It has been something of a peculiar summer so far. Here in Wales it seems to have gone straight from spring to autumn, and for much of the UK July has been unseasonably cool, dark and wet. This is perfect weather for slugs and snails, not so great for our warmth loving summer veggies.
If some of your crops have been munched by slugs, or flattened by driving rain, do not despair. August is like a second spring: there is so much that you can sow now for cropping through autumn, winter and into spring next year.
The key difference between real spring and August is that the days are gradually becoming shorter and although we will (hopefully!) have many more warm sunshine-filled days ahead, nights start to become cooler. This means that timings are more important than in spring, when increasing daylight allows ‘catch up’ time. This is especially true for plants which are not frost hardy: you need to allow enough time for the plant to mature before autumnal frosts.
Time to Grow Christmas spuds
Plant seed potatoes now for harvesting at Christmastime, to enjoy delicious new potatoes in the depths of winter. Usually second early varieties, such as Charlotte or Nicola, seed potatoes in the shops now are the same as those for sale in the spring, but they have been kept in cold storage. A kind of suspended animation for spuds. This is why they are not all leggy and shrivelled up, as seed potatoes saved from the spring would be. Once out of cold storage, the potatoes ‘think’ it is spring and start to grow.
If you have sprouting potatoes lurking in your veg basket in the kitchen, you can use these too. Do make sure that they are not from a harvest that has had blight, and that they are looking healthy. A bit shrivelled is ok, but discard any completely emaciated or mouldy.
Unless you live somewhere very mild, it is best to grow your Christmas potatoes in containers, and under cover. This has two benefits. Firstly, being under cover protects them from blight. Secondly, it offers some protection from frosts later in the year, which increases yields.
If you have some space in your polytunnel or greenhouse then you can just plant them in the ground, but usually at this time of year they are full of summer crops: aubergines, cucumbers, tomatoes and chillies.
To grow your spuds you’ll need some peat free compost (such as Dalefoot green “veg” compost), a container and the seed potatoes. Make a thrifty potato sack from an old compost sack. Just make a few extra holes in the bottom for drainage.
Put 10cm (4”) peat free compost at the bottom of the sack. Place three seed potatoes on top and fill almost to the top with compost. Keep the compost moist and wait for the foliage to grow. That’s all you need to do until late December. If the weather turns cold, make your potatoes extra cosy with a nighttime duvet of horticultural fleece, bubble wrap or hessian.
To harvest, I just tip the sack into a wheelbarrow and rummage about for the new potatoes. The compost is then ideal to use as a mulch in the garden.
No polytunnel? No problem!
If you don’t have an undercover growing space, or a sheltered part of the garden, make a simple mini-polytunnel by fixing cloche hoops over your potato bags and fastening a large sheet of clear polythene over the top. MDPE pipe or bendy branches make excellent cloche hoops. Old clear shower curtains or large sheets of polythene from mattresses make excellent free covers.
August sown onions
There are several varieties of bulbing onions which are sown in August for overwintering. My favourite is called “Augusta” - it’s easy to remember when to sow these! Sow them directly into the soil around August 18th. By October they’ll be large enough to transplant to their final growing place - very handy because there’s usually far more space in the garden in October.
Help protect your soil and fill any gaps where you won’t be growing veg with green manures. Always choose green manures which are easy to hoe off or killed by frost, such as phacelia, mustards and crimson clover.
Seeds to sow now
I mostly sow these into seed trays or modules, using seed compost. This means that they are healthy transplants when they go out into the veg beds, more resilient against pest attacks and weather. However they can all be direct sown too. Choose what works best for you. Select winter hardy varieties.
I always direct sow carrots. Transplanted carrots are far more likely to fork. I also direct sow radish, spring onions and green manures.
With the exception of the beans, these can all be planted outside in August, unless you live in a really cold area,
Beans - dwarf (bush) beans for growing undercover only, in warmer areas
Beetroot - for small beetroots and also the leaves (delicious in curries)
Cabbages - overwintering varieties
Carrots - choose autumn sowing varieties (it will say on the packet)
Chicories and Radicchios - one of my absolute favourites to grow
Herbs - including dill, coriander, chervil, parsley (curly and flat leaf), rocket, wild rocket, wasabi rocket. Basil for growing on in pots in the kitchen.
Mustards and Asian greens - eg: red mustard, red frills, Osaka purple mustard greens, Nine headed bird mustard, Golden Frills, Red Frills, Dragon's Tongue, pak choi
Onions - August sowing, plus salad and bunching onions
Peas for shoots - a thrifty tip is to use left over peas of any variety from your sowings this year
Salads including land cress, claytonia and purslane
Stephanie Hafferty is an award winning garden and food writer, expert no dig gardener, homesteader, edible garden designer and inspirational public speaker. Stephanie is currently creating a no dig homestead on half an acre in West Wales, from where she runs gardening courses.
Her garden was featured on BBC Gardeners’ World in 2022. Her books include: No Dig Organic Home and Garden and The Creative Kitchen: seasonal plant based recipes using ingredients you can grow on an allotment.
Follow her journey on her Website and blog, Instagram and You Tube