July is a month of abundance in the edible garden, with the first hefty harvests starting to come to fruition as peas, beans, salads and soft fruits are at their most delicious. It is also a good month to start a few bonus crops that can complete their life cycle before the growing season is out, and it’s also time to pay close attention to your ‘heavyweight’ summer vegetables to keep them productive.
More fruit and veg advice
- Get growing edibles in July
- Monty's July fruit and veg video guides
- Five favourite vegetables for a beginner gardener
- Top tips for growing winter veg
Plant out purple sprouting broccoli
Plant this delicious brassica now for a harvest in the new year, with cropping possible from January until May. There is something wondrous about being able to nip out into the garden in the depths of winter and return indoors with a bundle of this tasty, gourmet vegetable.
Choose an open, sunny area in full sun, with alkaline soil, and plant young plants 7-9cm tall. If the main stem is a bit spindly, bury the bottom part of it to keep the plant well anchored. Plant 50cm apart, firm the soil well around the plant with your hands and cover the plants with fine mesh after planting, to protect the plants from cabbage white butterflies and hungry pigeons. The young leaves are very appealing to pigeons and the whole crop can be gone overnight if you don’t cover them immediately after planting. Once the leaves have toughened up and the plants have reached 12-15cm tall, they tend to be left alone in favour of easier pickings (pigeons are fond of convenience food!) or at least not damaged to a fatal extent.
The plants are at risk of bolting in hot spells in summer. Regular watering with the water directed at the base of the plant will help reduce the risk. A 5cm layer of mushroom compost spread around the base of the plant after a summer watering will also greatly help keep the soil around the roots cool and help prevent bolting There are also heat-resistant varieties such as ‘Summer Purple’ available. This crop is fully winter hardy and best harvested fresh as and when it is ready, for maximum flavour.
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Water new fruit trees
Fruit trees that were planted last year or this year will be dependent on you for water, while their roots are still getting established. This is especially true if like me, you’ve got soil that drains quickly and always seems to be drying out. Once planted, young trees are easily forgotten in their first year, while the promise of fruit is still a while away. It can also be easy to think that the trees will ‘look after themselves’ because they are young.
Yet, like looking after children or puppies the opposite is true! The first two years after planting are crucial and young trees struggle to look after themselves in dry spells and can easily become stressed, shedding leaves and fruits. Thoroughly soak the soil around the base of your tree every few days in hot, dry spells, watering until puddles form. Spread a 5cm layer of compost around the tree immediately after watering to help keep the tree roots cool. Give a thorough soak each time rather than a daily sprinkle.
Giving a young tree regular small amounts of water can result in roots staying close to the soil surface in the expectation of regular moisture. Shallow-rooted plants will dry out quicker, will not be as well-anchored to cope with strong winds and are also more likely to be damaged by weeding. Young trees in pots will be especially vulnerable to stress in hot conditions. Move the pot into shade if a few days of temperatures in the mid to high 20s are forecast.
Harvest runner beans
Fresh, young runner beans are a summer crop that I can happily eat daily all through summer if there’s a glut. But there’s a world of difference between a perfectly picked runner bean and one that is even just a day or two past its best. There is a knack to knowing how to pick runner beans when they are at perfection and part of it comes with experience!
Pick the pods when they are slim (but not spindly), light green all over (no dark green patches) and not showing any signs of the seeds being visible from inside the pod. Make sure that you check over the plant daily for any old beans that have been missed, and pick them off. Keeping the plant ‘up to date’ with harvesting encourages the quicker ripening of new beans and the majority of the beans to be at a similar stage. This will make picking easier.
If you are picking more than you (and the neighbours) can possibly eat, then the crop is easily frozen. Just ‘top and tail’ them and remove the ‘string’ from the spine of the bean. Then slice them up, blanch them in boiling water for a couple of minutes and place into sealed plastic bags and place in the freezer.
