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Head Gardener, Helen, tell us about August in the garden

What are we cropping in the field at the moment?

Apples hang low in our heritage orchard

Well, in short, plenty!

Tomatoes of every shape, colour and size, cucumbers (including the round, yellow Crystal Lemon variety), chillis, sweet peppers, courgettes, beetroot, leeks, chard, a range of kales, kaibroc (a cross between broccoli and Chinese kale which crops like purple sprouting), chard, salad including various lettuces and babyleaf, summer purslane, coriander, parsley, basil, edible flowers such as borage, heartsease violets & calendula.

Soon the oriental leaves, a mainstay of our famous Tuppenny salad bags, will dominate the poly tunnel again. They're just getting their roots down at the moment.

Soft fruit is still being cropped - boysenberries, autumn raspberries, plums (though the latter haven't produced a great harvest this year), delicious Beth pears which most people have never heard of, and of course apples from our fabulous heritage orchard which will be on sale in the shop fresh, as the popular apple rings, and in chutneys and jams throughout the year.

Biodiversity is much talked about these days and it's arguably as important in vegetables and fruit as insects. Every plant is either a food source (don't we know it!) or habitat for something. Many of our crops come in a range of shapes and sizes as we really mind about helping to keep the old varieties alive in all their weird and wonderful beauty. If nobody grows then they'll simply die out, it's as simple as that. It's also more interesting for the children who visit to crop, cook and eat etc.

Here in the outdoor classroom the weather conditions make all the difference of course, not just to the youngsters who visit. And hasn't it been a strange year! Extremely hot and dry earlier than usual this year which made encouraging lettuces to germinate tricky for a while as they don't like to be much over 20 degrees C at that stage. That was a bit of a disaster. We've found some cooler spots around the site for germination to replace our old cool summerhouse, which was condemned to destruction and replacement this year, and we find that watering the compost before you sow into it can help. Now it's cooler, they're happy again and we're sowing furiously in the hope of a bounteous autumn and winter harvest.

Squash grow along our home made frame

Love or hate?

The cucumbers, indoor tomatoes and courgettes, for example, have loved the gentler warmth and rainfall, swelling so far it's hard to keep up with the cropping. Our poly tunnel though more environmental due to its longevity, and therefore in line with our ethos as a charity, doesn't have vents so in recent years the temperatures soared into the 40s regularly which even the tomatoes aren't keen on. So this year they're much happier.

The French beans haven't enjoyed the cooler temperatures much, slowing growth.

The orchard trees are weighed down with a bumper crop despite the fruit being thinned! In fact we probably didn't thin them enough and have lost a couple of branches, and supported others to prevent more breakages.

So dry conditions for pollination then plentiful moisture has payed dividends there. However, we noticed that some of the trees have really suffered from the unusually dry summer last year followed by an extremely wet period and an extended cold snap. Just as an under-watered tomato will develop a thicker skin to prevent moisture loss and simply survive then burst if it subsequently receives too much water, the trees seem to have suffered a similar fate with bark splitting low down on the trunks. Only time will tell whether they'll stoically shrug it off or not.


Vertical space can offer so much more growing space with not just bean wigwams but nets suspended over paths to support cucumbers & sweet peas, and all manner of old tools rigged up together for the squash to ramble over.