Summer can be a very busy time in a polytunnel garden. Though it is a time when a lot of your hard work will be paying dividends, it is easy to fall prey to complacency, or to let things get out of hand. Often, all the abundance around you can be overwhelming. It can be difficult to keep a clear head. To help you make sure you stay on top of things, and make the most of the space you have available, here are our top tips for a midsummer garden:
Keep Up With Watering Requirements
One of the most challenging things about the summer months can be keeping on top of watering requirements. This is especially true when you are growing undercover in a polytunnel garden, where rainwater won’t reach your plants directly. In an undercover growing area, you will have to take change of all the watering requirements. You won’t be able to rely on nature to supply what your plants need.
You may find it a challenge during the summer months to water as frequently as is required if you are watering everything by hand. You might like to consider installing an automated watering system if you don’t already have one in place. If you don’t already harvest rainwater, getting a rainwater harvesting system up and running should be a top priority.
You can also consider taking other steps to reduce the amount of hand-watering required. For example, you could consider making wicking beds, or switching to other hydroponic or aquaponic growing systems to reduce water use. You can also consider using self-watering containers, with reservoirs of water built into the base. Or you could use watering globes, clay pots, or other sensible water-saving and watering solutions.
When it comes to watering, you should also think about how you can reduce watering needs by bringing the temperatures down in your polytunnel. You can do so by increasing ventilation and thermal mass, by damping down surfaces, and by creating shade. Organic mulches can also help to reduce water losses and lower water use in your polytunnel.
Maintain and Boost Fertility
Speaking of mulches, adding mulches will not just reduce water losses from the soil around your plants. Mulches can also help you to maintain and boost fertility over time. Adding specific mulches in the right places can help you make sure all your plants get the nutrients they need. This is of course crucial in helping make sure they remain healthy and strong.
In addition to adding mulches, you should also consider utilising other organic methods to maintain and boost fertility in your polytunnel garden. For example, you should use companion planting (incorporating nitrogen fixing plants and other dynamic accumulators) to benefit other plants grown nearby in a range of ways. You should also be sure to have a good crop rotation system in place.
You should also make and use your own organic liquid plant feeds. There are a range of options that will allow you to add specific nutrients and give specific plants a boost during their peak growing season.
Stay on Top of Weeds in the Midsummer Garden
Mulches can also help to reduce weeds, and the competition for water and nutrients they bring. During midsummer, it is particularly important to stay on top of weeds. The best strategy is to weed little and often. Simply pull or hoe weeds as soon as you see them. A little casual weeding as you go along makes things far easier and prevents problems from getting out of control.
As you weed, however, remember that weeds can be very useful plants too. There are plenty of weeds that provide an additional edible yield. Some also give a range of other resources. And even problematic weeds can potentially be used to make a liquid feed for your garden.
Around the edges of your polytunnel, in wilder corners, don’t be too quick to rip up weeds. Leaving some weeds around the edges of your garden can be of immense benefit to local wildlife. And drawing in wildlife can also bring a range of direct benefits to you as an organic gardener.
Thin the Wild Abundance of Your Midsummer Garden Where Necessary
Midsummer is a time when we can often revel in the wild abundance of our gardens. This can be an incredibly lush and abundant time. But another important thing to think about in a midsummer garden is when and how we need to thin, prune, control and contain that abundance.
For example, we might think about thinning lower leaves on certain crops to ensure good airflow. This is also the time to think about pruning certain plants for shape or for good health. We may need to think about controlling plants by tying them in to supports, or about providing additional supports where these are needed.
Harvest Crops as they Mature From Your Midsummer Garden
Another very important tip for the midsummer garden is to stay on top of your harvesting schedule. Over the summer months you are likely to be enjoying a wide range of different fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers from your garden.
One top tip is to make sure that you keep a close eye on all your crops. Harvest crops at the appropriate time and don’t leave things too long. Fruit bushes often cannot be harvested all at once. You will have to make multiple trips into your garden to harvest as fruits or berries mature.
Another key crop is courgettes and summer squash. It is best to harvest these while the fruits are small. This is when they will taste best. So don’t leave it too long or you may end up with lots of large marrows that can be watery and lacking in flavour.
Make the Most of Your Home-Grown Harvest From Your Midsummer Garden
Midsummer is not just about staying on top of maintenance and harvesting. It is also about finding ways to use and preserve your home-grown harvests. So you can enjoy the many tastes of summer later in the year, you need to know how to make the most of your home-grown harvest. It is wonderful to be able to go to your freezer or your pantry in the depths of winter and select produce you harvested during the warmest part of the year.
Interesting and fresh new recipes for your home-grown produce, if you will eat it right away.
Freezing fresh produce immediately to lock in nutrition and flavour.
Drying produce to enjoy later in the year.
Making jams, jellies, chutneys and other preserves.
Utilising other canning/ bottling techniques to preserve your food.
Storing fresh food safely and in the right environmental conditions for later use. (In a root cellar or cold store pantry, for example.)
Keep One Eye on the Colder Months To Come
Preserving and storing food from your polytunnel garden is just one way in which look to the future as polytunnel gardeners. There are also other things we need to think about at midsummer if we want to ensure we can continue to grow and eat from our polytunnels all year round.
We also need to make sure that we continue to sow and plant in our polytunnels. We need to know when summer crops have to be removed to make space for crops that will provide us with valuable yields into autumn, and over the colder months to come.
Midsummer can be a busy time in a polytunnel garden. But we need to make sure we do garden with one eye on the future, as well as remaining on top of current problems and concerns. Make sure you have a good plan for year round growing, companion planting and crop rotation. And think about any seeds/ tools etc. that you might need to order for the months to come.
Do you have any tips or suggestions to share about the midsummer garden? Let us know in the comments section below.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.
To get in touch, visit https://ewspconsultancy.com.