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Keep your veg garden productive

With a little care and attention you can keep all your herbs, fruit and vegetables at the peak of perfection, Martyn Cox offers some timely advice

One of the best bits of advice I was ever given as a teenager, while working at a horticultural college, was to pick certain crops little and often. Doing this ensures edibles are at the peak of perfection, avoids gluts and encourages plants to keep on producing until the end of the growing season. Well, this tip is certainly pertinent at the moment with many crops reaching maturing. Among them are courgettes…read on for my advice on how to harvest this indispensible veggie.

Harvesting courgettes

Courgettes are one of the most productive veggies you can grow with a single plant capable of producing four to five fruit per week, from July until early autumn. To ensure plants keep churning fruit out it’s important to harvest regularly, which will encourage new ones to grow in their place. If you forget to pick them, plants tend to run out of steam, while the remaining fruit will swell up like marrows and taste absolutely horrible.

Pick courgettes when they are young and tender
Image: AdobeStock/c.visivasnc

As a general rule, courgettes are best eaten when they are young, measuring around 10cm (4in) in length. Remove fruit from stems with a sharp knife, taking care to avoid cutting your hands on the spines that arm some varieties.

Protect cauliflowers

Cauliflowers bought from shops in summer are always gleaming white but home grown ones are often tainted by a yellowish tinge due to too much sunlight. Those growing summer cauliflowers can protect their crops by snapping a few leaves so they can be bent over the developing curds (the edible bit) – use the same technique for shielding autumn and winter varieties from frost. As far as I’m concerned this is the easiest way to protect cauliflower curds but I’ve seen more elaborate methods. For example, on one allotment the plot holder had punched a few holes in the leaves with a knife, bent them inwards and then ‘stitched’ them together with garden twine.

Grow parsley

Parsley is an indispensible culinary herb that comes in two main forms – flat and curly-leaved – both can be sown now for leaves that will be ready for harvesting in autumn. Scatter seeds thinly over a large pot filled with seed compost, aiming to leave about 2.5cm (1in) between each – don’t worry if some are closer, you can thin them out later.

Sow parsley seed for a generous harvest
Image: AdobeStock/Maksim-Kostenko

Cover with a 1cm (½in) layer of finely sieved compost and water gently. Put the pot in a sheltered spot to allow seeds to germinate – a coldframe, greenhouse, front porch or a similar place is ideal. Thin out seedlings when they are large enough to handle, leaving about 2.5cm (1in) between plants.

Prevent tomatoes splitting

Tomato plants will be bearing lots of fruit over the next few weeks. Hopefully they’ll be nice and intact, but many gardeners have experienced the disappointment of finding the skin of their tomatoes has split or cracked.

Don’t over or under water your tomatoes while the fruit is developing
Image: Martin Mulchinock

There are two main causes – over watering or under watering. Over watering or too much rain, results in the inside of fruit swelling up faster than the outside. However, the stop/start of allowing compost or soil to dry out, before giving them a big drink, will have a similar effect. Of course, there’s nothing you can do to control rainfall, but try to avoid problems by maintaining a constant level of moisture.

Take herb cuttings

Many seasoned gardeners have never taken cuttings as they consider it a tricky business. Well, some techniques are complicated but anyone who is apprehensive should try taking cuttings of herbs, such as thyme, rosemary, sage and lemon verbena. Remove healthy shoot tips that are about 10cm (4in) long, trim off the lower leaves and cut cleanly beneath a leaf joint. Stick five or six cuttings in a 7.5cm (3in) pot of well-drained compost, water and label. Slip a clear plastic bag over the pot, held in place with an elastic band. Place in a light spot and the cuttings should have produced roots within 4-6 weeks.    


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