Grow your own: June

Grow your own: June

by Nick Harman 09 June 2016

Flaming June started flaming cold, but that didn't stop Nick Harman nurturing his tomatoes, French beans and courgettes back to health. Read his tips on what to plant and how to get a good deal at the garden centre.

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Nick Harman combines work as an advertising copywriter with writing and photographing stories around food and travel.

Nick Harman combines work as an advertising copywriter with writing and photographing stories around food and travel.

There have been a few disasters in my veg patch as a result of our weather seesawing so violently recently. A week ago I took three of my standard, non-fussy tomato plants grown from Lidl seeds and carefully planted them at the allotment, patted them gently on the head and went home.

At the weekend I went to have a look and all three had been stripped to stumps by slugs and were total write-offs. I’ve never known slugs to eat tomato plants before and as I stood there gazing sadly at the remains of treasured plants I’d grown lovingly from seed, I realised nature really is a bit of a *****. Oh well. More slug pellets needed. If you can’t beat them, nuke them I say.

Planting tomato plants by the way is not especially an art, but do remember to plant them in a hole deeper than the pot they were in. This will mean the lowest leaves are buried but it ensures that the plant roots itself down firmly.

Take the empty plastic pot the plant was in and bury it up to its neck next to the plant; when summer has finally arrived and the ground has gone hard, water the plant via this pot and the water will soak down to the roots and not just splash off the soil and evaporate.

Push a firm stake into the ground next to the plant; do it now because later you will be in danger of smashing roots as you stick it in. Make it a good thick stake too as it will hopefully have to take a lot of weight later when the fruits are swelling. Tie the plants loosely to the stake to prevent them whipping about in strong winds and possibly snapping. I have put out my remaining eight plants and hope for the best.

Butternut squash
Butternut squash takes a while to grow, but will thrive in the warm weather
Cut and come again lettuces don't need to be thinned, and will reward you with plenty of salad leaves over the coming months

Bean there

I’ve planted out the first French beans, grown from seed in Rootrainer pots at home and I really can’t recommend these pots enough. I discovered them five years ago and have used the same ones I bought then ever since and only now are they beginning to finally fall apart, so they’re great value.

What they do is encourage vigorous and strong root formation because the roots grow straight down, avoiding cramped root balls. When you’re ready to plant you simply open the Rootrainer up in a book-like fashion and take them out. I have no connection with the makers by the way, so this link is just for your convenience.

You can now also plant French beans direct into the soil about six inches apart. Put two seeds into a finger-prodded hole about two knuckles deep and if both come up, nip off one seedling at ground level without disturbing the other one. Plan to plant a short row of seeds every two weeks until at least mid-July to keep a supply of fresh beans coming.

Also keep on sowing lettuces, carrots and beetroots to ensure young, sweet vegetables all summer long. All of the carrots I sowed a few weeks ago are now appearing in frondy lines – you do have to be hard hearted, though, and start thinning them out. Aim to have one left standing every ten centimetres. It seems wasteful but almost overnight the remaining ones will start seriously putting on growth. This won’t happen unless you thin, and all you’ll get is a lot of feeble plants. The same goes for lettuces, beets, turnips and anything else you have sown directly as seeds. Thin ‘em out!

The exception is those lettuces sown thickly as ‘cut and come again’. A haircut with scissors is best; take enough for one meal and then cut again in a few days.

Runner beans are now probably trying to grab onto their canes and start winding up them, so tie the tips loosely so they get a clue where to go or they’ll flap about for ages and fail to get growing. Once they do get a hold of a cane they will climb up it like monkeys on Red Bull.

French beans
French beans should now be ready for planting directly into soil
Hardy plants such as kale should be starting to flourish, too

Courgettes are go

I’ve finally planted out nearly all my pumpkins, courgettes and the rest of the Cucurbitacea family. They’ve been gradually accustomed to outdoor living and with overnight temperatures dropping, at worst, no lower than nine or ten degrees, they should thrive. Plant them in a big hole filled with some good compost and shape the surface of the ground to form a bowl so that water will flow toward the plant.

On that point, always stick a cane in next to a plant about 50 cm high. This is not for the plant to climb up but so when the whole area is covered in leafy growth you can see where to point your hose. Believe me, you will need this targeting trick otherwise you’ll end up watering the leaves and not the roots. And this family needs lots and lots of water.

Do a deal

Of course, if you have no seedlings of your own this year, the garden centres can still be a source of what you need, but they will be running out fast and their plants will be overgrowing their pots and getting a bit sickly. On the plus side, you can probably get some great deals if you try your bargaining luck with the manager. Take them home and water them heavily (the plants, not the manager), give them a few days to get their mojo back and then plant out.

Next time we should be eating our produce, but no slacking – this is when the grass and weeds will start to be a pain. Do remember to keep watering when days pass with no rain, as the enemy of growth is lack of water. And slugs.

Do remember to keep watering when days pass with no rain, as the enemy of growth is lack of water. And slugs.

Nick Harman