Back in mid February I snapped up a bag of ‘Red Duke of York’ seed potatoes from a local DIY store. Each tuber was placed inside an egg carton that was stood in a cool room. Over the next five weeks or so, the tubers formed lots of short, stubby shoots. At this point, I planted them up in containers filled with compost.
Almost three months later and the tubers are ready for lifting. It’s a moment I look forward to annually as I burrow around for those plump nuggets like an Old West prospector looking for treasure.
Of course, there are plenty of other things to do this week, not least keep on top of the watering as everything is growing like crazy.
Unearth early potatoes
Plunging a fork into the ground and prising it upwards to reveal lots of potato tubers is a moment when vegetable growers want to shout…eureka! Well, if you planted first or second early varieties in early spring, they’ll soon be ready to harvest – test by carefully extracting some soil (or compost if you’ve raised them in pots) when the plant’s flowers start to drop – if the spuds are about the size of hens’ eggs, they are ready for unearthing. To do this, plunge a fork into the ground about 30cm (12in) away from the plant and gently prise upwards. Pots can simply be upturned.
In early summer tomato plants grow vigorously, producing lots of leafy stems. In order to ensure they direct most of their energy into developing flowers (and in turn, fruit) they need a little bit of pruning. Bush varieties are dead easy to tackle – simply trim back shoots to keep plants within their allotted space. Remove side-shoots that form in the leaf joints of cordon varieties (those grown as a single stem) with a swift downward movement. Also, strip leaves from under the first truss of developing fruit to improve light levels and pinch out the plant’s main growing tip once it bears four sets of flowering trusses.
Keep rhubarb going
Mature rhubarb plants are among the most productive edibles around, delivering stem after tangy stem well into summer before they eventually run out of steam and take a well-earned rest. In order to ensure plants deliver the goods for as long as possible, pull out any flowering stems the moment you see a big fat bud appear – if left, plants will waste their energy on blooming and making seeds, rather than launching fresh, tasty stems. Producing stems is thirsty work so make sure you water plants regularly, especially during dry periods. Remember that plants in containers will need watering more than those in the ground.
Biting into an apple or pear that’s been attacked by codling moth caterpillar is not a pleasant experience – the fruit will contain tunnels filled with its excrement and the small white, brown-headed critter is sometimes found lurking near the core. The traditional way of tackling this pest is to hang pheromone traps in trees from early May – these will lure male moths to their fate and prevent them mating with females, reducing egg laying. Obviously, it’s too late to do this now but if your tree is small enough you can meet the emerging caterpillars head on by spraying trees with an organic pesticide. Try Richard Jackson’s Pest Control Concentrate, which has an active ingredient based on chrysanthemums.
Tidy early strawberries
Enjoy a bumper crop of strawberries next year by tidying up summer fruiting varieties once the last fruit has been picked. First, use secateurs to cut back foliage, leaving about 5cm (2in) of growth above the crown – you’ll spot lots of young leaves below, which will grow quickly to take their place. Next, turn your attention to runners (shoots carrying plantlets on the end). As these will sap the strength of the mother plant, remove most but peg down a few to produce fresh stock – once they’ve rooted, detach from the main plant. Finish by scattering some balanced all-purpose granules around the base of plants, such as Richard’s Easy Feed Slow Release Granules to encourage fresh, healthy growth.