Flavour from the sun
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Belinda Gray’s guide to growing fruit and veg
This will require some stock images for the main piece, recipe and to pretty up the page!June is bustin’ out all over! The song from that wonderful musical Carousel couldn’t be more true.
The soil is warm, the daylight hours long – time to pretty much get growing whatever you want.
For me, June is the time when all the Mediterranean vegetable plants really start growing. Under cover – ideally a greenhouse – enables early seed propagation in February, but even without this it is still easy to source wonderful varieties of tomatoes, chillies, aubergines, courgettes and peppers from reliable garden nurseries or specialist mail order stockists.
Warm like the Med
Just like the Mediterranean we do need plenty of sunshine for great depth of flavour. I hope we are lucky enough to have a golden summer this year.
Plants, growing in containers can be brought outside now and positioned in a sunny, sheltered place or re-planted into the beds – snuggled near a south facing wall is ideal as walls absorb and contain warmth for so much longer, counteracting the chilly days.
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Keep an eye on watering, particularly pots which dry out swiftly when temperatures soar. A mulch 5cm deep on the soil surface, after a heavy watering and lining a pot with perforated plastic before planting, works wonders to reduce toil with the watering can.
Feeding is important. Once fruits are forming, water with a diluted high phosphate fertiliser every 2-3 weeks, ideally a home-made comfrey leaf feed. It will boost your harvesting potential no end. Using a high Nitrogen fertilizer will only lead to very leafy green plants with little fruiting – so avoid now and use only in spring.
Ripening is paramount to the taste and structure of fruiting vegetables so don’t be too eager to pick small fruits. The only exception is the prolific courgette – pick them finger size regularly. They are sweet and delicious small, unlike their huge, watery older siblings and don’t forget those stunning yellow flowers which are a delight to stuff and cook and will get you a ‘magnifico’ from your dinner guests.
Courgette plants produce two types of flowers – the male flowers come first, then female appear a little later. They have a visible swelling at their base, which swells and becomes the courgette. The male flowers drop off and don’t form fruit. They are edible, so pick them once they mature, mid-morning when they have opened, and prepare them swiftly as they will be impatient sitting delicately in the fridge and start to collapse.
Mediterranean herbs come into their own, now that the days are warmer. Who can resist growing the giant leaf Genovese basil –a sliced tomato just picked, a slither of buffalo mozzarella and a trickle of balsamic. Italy on a plate!
There are so many basils to grow for different recipes. Have a go growing from seed now in small pots or short rows outside – Greek, Thai and Italian as well as the highly scented lemon basil, whose leaves headily perfume a salad bowl. Purple basil for its colour and distinctive clove and minty taste and other half-hardy annuals like coriander and dill, which accompany so many great summer meals.
So, even if you’re not off to catch some Mediterranean sun, the Med can be grown here in your own back garden, filling your borders and pots with delicious pickings to see you through summer.