Monthly Round-Up: August

August has been a long month, concentrating as we were on house and garden maintenance; not so much gardening, more prettifying the area around the garden by painting exterior walls and paintwork, as detailed here and here. A month that, as it neared the end, found us running out of energy and time to do the things that had to be done.

Tuesday last week found me painting the other side of the gate and the frame around the garage door, which I wasn’t looking forward to as it is fiddly to get at. The old paint was flaking off and required a lot of preparation before I could start. But it’s done now (though with the garage door half open I did spot a couple of patches where the brown paint hadn’t covered the blue; but they’re underneath the dips in the door and can’t be seen when it’s down. I can live with that for a couple of years).

Bank Holiday Sunday found me up early and waiting for cloudy skies to brighten up before I painted the final door, the one to my husband’s shed. I painted the inner and outer frame and the sides and front of the door. He can paint the inside when he’s brushed away all the cobwebs and found a light so he can see what he’s doing.

The only problem is, being in the shady area of the patio, the paint took much longer to dry.

For me, the paintbrushes are going back on top of the cupboard until 2022. For him, the shed and garage fachia boards and the wooden arch in the front garden, followed by the small deck. I’ll be supervising that last one to make sure he doesn’t paint ‘my’ walls.

I wanted to paint the garden table and chairs as well, but now time left. They can go another winter in their current state, and it doesn’t matter if we have another lockdown or a paint shortage because I have the paint ready and waiting.

I have done a little gardening too – and I do mean ‘a little’ (hardly any) – mainly watering and feeding, and chopping things down.

Front Garden

The allium ‘Drumstick’ had a good run. The last of the alliums to form buds and flower, and still going strong, but starting to go over, in the middle of the month. Still thronged with bees too. It’s been interesting watching the flowers open, change colour from green to purple, and again from purple to the white seedheads. Everything starts at the top and works its way down.

After finally getting round to painting the breeze-block wall of the lavender border on 24 July, just as the lavender is going over, I managed to trim a little something off the side. I needed to get in my car without knocking all the bees from the bushes. And then Monty Don (Gardener’s World, Friday 27 August) said one of the jobs for the weekend was to cut back lavender. So I did!

Vegetable Garden/Patio

Climbing Beans – Fail

Where are they? You might well ask! Ten seeds sown, three germintated; planted out 23 May. Since then – 5 beans. Pathetic! And to think this time last year I couldn’t keep up with harvesting, blanching and freezing the things. Not that we ate that many – too stringy and soggy. Most went into the compost bin, as did these plants! I’m not going to bother growing these anymore. It will be peas all the way in 2022.

Butternut Squash

Not much happening this month. It had another flower, then we had rain and cool weather, so it sulked.

Carrots

When I can get to them, I’ll pull a few.

Cucumbers and Cucamelons

The cucamelons have been mostly left to their own devices outside – other than adding some chicken manure pellets and the occasional watering when the weather has been dry or hot.

I took these photos using the clip-on macro lens for my mobile phone as I couldn’t see them with the naked eye. Each should grow to the size of a grape. Another name for them is ‘Mouse Melon’. I think that’s rather cute!

When my husband pressure washed the sunnier part of the patio – intending to re-seal the surface (now delayed due to adverse weather conditions – RAIN) – I had to move the cucamelons to the Shady Patio, but with the removal of several potato bags from oil tank area, they’ve been moved back. It will give them sunlight (between the showers) but keeps the pot off the newly cleaned patio.

The cucumbers, on the other hand, are in the greenhouse, are producing several flowers, and need watering morning and evening (filling their gravel tray with water from the waterbutt outside). I add a few several drops of tomato feed once a week. There are more buds appearing every day; they do say it’s a good year for cucumbers, which is good as it’s been a poor year for peas, beans, spinach, rocket, beetroot, radish, chard, spring onions and – possibly – potatoes!

Every other day, I cut off the largest leaves, taking care to either wear gloves or NOT handle the stems, which have sharp hairs though, unlike cacti spikes, don’t appear to lodge in the skin like splinters. By 18th August, tendrils were clinging to everything they could reach in the Potting Shed, including a wire birdcage and a plastic shopping bag.

By 25 August. both cucumber plants were full of flowers at all stages, and both were climbing towards the roof, holding on to anything and everything while other stalks were heading towards the floor. I’ve been feeding them every week with Tomorite and watering them once, sometimes twice, a day. They sit in a tray on top of a layer of gravel. If the weather is cool, I leave the Potting Shed door closed to retain heat; if it’s warm and sunny, I leave the door open to allow pollinaing insects to seek them out. There are a few flowers that I’m hoping have been lucky enough to be pollinated (because I certainly haven’t been helping them along).