Lift new potatoes
The taste of new potatoes is a fleeting summer treat that is on another level from supermarket equivalents when dug fresh from the garden or lifted from pots on the patio. Gently loosen the soil around the base of one of your new potato plants with a garden fork to find out how big the tubers are. Don’t go in too close to the plant or you can end up skewering the crop.
For maximum flavour, harvest new potatoes when they are about the size of a hen’s egg. If they are big enough, dig up the plant to harvest, pushing the fork in deep around the edges of the plant, to uplift the tubers without damaging them. It’s good to do this after a good rain if possible, so that the fork easily sinks deep into the soil and gets underneath the tubers.
The soil in my veg patch is often very dry and it’s not easy to dig deeply with fork unless the ground is saturated. Shallow lifting with a fork is more likely to damage the crop. Harvest just before you want to cook, for the best possible tasting crop. If growing them in pots or bags, roll up your sleeve and delve down with your hand to feel the size of the tubers.
Pull up the plant when you are happy with the size and you’ll have a beautiful clean crop – that’s one of the advantages of container growing! The spent compost will prove very useful for lining the bottom of drills that you are about to sow seed direct onto in garden soil. Sprinkle it along the bottom of drills before wetting it, then sow the seed on top before covering it.
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Keep courgettes cropping
Hands up who wishes they didn’t let courgettes turn to marrows! We’ve all been there. You think you’re on top of everything and then three days later you discover a monster marrow that had been hiding under a large leaf for a couple of weeks. Harvest courgettes when the fruits are around 10cm long to ensure quick re-cropping and sweet, succulent fruits that are easy to slice and quick to cook.
Young courgettes are the most tender and succulent and smooth-skinned varieties such as bright yellow ‘Sunstripe’ also taste good raw if picked when young. Use a paring knife to cut the courgettes just above where the stalk meets the fruit. Pulling the fruits hard to harvest them is tempting but it can unsettle the roots of the plant and break the fruit too.
Water the soil around the base of the plant in hot spells to prevent the leaves from developing mildew, which can significantly shorten the cropping season of the plant. Add a half-strength high potassium liquid plant food to your watering can each time you water. Place a saucer beneath courgettes in pots before you water and feed them, so excess water and food is trapped and not washed away and wasted.
Sow dwarf French beans
There is still just time to start a fresh crop of these heavy-cropping vegetables, to take over from earlier-sown batches. Try sowing them in patches of soil that have become empty after a salad crop has been harvested. ‘Rondo’ is a disease-resistant, slim, stringless variety. You could also grow some in a pot if there’s no veg patch space.
French beans are sweet and succulent when picked fresh and they also freeze very well (using the same method as runner beans). Water the ground if it is dry, then sow the seed direct into a patch of free-draining soil in a sunny spot, pushing the seeds into the soil so they are covered with a layer of soil equal to the height of the seed (about 5cm). Space the seeds 15cm apart.
In pots, push seeds 5cm deep into multi-purpose compost in 30cm wide containers that are ideally 30cm deep. Space the seed 10cm apart to get as big a yield as possible from the space. Allow the soil or compost to dry out before watering the crop and water in the morning. This will reduce the risk of slugs eating the young seedlings although it’s a good idea to go out at dusk to catch any that are heading in the direction of your crop!
Strawberries are a summer treat on the veg patch and it’s the most popular place in the whole of my garden when the fruits are ripening and there are family members looking for sweet pickings while pottering in the garden. Even a few plants allow for the thrill of heading out in the morning to pick a handful of fresh, succulent fruits to put on top of yoghurt or porridge, that is if you can resist the urge to eat them as soon as you’ve picked them.
Strawberries are a thirsty fruit crop – especially in pots and in their first two years after planting. It’s easy to overlook watering them in the ground because their ground cover foliage does a good job of hiding dry, cracked soil. Under-watered strawberries are likely to produce small, disappointingly flavoured fruits. Carefully water each of your strawberry plants at the base, taking care not to splash any developing fruits and water strawberries in pots each time the compost goes pale and dry.
