From tomatoes to chillies and from strawberries to courgettes, there is an abundance of garden delights to be enjoyed this time of year By Katie White
Summer, the season we all look forward to the most, and in which we and our gardens relish life. Picnics in the park, long strolls, and late light evenings, are just some of the joys to make the most of now. In the garden, it is our plant's time to shine too, with some crops only being able to make fruit at this time of year such as tomatoes and others like basil being able to grow outside of a hot house now.
The bees are very busy at this time of year, and you can be too. Not only can you keep busy harvesting summer crops now, but you also may like to find time to process and preserve excess produce in the form of chutneys and jams to keep a jar of summer in the pantry to open on a winter's day in the future.
What to harvest
By July and August, your summer crops should be starting to fruit, if they were planted in spring. These will include your solianceas such as tomatoes and chillies, as well as cucurbits such as cucumbers and courgettes. Berries are also at their best now and you can encourage them to produce maximum fruit by picking them every single day. When harvesting these crops here are some things to consider:
Courgettes/Zucchinis: Don't let them get too large. I know it's tempting to let them get bigger and bigger but you will enjoy them less and less on the dinner plate. The smaller they are the sweeter, softer and more delicious they are. I find that about 20cm long is a perfect size for them.
Cucumbers: Same goes for cucumber as for courgettes. When left to get really big their skin can become bitter and their flesh will be tougher. 10-20cm is usually a safe bet.
Tomatoes: Let them get nice and ripe on the vine for maximum flavour. Although they can ripen when picked green, the fully sunripened ones will be sweetest and most full flavoured.
Basil: Let the plant get to a stage where it has several good-sized leaves before starting to pick from it. This way you'll be encouraging the plant to grow strong and give you more leaves in the long run. When the plant starts to put up a seed head or flowers, you can pick these off to encourage it to make more leaves, however you can also let it go and then utilise the flavoured and conveniently pre-chopped flowers in your recipes just as you would the basil leaves.
In terms of preserving these crops into the winter, here are a few ideas to try:
• Strawberry jam
• Raspberry coulis
• Tomato chutney
• Smoked tomato sauce
• Fermented chilli sauce
• Pickled courgette
• Homemade gherkins
What to plant
Most of the planting for summer crops is actually done in spring. As I discussed in my previous article in Vegan Life (May issue), spring gardening is a very busy time for planting because it's the time to plant everything you intend on harvesting in summer. However, you can make the most of this warm season by planting a second crop of summer veg in early summer and again in mid-summer.
This approach is called succession planting and helps you reap the maximum reward from a season.As the season progresses it is worth getting organised for autumn as early as possible and giving those crops a head start by planting them out in mid to late summer.
These crops include carrots, beetroot, spinach, broccoli, radish, potatoes and peas. If planting in mid-summer you can attempt these from seeds, but if leaving it until late summer it is best to plant them out as seedlings, so they are already on their way and have a better chance of producing before it gets too cold.
Planting crops as seedlings can also be a safer bet in terms of surviving insect attack as their stalks get tougher as they mature making them less appealing to slaters (woodlice) and slugs.
If slaters and slugs persist to be a problem, try physically protecting the baby plants with plastic bottles.To create these little cones of protection and warmth, cut the top and bottom off a plastic bottle and press the cylinder into earth about an inch deep.
Remove it when the plant has outgrown it by which time its stalk should be completely unappealing to pests. Using physical means of protection such as this can prevent the need for chemical intervention.
Watering and feeding your plants
In the summertime, plants need to be watered to help counteract the warm sun rays, which cause evaporation of moisture from the soil. This can also be a good opportunity to apply a top up of liquid fertiliser in the form of seaweed solution and plant-based fertilisers.
Crops that produce lots of fruit such as tomatoes and courgettes will do better if they are given a helping hand in this way, as they will use up a lot of their nutrient reserves when producing large amounts of fruit. When buying liquid fertilisers be sure to read the ingredients to make sure there are no animal products in them.
Remember that fish emulsion is a common ingredient to look out for as are many other animal by-products. To keep it on the safe side, you can make your own compost and soak it in some water to make a compost tea for your plants.
An even simpler way to do this, is to soak banana peels in water for a week and use the resulting liquid as a potassium tonic. Tomatoes are particularly fond of this. This alone would not fulfil the plants nutrient requirements, but can be used in addition to compost tea or store bought plant-based fertilisers.
Overall, summer is probably the best time to enjoy what your garden has to offer, in terms of both pottering around amongst the plants and also at the dinner table enjoying the produce that this season brings.
Give preserving a try by making some jams and chutneys and pop a second round of basil and tomatoes seeds in the ground in late summer to push the season out as far as you can. I hope you and your plants have a lovely warm and productive summertime.
Smoked Tomato Sauce
This sauce is absolutely incredible and is so worth the effort. It uses up multiple summer crops including tomatoes, peppers, courgettes and chillies. If you don't have access to a wood fired oven, use a BBQ with a lid or outdoor oven.
• 24 ripe tomatoes
• 8 red peppers
• 4 medium courgettes
• 10 garlic cloves
• 4-5 chillies
• 120ml (4 fl oz) of olive oil
• 500g (17.6 oz) diced onion
• 3-4 carrots
• 1 handful of thyme branches or
1 tbsp dried thyme leaves
• Handful of basil leaves and
• 3 bay leaves
• 3 tbsp salt
• 355ml (12 fl oz) red wine, red wine
vinegar or balsamic vinegar
• Good cracking of pepper
• 100g (3.5 oz) of sugar
1 Chop the tomatoes, peppers, and courgettes into rough cubes and lay on a large baking try along with the garlic and chillies and drizzle with the olive oil.
2 Cold smoke for at least 2 hours. This means light a piece of wood on fire, let it get to the coals stage, then place it in the oven, underneath the baking tray of veg whilst its smouldering.
Close the door or lid to trap the smoke in, whilst leaving a small gap to make sure there is oxygen to feed the fire. Oak is the best wood for smoking however any unprocessed wood will work, just check it isn't treated, such as treated pine.
3 In a large heavy-based saucepan, sweat down the onion and carrot and cook until fragrant and slightly browned.
4 Pour the smoked veg into the pot and combine with the carrot and onion.
5 Add the thyme, basil, bay leaves and the salt.
6 Add the smoked veg and very slowly simmer for at least 2 hours.
7 Season and balance with red wine vinegar (or red wine) and cracked pepper, and sugar.
8 Once it is cooked out, turn off the heat and add some fresh basil stalks to infuse, preferably overnight.
9 Then you can blend it, if you like, or leave it chunky. Use a hand-held stick blender for this.
10 Pour boiling water into several jars with screw top lids, swirl around and pour out the water to heat them and sterilise them.
11 Heat the sauce up again and when bubbling, use a jug or ladle to pour the hot sauce into the jars and immediately screw the lid on tight.
12 You should hear the lids pop within an hour which means they have sealed properly.
13 Store in a cool dark place.
Recipe and words by Katie White, AKA Olive Wood Vegan, @olivewoodvegan. You'll also find Katie on episode one of The Vegan Life Magazine Podcast, listen at veganlifemag.com/vegan-podcast.