I’ve also started cutting leaves off the plants; they hid the flowers and the older ones turned yellow quite quickly (I have been giving a liquid feed but maybe they need more).

Jerusalem Artichokes

Moved to The Shady Border when wind blew them over. Then a couple of them blew over again and all were tied to the trellis. Mid-month, I cut their tops off at 48 inches or so above the surface of each pot just above a leave joint.

We didn’t intend moving them back to the sunny patio until my husband pressure washed and sealed it and step. He’s bought a new pressure washer, but it’s been raining on and off and we need 3-5 days of dry weather to dry the concrete out properly and for 24 hours after sealing. The artichokes needed to have a chance at some sunlight, so they too have been moved in front of the oil tank.

Salads

The red-veined sorrel has really picked up since I transplanted it into the sunny raised bed. However, by the middle of August, there was still no sign of the rocket or spinach I sowed in the shadier raised bed, so I removed the cages and put my pots of heritage tomatoes there instead.

The trough was on The Shady Patio but has moved to a brighter area. Several seeds have germinated. And they were from the same seed packet as those that failed in the raised bed.

I had some red Salad Bowl leaves in a pot in the Potting Shed, along with a few pots of parsley. With no salad seeds germinating by 12 August, I transplanted these instead. I’ve since transplanted other lettuce seedling, possibly an iceberg variety though the label had been misplaced.

Sweet Peas

After I removed the dead and dying stems, the perennial sweet peas are already sending up new shoots despite, or maybe because, they’ve moved to the Shady Patio.

Meanwhile, the Cupani sweet peas are almost over. Those on one side of the arch are all seedheads and mildewed stems, those on the other side are still producing flowers and smell divine. I’ve been using these as an air-freshener, putting small posies in the bathroom every few days. I should nip off the seedheads but I want to save these seeds for next year and share them wiht friends.

Raspberry ‘Yummy’

Has flowered again, with one or two berries forming though I suspect the cooler and damp weather of mid-August means they won’t ripen. Though it produced berries this first year, there were never enough to fill a bowl and enjoy them as an after-dinner treat, so I ate them as I found them, no more than eight (and my husband ate one).

I’ve looked online for tips on pruning and found this from Thompson and Morgan:

How do you prune a yummy raspberry? Each autumn, prune out the canes which have fruited over the summer, cutting them back to the base of the plant. Leave the remaining canes in place for fruiting in the following year. Aim to have 6 to 8 fruiting canes per plant.

Pests and Diseases

My chinese cabbage grew so well and I was expecting great things. I’d had them netted long before I saw any sign of cabbage white butterflies. I had noticed a few holes and thought I had flea beetle, but when I removed the net to harvest some, every single leaf was full of holes; not a single one available to the poor gardener. So out they came and there were six cabbage white caterpillars (which went over the wall into the neighbour’s field).

At least be removing the net, I can keep an eye on my leeks and get at those fuchsias to trim them back. The cages are back (to stop cats using the bed as a toilet), but I do have some kale and spring cabbage seedlings in the Potting Shed where were going to the allotment but will be much more convenient here instead.

Last year (2020), flying ant day was on 17 July. This year, although some ants in the back garden flew away at the end of July, the colony of black ants that has invaded the stone wall at the end of the lavender border, didn’t fly until 10th August. I assume this is because of the changeable weather. There were masses of the black ants all over the wall and drive and, while I don’t like using chemicals and poisons in the garden, several years back, we had an invasion of ants in the house when we returned from holiday, so I have used Ant Powder in this area. And more were found when we moved large pots from the patio step!

Even towards the end of the month, there are still a few flying ant emerging but not flying. And there seem to be a lot more this year than previously. Possibly there are fewer predators generally this year.

A mysterious mound of earth has appeared in my Shady Border, in the corner by the honeysuckle. As there are moles in the field at the back (another thing my neighbour has consistently failed to deal with adequately) I suspect one is the culprit. That it managed to dig its way up through two thick layers of weed membrane and several layers of cobbles, pebbles and gravel shows the tenacity and strength of these little animals. Hopefully there will be no more adventuresome creatures in my garden.

There are a few jobs left to do in September, painting the garage and shed faschia boards with wood preserver being the most important. But that isn’t my job. Although my OU degree course doesn’t officially begin until 2 October, the course contents and schedule is available from 8 September and that is where my priorities must lie for the next twelve months.

But I’m please that we have got so much done this summer as my time in the garden and at the allotment will be limited. Thank goodness autumn and winter months will need little more than sweeping leaves up.