August is when all of the hard work of the preceding gardening year comes to fruition. Bundles of veg and baskets of fruit await, so get ready-set-go with your bottles, kilner jars and freezer bags and fill your autumn storecupboard
Sow overwintering onions
Autumn onions such as ‘Senshyu Yellow’ or ‘Red Baron’ tolerate the winter chill and give you an early crop in the spring. Plant in rows 15 cm apart, 18cm between bulbs, in full sun so only the very tip is showing. Make a hole first so you’re not tempted to force the bulb in and damage the root. If the weather is very dry give the row a water as it establishes but as the weather cools, and the risk of rot increases, it’s unlikely you’ll need to water beyond October.
If you have heavy clay soil, or are prone to wet winters, consider growing shallots in raised beds or on top of mounds so that the bulbs don’t sit for long periods in soggy soil and rot from the bottom up.
Sow oriental leaves
Whether it’s Chinese Cabbage, Pak Choi, Komatsuma, Mibuna, Mustard Greens or Purple Choy Sum, oriental leaves – sown into pots or into the ground – are great for providing leafy supplies into autumn when other leaves are thin on the ground. Sow later under cover and they’ll see you into winter too.
Plant autumn cauliflowers
It’s the last chance to get caulis in the ground for autumn/early winter pickings. Transplant seedlings from the greenhouse, or – if you’ve not sown ahead – buy young plants, placing them in the ground so the seed leaves are level with the soil. Net to keep birds and butterflies off.
Power up your pumpkins
If you want giant specimens for Halloween now is the time to give your pumpkins a bit of TLC. Take off any leaves that are shading the swelling fruit and turn them regularly (carefully, so you don’t break the stem) so they colour evenly. Feed with a general-purpose fertiliser every two weeks.
Check your sweetcorn
Corn cobs should be swelling now, and, once the tassels go brown, check regularly to see if they’re ripe by pulling away the outside leaves and pressing your nail into a kernel. If the liquid inside is watery it needs more time: if its milky, it’s done!
Pick little and often
Make space in your cupboards and freezer – everything should be running riot now! Pick out damaged fruit and vegetables (particularly half-forked potatoes) before storing so they don’t turn the whole bag rotten, and chop and freeze soft fruits and apples into individual bags so they can be instantly dropped into cobblers and coulis.
Sow a green manure
Green manures are plants that are sown, grown and dug into the soil to improve structure, repress weeds and provide nutrients. A greener and longer-lasting alternative to fertilisers, bees will thank you for the late flowers, and frogs and beetles for the leafy hideout. A green manure crop can be considered whenever an area of ground is left free for six weeks or more, and August is the prime time to sow for overwintering, as you’ll be creating bare ground as you harvest. Good ones to sow at this time of year are mustard, grazing rye, winter tares or winter field beans but each crop thrives on different soils and brings different benefits, so research what your plot needs (i.e. a quick grower, a nitrogen fixer, a weed suppressor etc). Broadcast the seed or sow in rows and keep the soil moist.
And finally, one way to deal with that glut guilt…
Stuffed Marrow Rings: Pre-heat the oven to 190C/Gas 5, cut 1 large marrow into thick rings and remove the skin. Scoop out the seeds and arrange the rings in a greased ovenproof dish and season. Melt 50g (1oz) butter and sauté 1 chopped onion and 2 chopped celery sticks until softened, then add 1 clove crushed garlic and cook for a few minutes. Add 2 tins tomatoes and season to taste, bring to the boil and simmer uncovered for 10-15 minutes before adding a handful of torn basil leaves and 50g (1oz) breadcrumbs. Spoon the tomato mixture into the marrow rings, cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove and sprinkle with cheese and cook for 10-15 minutes. Serve hot.