The arrival of June brings with it the increase in temperatures that we have all been waiting for. With this heat comes the tremendous increase of growth in the vegetable garden and flower beds which in turn brings us to the issue of water. How much is too much, how best to manage it and what to do when the holidays are looming. A little advance planning is never a bad thing. Be wise when it comes to your plants this summer.
If you are away for more than three consecutive weeks rethink your pots, containers and your plans for a vegetable bed. Let’s start with pots. If you can bear it, wait until you get back before you plant up your terrace beauties. Unless you have a house-sitter or you have paid a neighbour’s child (with specific, detailed written directions) your pots will not survive your holiday. They will be a dried out bundle of crispy annuals by the time you return and you will have to start from scratch anyway. If your plans are for shorter trips there are a number of things that can be done. Avoid thirsty and heat sensitive annuals like impatiens and petunia, pelargoniums and verbena are a better bet. Prepare your pots with good drainage materials, consider using water-retaining crystals or rain mats which absorb water and allow the plants to access it when needed. Finally move your pots into the least sunny position available.
Amazingly weeds manage to grow with and without water. There will always be weeds especially when you are not there to catch them early. Consider putting down a temporary mulch around the base of potted plants in the hope that the mulch will help retain some moisture and cut down on the weeds. If your plans are to stay closer to home I’m afraid the advice remains the same, little and often for the weeding.
Water retaining crystals are available in some local garden centres. Schilliger sell a product called Polyterre and currently have it in stock. I have not managed to find rain mats here yet but they are available in the UK and can be ordered on-line and shipped to Switzerland by Plant Watering Solutions based in Manchester. http://www.plant-watering.com/
Regarding the vegetable plot again paying a neighbour’s child is always a good solution but if that is not an option rethink your planning. Anything with soft growth like basil, coriander, salads and tomatoes will not do well if left unattended for weeks on end. Other crops such as courgettes, beans, squash, beets will do better but should not be neglected. As for pots, reconsider your planting plans and wait, if possible for your return, to plant the more water sensitive crops. Think about investing in a drip system on a timer, try it out before your departure to gauge how much water the plot needs every day, set it up and test it well before your departure.
My favourite summer vegetable garden crop is tomatoes. I love everything about tomatoes. I love the fragrance of the leaves when you go to plant them, l love the bright green colour of the first fruit and I especially love the sensation of pulling the fruit warm to the touch from the sun and devouring them – summer in a mouthful, delicious. Growing tomatoes in this area is sometimes a challenge, especially if last summer was your first experience – you were not alone in your failure, it was a disaster for everyone. Tomatoes enjoy sunshine and warmth, they like to be watered, they do not like to be drenched from above in chilly conditions.
When planting, tomatoes should be placed between 50-60 cms apart. Insert supports into the ground and dig a hole next to them large enough so that the root ball is completely covered once planted. Water very well immediately after planting. Water twice a week, 3-4 litres per plant, on the roots avoiding the leaves. Feed with a high nitrogen feed once a month. Hopefully without too much summer rainfall better crops will be grown this year.
Always on the look-out for new varieties I’ve been delighted to find a wide range of heritage tomatoes at a small farm in Arnex-sur-Nyon, La Ferme des Pralies. In case you missed them at Jardins en Fête in Coppet they are open on Fridays from 14:00-20:00 and Saturdays from 09:00-18:00. They grow over 50 varieties of tomato, 15 of peppers and 10 of aubergines. Although their opening times are limited it is well worth a visit. http://www.lafermedespralies.ch/
I’ve recently discovered a Geneva group called Le Collectif Beaulieu. Established in 2010 this association comprises eight local horticulturally-themed associations, they persuaded the Ville de Genève to allow them to take over the city-owned and now run-down greenhouses, out-buildings and area of arable land of the parc Beaulieu. This initiative allows the local inhabitants access to a green space in the heart of the parc Beaulieu to exploit the possibility of experiencing local agriculture. http://www.preenbulle.ch/40/Beaulieu
One of the eight member associations is Les Artichauts. Every Thursday from 10:00-18:00 in May and June they sell small plants to the public. Then in July, August and September you can pick your own vegetables Monday to Friday from 10:00-19:00. They have an extensive list on their website, many of the seeds are heritage varieties provided by ProSpecieRara. If you are still in need of vegetable or tomatoes plants for your garden and you live in Geneva, why not give them your support. http://artichauts.ch/
For those of you who are crazy about kale, I’m happy to tell you that Guichard Fleur, Arnex-sur-Nyon, now have plug plants for sale ready to go into your vegetable bed. http://www.guichardfleurs.ch/