Hartley Magazine

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Second sowings time

June 2015Somehow it is June, and yet the greenhouse is still full. Everything should be out and yet there it sits, or at least, a good deal of it. I can quite easily blame this on the cold weather: I have visited a few gardens recently where the plants were planted out ‘on time’ and now sit shivering, looking pale and troubled. It has not been an easy start to the year for any plants that went out at a time that would normally be considered normal. Poor yellowed courgette plants, poor struggling sweet corns.

And so the fact that all of these things still sit cosily in my greenhouse makes me look like a good, cautious gardener rather than one who has just got seriously behind. Phew. Full greenhouse or not, this is the time for second sowings. Normally this might happen in a nearly empty greenhouse with just the last few hangers on to fit around. This time not. But still it needs to be done. I always have to force myself to make second sowings in a way that I don’t with the first ones.

The first lot feel intuitive: spring is coming, sow seeds! This second batch is always more reluctantly done. It feels too soon after all the work of planting out has been done (or, not), after the ‘well that’s that!’ smugness of getting first sowings onto the plot. It also feels too early in the year to be planning for later summer, but of course it’s not. These things take a while to mature. It may not feel like summer now, but when it gets going it romps away so we need to be ready for it. Summer doesn’t last forever and sowing now will help you to extract the maximum number of vegetables out of it.

It is common for a vegetable plot to peter out in mid- to late summer when there is plenty more lovely growing weather to be had. Courgettes, French beans, runner beans and peas sown now will kick into production just as the first lot start to wane, and it is always extremely satisfying to have them to hand. In addition to the above I am also sowing second batches of lettuce (these can be sown every few weeks throughout summer of course) and of swiss chard. Those plants that don’t get a second sowing are those that take all season to mature, and so if you didn’t sow them early you have missed your chance: tomatoes, aubergines, winter squash, chillies and peppers. However I am going to try a little trick for prolonging my tomato crop, which almost counts as a second sowing.

Some of the plants are big enough to have thrown out side shoots that need to now be pinched out, to prevent them growing huge and pulling energy away from the main stem. I met a woman last year who pots up all of these pinching out and encourages them to root, forming little tomato plants. She grows them in a greenhouse on a sunny rooftop in central London and in this almost entirely frost-free situation she finds that this second batch will go on producing tomatoes until Christmas. Im not expecting these kind of results but as I do have a polytunnel to extend the season and into which to sneak a couple of late ones, I think this might be worth a try. Perhaps after this cold start to the season we will be rewarded with a warm ending, and if so, I am determined to be prepared for it.