August is a weird month in the edible garden since all those precious crops you’ve been nurturing with the attention of a penguin standing on its egg are suddenly abandoned as we all zip off on Budgetair to eat beefsteak tomatoes grown by someone else. Go away in August and your beans, salad, courgettes, tomatoes, peppers, aubergines, plums and sweetcorn are peaking all alone. This can be awkward and emotional for the edible gardener. Last year I very nearly took a carrier bag of runner beans on a flight to France – until I realised it would count as air miles.
So think of your poor swelling, ripening, sweetening crops as you sun yourself in the Med gorging on fresh gazpacho. On the other hand, don’t. Watering is what neighbours and relatives are for. They’ll get you back later by making you feed their cats. And at least they get paid in produce – my mother is currently subsisting on a pure diet of Victoria plums. There are spas in the Home Counties that would charge you a fortune for that.
Meanwhile, for two and a half weeks I’m eating french beans and Cuor di Bue tomatoes brought round by my gardening mentor, an elderly French woman called Madame Pech whose potager is an immaculate inspiration and who, despite being in her seventies, wields a fungicide backpack spray with all the conviction of Sigourney Weaver blasting extraterrestrial nasties.
If you do happen to be at home or have rigged up trans continental CCTV for fear of missing big happenings in the veg patch, this is what you could be doing right now in the August edible garden…
What to sow now
Coriander, spinach and salad rocket can be sown direct into the soil – this Sarah Raven Guardian piece here has some useful info. Also it’s time to start thinking about winter lettuces – those dashes of green freshness that will keep you feeling virtuous come the dark days when all around is stodgy puddings and roast dinners. A salad of lettuce, rocket, oriental leaves and chicory with blue cheese and a decadent dressing laced with honey is one of my winter pleasures. Winter Density is a good crispy cos one. Valdor is your classic round lettuce of the old British salad with half a hard-boiled egg and salad dressing variety – and very hardy. Merveille de Quatre Saisons shrugs off the cold. Either sow direct in a sunny spot and thin to a foot apart if you have room or in modules and transplant when they reach the five leaf stage.
Winter purslane is a brilliant salad plant – succulent scallop-shaped leaves with a citrusy crunch. Sow it now for winter. Do. Other things to get in now include corn salad (lamb’s lettuce or mache if you’ve just got back from Provence and are showing off). Mixed oriental salad leaves can be sown now too as can chicory – I only sow one – Rossa di Treviso – and pak choi for virtuous stir fries.
Kale is another one to think about now. Red Russian and Black Tuscan (Nero di Toscana) can be sown direct or in modules and then transplanted when the border reveals some gaps in a few weeks. My beds are so packed with marauding squashes, french beans and courgettes right now that little kale seedlings would be overwhelmed. But come October, when the beds empty day by day, I’m always so grateful for kales, filling the gaps, growing bigger daily even when the winter weather throws all it can at them. A Black Tuscan kale, its dark crepey leaves etched with frost on a winter’s morning is a stunning sight.
Alternatively, cheat! I ordered an entire winter vegetable garden online the other day from Rocket. I’m not ashamed! It’s one thing keeping growbags and big pots going when you’re away, quite another sustaining tiny seedlings of salad, oriental leaves and kale in plug trays. It’ll arrive in September and I’ll pop all the plants straight into the soil – though on the downside this obviously means I can’t go out – even to the shops – for the entire month for fear of the postman leaving one of those cards and taking it back to the depo.
Other things to do
If you’re growing trained apple and pear trees, now’s the time to summer prune them. This shows how. If you’re growing grapes, remove leaves shading bunches to encourage them to ripen. This is my Brandt grapevine’s 3rd year and it’s finally got the memo about actually producing grapes – I can’t quite get over how exciting this is and keep taking photographs and marvelling at them – behold, actual grapes, in an actual bunch. (Whether they actually ripen to anything more sumptuous than pips in grapeskin is another matter.)
Keep weeding. Keep watering. Keep feeding. But, most importantly. Eat, eat eat! What’s the point of all this if you don’t take the time to sit back and stuff your face with raspberries, strawberries, snappingly fresh beans, and melting fleshed plums. Even if it’s not you doing it cos you’re in the South of France. I don’t expect you to feel sorry for me.