have retained their mildness in dry conditions thanks to regular watering. Next up were strawberries which started as a trickle in mid-June but are now in full production. The cultivar Albion proved last year that it can help extend the picking season through to autumn so it is worthy of the space. Indeed, it’s always worth considering any fruit or vegetable variety that helps prolong the harvesting period.

Although raspberry fruits are swelling rapidly, I reckon that the early potatoes will just pip them as the next tasty treat. Foremost was planted in mid-April this year, late by our standards, but the recent surge of growth has brought it up to flowering, an early indicator that the tubers are approaching the harvesting stage. Eight to 10 weeks from planting is just about right for the first digging and as it coincides with Newcastle Races Week, this Sunday’s dinner will be special.

There have been rumblings in the media about drought conditions affecting the potato harvest and the possible knock-on effect for supplies and prices. Our extra bags were planted up before this news broke but it is a useful coincidence that the home harvest will be extended.

The bags were half filled with compost and five tubers placed just below the surface in each. As the shoots have grown more compost has been added, and now they’re all full. This method of growing makes it easy to cultivate more of a favourite type or test varieties never grown before. Future treats we have in store thanks to it are King Edward, Wilja, Maris Piper, Osprey, Kestrel, Bonnie and Kerr’s Pink.

Midst all this positive talk, do bear in mind that the spores of potato blight will be on the air soon and first sign of attack is a curling of leaves. Plants affected can easily be picked out amongst a sea of otherwise healthy foliage, and given the chance this disease can spread rapidly through the crop. Best plan is to remove all top growth down to soil level immediately on the tainted plants and harvest potatoes below ground before tubers are attacked. Do not compost the diseased foliage.

Blackbird activity around the raspberries is telling us that the fruits are just coming up to ripening stage. It is time to step in with the net which will not deter them but ensure we are allowed a share of the spoils.

There is going to be a large summer crop this year, and strong new stems from later varieties suggest autumn returns will also be good.

NEXT edible treat on the horizon is not from outdoors but the greenhouse tomatoes. All the staging down one side was removed earlier and the border prepared for open-based pots. This encourages the development of two separate root systems; one in the pot which receives a weekly feed and another below in the substrate which is watered daily.

This hedging of options is aimed at overcoming the threat of soil-borne diseases. Should root rot attack one system the other can carry a plant through the crisis.

We’ve limited the collection to 30 plants this year but there is still enough variety to make salads interesting. Two grafted cultivars are being tested alongside their seed-sown counterparts. The plants Felicia and Sungold were ostensibly free but there is a catch – a report on their relative performances – cropping, growth, health, etc. has to be written for the trade later.

Alongside the traditional Moneymaker, Alicante, Shirley and Gardener`s Delight, we have three other cherry types then it all becomes a leap into the unknown. The plants of varieties I have no experience of, are looking strong and setting trusses. They are Red Nose Tom, Amorosa, Orkado, Hildares, Harz and Japanese Black.

The biggest threat to tomato plants at present, apart from the gardener failing to water them, is the intense light and the heat that can build up quickly in a greenhouse. The latter can be controlled by daily ventilation and damping down but some form of shading must be in place to stop leaves curling up tightly in the presence of direct sunlight.

Tomato plants demand daily attention but don’t take your eyes off outdoor developments otherwise eating opportunities are missed. Take the blackcurrants for example, several have ripened way ahead of schedule and gooseberries are ready to thin out and use in pies.

Two garden pea varieties, Onward and Greenshaft, the show bench favourite, whose long, slender pods hold nine or 10 peas, are both well advanced. One or two more showers plus a spot of sun will soon make the pods swell. And the broad bean crop is not too far behind.

One day soon several immature apples and plums will litter the base of our favourite trees but there will be no panic. This is the June drop, nature’s way of thinning out the fruit. If they all remained in place you can imagine the competition for nutrition, with lots of small, malnourished apples and pears, hardly worth picking. But nature won’t allow that. Only the strongest survive and we have fewer, bigger fruits to harvest.

If you’re not happy with nature’s efforts, wait until the natural fall is over then thin them out a little more.