July is usually the warmest month of the year, which is perfect for those who like to bask in the sun but not such great news for our edible plants. Neglect the watering for just a day and those thirsty crops will suffer, especially if they are confined to pots. In order to ensure pods, fruits, berries, roots and the rest are in tip-top condition, you need to water regularly. One way of quenching the thirst of plants is to install an automatic irrigation system – there are lots of off-the-shelf kits available or you can design your own by buying separate parts.
Thyme is an indispensible herb, whose edible leaves are used fresh or dried to flavour soups, stews, fish, meat, sausages, stuffing and vegetable dishes – they are also an important ingredient of herbes de Provence. This large family of plants comes from many different parts of the world, including Britain, but those prized in the kitchen tend to come from the Mediterranean. Among the best for scent, flavour and good looks are lemon thyme (Thymus citriodorus ‘Golden Lemon’) and orange thyme (Thymus ‘Fragrantissimus’).
Given their origins, they like very well-drained soil, lots of sun and a spot that’s fairly sheltered from winter wind and downpours. Place a collar of grit around plants to protect foliage from wet soil.
Once the last fruit has been picked from ‘Malling Jewel’, ‘Glen Moy’, ‘Glen Ample’ and other summer fruiting raspberries, it’s time to give them some attention. Left to their own devices, plants will spread uncontrollably and become less productive, so they need pruning annually to keep them within bounds and to ensure a prolific crop next year. All you need to do is cut all of the old canes that bore fruit close to the ground, and then fix any new canes that have grown over summer to supports. Canes that have popped up elsewhere and are too far away from supports should be pulled up with a sharp tug.
The dark green leaves of spinach are low in calories but high in iron, antioxidants and several vitamins, including A, C and K. As a result, they are considered a superfood. It’s also super easy to grow. For a crop of leaves to pick in autumn, sow seeds in large pots of multi-purpose compost. Either scatter thinly or sow in rows, 2.5cm (1in) deep. Thin seedlings when large enough to handle, allowing about 5cm (2in) between plants. Keep plants well watered, especially during warm, dry spells as plants bolt prematurely if stressed. Harvest leaves by snipping what you need from around the outside of plants.
Fear no weevil
Herbs, fruit trees and perennial vegetables that are grown in containers are vulnerable to attack by vine weevils. These are double trouble for gardeners, as the adult beetles nip out notches from the around the outside of leaves, giving it a scalloped appearance, while its soil-dwelling larvae will munch on roots, causing plants to wilt and eventually die. Adult beetles can often be found hiding under the base or lip of pots, so check regularly and remove – another trick is to shine a torch on plants at night to catch them feeding. Take action against larvae by drenching soil with a biological control containing nematodes, microscopic worms that hunt out the C-shaped grubs.
Bolting is the term used to describe vegetable plants flowering prematurely, before any crop has been harvested. It’s detrimental to the potential yield as the plant diverts all of its energy into producing flowers and seeds, rather than its edible parts. A drop in temperature, lack of moisture during dry periods and poor soil preparation are among possible causes.
Alas, cutting the flower head off won’t make any difference but there are ways to avoid problems in the first place – prepare the soil well prior to planting; sow or plant outdoors when temperatures pick up in spring; and give crops plenty of close attention during their growing season.