I try to pick early in the morning when everything is freshest, especially in the polytunnel which can get too hot to be comfortable in the afternoon.
In contrast with the winter polytunnel, where most things (salads, herbs, carrots, etc.) are quite low growing, my summer polytunnel resembles an undercover food forest! There is a grape vine and some fruit trees in pots: I grow tomatoes, cucumbers and melons up strings (bailer twine which is re-used for many years) providing height and delicious fruit on stems and canopy. Aubergines, sweet and chilli peppers - some in pots, some grown in the soil - are productive mid-height plants. Lower down, there are many different kinds of basil, lemon grass, green and red perilla, stevia and more, growing with edible companion flowers: lemon gem and star fire marigolds; calendula. The beds, mulched with well rotted compost, are easy to keep weed free, I just pull out any weeds when I’m harvesting. Cape gooseberries and tomatillo spread across the ground in corners.
Regular picking ensures everything is gathered at its peak of deliciousness, checking the tomatoes for sideshoots at the same time. Remove the growing shoot in mid-August to allow the plant to put its energy into ripening the tomatoes, unless you want loads for green tomato chutney. Side shoot cucumbers, too.
To help prolong the life of basil plants, pick the shoots. Picking edible flowers, composting any which have ‘gone over’ will encourage more blooms to grow.
Regular careful picking of beans helps the plants to continue growing and producing more. For most varieties those which have grown too large - there are often some hiding under the lower leaves - can be podded, cooked and eaten (do check with your bean type as some need a thorough boiling to remove toxins before eating.) Courgettes and summer squash should be producing large quantities of fruit - again, regular picking will not only ensure you eat the tastiest courgettes/squash but also encourage more to grow.
Now is a good time to pick and dry comfrey leaves to use during the winter and early spring as a soil and plant feed. Gather bunches, tie and leave in an airy dry place until brittle. Break up and store in bags or large jars.
What to sow in August
For autumn salads - rocket, oriental leaves, lettuce, chervil, dill, coriander, land cress, parsley, spinach, spring onion.
Spring cabbage, Florence fennel, seed onions, radish.
What to sow in September
For winter salads, to grow in a polytunnel, greenhouse or under a homemade cloche - rocket, oriental leaves, lettuce such as Grenoble Red, mustards, herbs (as August).
Chard, beetroot and kale to overwinter under cover (polytunnel, cloche)
Carrots (under cover)
Autumn sowing radish.
Pests and diseases
Look out for downy mildew on courgettes, squash and cucumbers - white powdery patches on the leaves. A little is harmless and one can remove and compost infected leaves but if it becomes widespread spray with a mixture of 40% milk to 60% water in a hand spray bottle. Use the most natural milk you can. A vegan alternative is a solution of marestail (Equisetum hyemale, also known as horsetail).
Marestail Solution for mildew
2 cups marestail (horsetail)
10 cups water
Bring to the boil and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove from heat and leave overnight. When cool, put in a spray bottle and spray infected plants.
This can also be sprayed as a preventative and makes a good mineral rich soil feed too!
(Lead picture shows Steph making the solution.)
Tomatoes and potatoes are susceptible to blight, it is worth checking for the telltale signs of dark brown rotting leaves followed by brown lesions on the stems and patches on the fruit. Removing blighted leaves helps to slow down the blight (in the UK blighted plants are safe to compost). if the blight looks bad, harvest the potatoes or tomatoes to reduce the risk of it infecting the roots/fruit. If they look uninfected, they are safe to eat.
Under cover, it is possible to minimise the risk of blight by watering tomato plants at their roots, keeping the leaves dry. I remove the bottom few leaves to enable this.
I use fine butterfly netting or enviromesh to protect my brassicas from cabbage white butterfly caterpillars, but still check them just in case and remove any I find. I have tried decoy plantings of nasturtium, but have found that the butterflies just lay their eggs on the decoy and the brassicas, so a physical prevention works best for me!
Enviromesh is used also to help protect leeks from leek moth. The first leek moths come out in May/June: the second generation in August-October, so they remain protected until then. A light attack isn’t a problem for the home grower, but a full-on one can destroy a whole bed of leeks, turning them to mush.
Steph Hafferty has co-authored a book with Charles Dowding: No Dig Organic Home and Garden. It is available here: www.green-shopping.co.uk/no-dig-organic-home-garden.html