Hartley Magazine

All the latest news, hints, tips and advice from our experts

Midsummer madness.

Melon ‘Emir’ – great for the British climate.

This year, the British weather has been extreme, even by its own exalted standards. I have spent more time adjusting the ventilation in the greenhouse, than any year I can remember. Too hot, too cold, too draughty, scorching sunshine, black clouds, dry wind, cold wind and that’s just in one morning.

Towards the end of last month, lack of light and low temperatures slowed down growth in my greenhouse – the sweet peppers and aubergines still seem reluctant to bush out. Regular feeding with general liquid fertiliser has helped a bit but it’s not worth forcing it, especially when temperatures and light levels are low. I open the windows for ventilation on cooler days, rather than the door, to avoid draughts. One of the positives is that when light growing conditions increase and hopefully stay consistent for a while, tender plants soon get going, so there are still plenty more flowers and fruit to come.

Keep coaxing cucumber stems round their supports as they grow and cut back any side shoots two leaves beyond the flowers and fruits, to increase airflow around the plant; keep them well-watered and mulch to reduce the risk of mildew. It helps to grow resistant varieties like ‘Carmen’. Damping down the floor at the back of the greenhouse helps to maintain the humidity they enjoy. I love it when the cucumbers first appear but it will be a while before they are about 30cm long and ready to harvest. Keep harvesting, even if you are not going to use them or your plant will stop producing – there’s plenty of takers for a freshly picked cucumber.

Keep removing side shoots from tomatoes, tap the open flowers to encourage pollination and tie the stems to canes or supporting string as they grow. Keep the compost moist as erratic watering causes splitting and ‘blossom end rot’. On hot days you may need to do this twice a day – even more often if you are growing in pots and growing bags.

Maintain a regular regime of feeding and watering your container plants with tepid water. Find out if they need watering by sticking your finger into the surface of the compost, if it is free of compost particles when you pull it out then the plant needs watering. It’s also helpful to learn how to judge this by the weight of the pot with the compost wet and dry. Give plants a thorough soak; a light sprinkle encourages roots to the surface where they are more susceptible if it dries out.

I’ll be making a last sowing of French beans under glass early in the month and pinching out my melon plant beyond the fifth leaf and retaining the four strongest stems. It’s growing in a large pot under the edge of the staging, at the end of a row of watering cans, perfectly placed to collect water which drains from the staging above. This year I am growing the variety ‘Emir’ which is RHS Award of Merit, fast growing and cold tolerant, so perfect for the British climate, inside and out.  Happy Gardening! Matt