I’ve always loved spending time in the garden in early summer. The weather has been hot but the early morning sunshine and lighter evenings means fruit, vegetables and herbs react positively by romping away at a rate of knots.
Another bonus is that we can liberate our kitchen windowsills of pots filled with tender seedlings. From late winter until the end of spring, many of us run out of space to raise plants indoors but better weather means plants can be moved outside, while seeds can be sown directly into the ground or pots outdoors.
Of course, with everything growing with gusto you need to keep on top of watering – forget and things can go downhill quickly. Fortunately, longer days mean there are plenty of hours to keep on top of things, especially if you are self-isolating or spending more time at home due to the lockdown.
Coriander is like Marmite; some people love it, while others hate it. I fall into the first camp and love to chop it into curries and Mexican style dishes. Grow your own fresh leaves by sowing seeds thinly into well-prepared soil in a semi-shaded spot outdoors or in pots filled with multi purpose compost. Cover lightly and water.
Seedlings should appear within 7-20 days and need thinning out to leave 2.5cm (1in) between plants. Among the best varieties to try are ‘Calypso’, ‘Confetti’ and ‘Lemon’, whose leaves have a distinctive citrus tang.
Fresh beetroot is a taste sensation. Sweet, earthy and with a firm texture, they are a world away from those limp, crinkle cut slices swimming in a sea of pickling vinegar. To grow your own from seeds, first choose a variety. There are scores of different ones, including ‘Kestrel’ (a classic purple variety), ‘Chioggia’ (boasting pink and white concentric rings when cut open) and ‘Cylindra’ (a Danish variety with long, dark pink roots that are perfect for slicing). Beetroot prefers light, stone-free soil in a sunny spot. Prepare the ground by digging, removing weeds and large stones, and then rake until the texture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Make a shallow trench, 2.5cm (1in) deep, with a corner of a rake, then sow two seeds every 10cm (4in). When the seedlings appear, thin out to leave the strongest of each pair.
They may be small, but blackfly can become a big problem. This aphid is common throughout the summer and is often found hiding under the leaves of edibles plants. The pest has an insatiable appetite for the sap of plants and can stunt growth, cause shoot tips to become distorted and result in leaves dropping prematurely.
If spotted early enough, you may be able to control a few aphids by squashing them with your fingers, but if left, populations will quickly swell into dense colonies. At this stage, prevent them from ruining all of your hard work by spraying plants immediately with an organic pesticide, making sure you thoroughly wet the underside of leaves.
Cold stored strawberries
Don’t despair if you love strawberries but forget to buy plants earlier in the year. All you need to do is order some ‘frozen’ strawberry plants. Despite their name, plants are not actually frozen, but are rooted runners (essentially baby plants that are produced from a mature plant) that have been kept in cold storage.
These quickly bounce into life and are ultra vigorous, usually producing fruit within eight weeks of planting. Several online fruit specialists offer a range of different varieties. Once they arrive, set an individual plant into a 20cm (8in) pot of multipurpose compost or grow six in a growing bag. Water well and place in a sunny, warm spot.
Combat carrot fly
Carrots are a magnet to carrot fly, a pernicious pest whose maggots bore holes in the developing roots. The pest is actually attracted by the scent released by carrots when seedlings are being thinned or the roots harvested.
A good way to prevent them being detected is to sow seeds at the right distance from the get go to reduce the need to thin out – if they are sown too thickly, nip foliage off at ground level rather than yanking out unwanted seedlings. As a further precaution, cover crops with a sheet of insect-proof mesh. If growing from scratch, try a variety with more resistance to carrot fly, such ‘Nandor’, ‘Flyaway’ or ‘Resistafly’.