Have a look for any slugs or snails hiding at the base of the plants before you water and check for weeds. Thistles, plantain and dock do a very good job of hiding themselves in between strawberry plants and blending into the background. Use a pointed trowel or a daisy grubber to lever them out of the soil before watering.
When the flowers of comfrey start to fade is when I start to think of making plant food from the leaves. I don’t do it before then because comfrey is such a wonderful bee plant when it’s in full bloom. To make high potassium liquid plant food from the leaves, cut down the plant at ground level (it will resprout), cut off the leaves and roughly chop them into a bucket. Pour in some water to half fill the bucket, then cover the lid (to supress the odour!).
The feed will be ready to use in three weeks and will give tomatoes, cucumbers and runner beans a boost. Spare comfrey leaves make a good nutritious mulch for any crop that is still producing fruits.
Sow pak choi
Pak choi is a crunchy crop that was made for stir fries. It is prone to bolting prematurely but sowing after the longest day (June 21) reduces the risk of this happening. Growing the crop in partial shade and keeping the soil damp at all times will also help. Fresh leaves will be ready to harvest in around 30 days and crunchy mature ‘hearts’ ready to pick a couple of weeks later. If the crop does start to bolt, you have the consolation prize of being able to eat the leaves in a salad.
Sow the seed direct onto the soil by making a drill, sprinkling compost in the bottom, watering the compost, then sowing the seed thinly on top and covering it with 2cm of fine soil. Sprinkle the tiny young seedlings with water, using a watering can with a rose attachment on the end, to help discourage the brassica pest flea beetle, which will pepper the young leaves with holes. Keeping the soil around the seedlings damp will keep them at bay.
Thin out seedlings to allow the pak choi to mature fully, eventually leaving one plant every 30cm. If you wait until the plants are around 8cm tall the thinnings you remove should be enough for a worthwhile salad.
Pak choi is also a good ‘cut-and-come-again’ crop to grow in pots. No thinning out is needed, just harvest outer leaves as and when desired, and snip back all the plants by half when around 10cm tall. Water well after harvesting for another crop in a few weeks.
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The comedian Clive Anderson once referred to shallots as ‘onions with an o-level’ and I know what he means. The flavour is richer, more sophisticated and a bit more ‘special’ than that of the faithful, dependable onion. If you cook a lot of meals from scratch, it’s safe to say that you can never have a big enough crop of shallots. Each year I wonder why I didn’t grow more of them.
They are fuss-free, more or less pest-free and they grow surprisingly well on poor soil, provided they are kept well watered and grown somewhere sunny. I’ve grown them on some very rough, stony ground when I was still in the business of clearing an overgrown garden last year and they didn’t let me down.
When foliage of shallots starts to keel over it’s a welcome sign that they are ready to be harvested. Use a hand fork to prise away the bulbs from the ground. Lay the shallots on a wire rack and leave them outdoors in the sun to ripen for a couple of weeks, or do it in a shed or greenhouse if the weather is unsettled. Once they are dry and papery and the outer skins are falling off, store them in a net in a cool, dry, dark place indoors and they should keep all winter (if they last that long before you eat them all!).
Rather than buying potted supermarket plants that are often short-lived and tricky to acclimatise to garden conditions, sow coriander and basil from seed now for a more reliable and substantial herb harvest for the rest of summer.
Sow coriander seed direct onto damp soil (it doesn’t transplant well) in a sunny spot in soil that holds onto moisture well and keep the soil watered in dry spells while waiting for the seedlings to appear. Sow basil indoors, a few seeds on the surface of multi-purpose compost in a 10cm pot. Cover the seed with a layer of sieved compost and keep on a sunny windowsill. Transplant seedlings into individual 8cm pots and plant out in a sheltered spot as soon as the plants stems look sturdy.