The Kitchen Garden in Late Summer

Late Summer

Your main concern during the next few weeks will be harvesting the crops in the vegetable garden, though even amongst the soft fruit, there will still be crops to pick and even finish off and one or two others just starting. Provided the weather is reasonably warm and dry, you should be able to cut and lift all through late summer, some for immediate eating, and some for storing in winter. Storage nowadays can of course include deep freezing, but alternatives to this are salting, pickling and bottling; these are all quite adequate methods of preservation.

A lot more of your working time will be taken up with cleaning ground where crops have finished, particularly on the soft fruit front. Late summer is a good time to do this; there will be little in the way of weeds, the ground will be easy to work on and bonfires will burn prunings readily. But continue to put soft vegetation on the compost heap; the straw and other debris from the strawberry bed rots down well, and can be used if not badly infested with pests or diseases.

Watering will still be necessary, if the odd seasonal thunderstorm has not provided the necessary moisture. However, many crops will be coming to or passing their peak, and the already shortening days and weaker sunlight will be decreasing the risk of bolting, so in a normal growing season irrigation will now be less demanding. In fact, water should be withheld from certain plants, so that maturity is not delayed.

More crops for the winter can be started off now than during mid-summer and, while they will probably germinate without any trouble in the warm soil, make sure that they have sufficient moisture. Avoid subjecting them to a droughty few days or weeks once they have sprouted, because it will be difficult to get another batch well established before the winter cold and rain begins. Herbs ripen their seed at this time of the year, so it is a good time to sow them, giving the less hardy ones cloche protection in bad winter weather. There are some which have such a short viability that they will not germinate if kept until next spring, so it pays to sow them now.

Jobs to do

Preparing the soil for outdoor sowing

Seeds of a few vegetables can still be sown outdoors now, where they are to grow and mature. They should fit in with your rotation plan for next year, as some of them will remain in the ground until next spring or early summer. Space should become increasingly available as the spring sown crops complete their growth and are harvested.

For sowing and growing Japanese onions, the rows or drills should have a slightly different preparation to the normal one. Dig out a wide drill, 30cm (12in) across, and 20cm (8in) deep, put a 7.5cm (3in) layer of rotted organic matter in it and replace the topsoil, but mix it thoroughly with the manure, at the same time adding a slow-acting organic fertilizer such as hoof and horn at about 45g per 1.8m (1-1/2oz per 72in) run. Firm the soil down very well and top up the trench if necessary until a space of about 2.5cm (1in) is left. Do this preparation about 10 to 14 days before sowing.

Preparing the soil for planting

The soil which was dug and manured in mid-summer for strawberry planting during this season should be further prepared by scattering and lightly forking in a dressing of a compound fertilizer. If the weather is dry, it should be watered in. The time to do this is about ten days before you plan to put in the strawberries, so that their roots do not have to contend with neat fertilizer as soon as planted. If there was no time to dig the ground earlier, it is not too late to do it now, provided it is done early in the season with the object of planting right at the end of it, or even in early autumn.

Sowing seed outdoors

Late summer is a particularly good time for sowing seeds of herbs, many of which are ripe at this time, as well as some vegetables to provide winter crops. Seeds include: angelica, French (kidney) bean (to cloche later), cabbage (spring), caraway, chervil, coriander, lettuce (to cloche later), lovage, onion (Japanese), radish, spinach (winter), spinach beet, Swiss chard (seakale beet), turnips (for tops). Sow all these where they are to grow, though the cabbage may also be sown in a seed-bed and then transplanted.

French (kidney) beans are most likely to produce a picking or two if sown at the beginning of late summer, kept well supplied with moisture, and cloched in early autumn at night. Cabbage sown now will produce small, unhearted spring ‘greens’, or can be left to heart for cutting in late spring and early summer, a time often rather short of fresh vegetables. Lettuce sown now will, like the beans, need protection in autumn if they are to heart satisfactorily by mid-to late autumn and, if you already have endive coming along, this is more likely to produce a worthwhile and better tasting crop. Lettuce outdoors now are rather chancy and much depends on the weather.

The varieties of Japanese onions are useful in that they will mature in early and mid-summer, so filling the gap in supplies of onions between the old and new-season’s crops. However, very careful timing of sowing the seed is essential; the last two weeks are best for the milder gardens, the first two for the chillier ones, with the middle of late summer being the optimum date in many cases. Sow the seed very thinly; mixing it with sand helps ensure even distribution, and cover it with sieved soil 2.5cm (1in) deep. Protect at once from birds and make sure there are no weeds at any time from now until the onions are well established after transplanting.

Most radish sown at this time should be the winter varieties, which produce large roots, weighing up to 0.45kg (1lb) each. Skins can be red or black, roots long or round, and they can be left in the ground during the winter, to be lifted when wanted, or stored in the same way as other roots. Summer radish can still be sown but are best in a little shade, otherwise they bolt.

Spinach to sow now is the winter variety, with prickly, triangular seeds; this and spinach beet and Swiss chard (seakale beet) will all provide leaves during autumn and early winter and again from early spring. Protecting with cloches when the weather turns cold will prolong the picking period. Turnips should be sown in rows 7.5cm (3in) apart and not thinned, as sowing at this time is done to provide tops for ‘greens’ in spring.

Late summer is a good time to attempt growing mushrooms outdoors and a simple way of doing this is to lift and roll back pieces of turf in lawn or meadow, lightly fork the soil beneath, and scatter mushroom spawn over the surface, replacing the turf when this has been done. Moist soil and a warm, humid atmosphere should result in mushrooms in autumn though, the crop being a rather perverse one, you may find mushrooms appearing in, totally different places from where you originally sowed the spawn!


The recommended time for planting strawberries used to be early to mid-autumn, but experiment has found that by planting in late summer, the plants in general produce a heavier crop in their first season. There is, however, the danger that the soil is dry and rather short of moisture reserves at planting time and that rain is light and spasmodic until autumn, so that you will probably need to keep watering for some weeks after planting.

Put in the plants at spacings of 45cm (18in) between plants and 60cm (24in) between rows. There are two schools of thought about methods of planting: the usual advice is to plant on a slight mound in a shallow hole, so that the roots are spread out and hang down in order to ensure that the crown is not buried, as can easily happen. The alternative and less general recommendation is to plant in a shallow hole sufficiently wide to take the roots spread out naturally, but without a mound in it, the theory being that rain will not then wash the soil away from the upper roots, and that the plant is unlikely to be forced out of the ground by frost, both of which might happen with mound planting. Whichever method you adopt, make sure that the central buds and growing points of the crowns are not covered, and that the plants are well firmed in.


Last month’s sowings will need thinning: beetroot, borage, cabbage (spring), carrot, chicory (Sugarloaf), endive, kale (Hungry Gap), kohlrabi, lettuce, parsley, radish, spinach (summer) and turnip. The second brood of carrot fly maggots may hatch some time during the next few weeks, so bury the carrot thinnings in the compost heap to avoid attracting the adults. Thinning provides a good opportunity to weed at the same time.

More on kitchen gardening jobs in late summer …

29. August 2011 by admin
Categories: Kitchen Garden, Organics | Tags: , , | Comments Off on The Kitchen Garden in Late Summer


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