While most kitchen gardens and allotments are completely up and running by August, things don’t always go neatly to plan and opportunities may also present themselves for the first time later in the growing season. For example, you could move house or find yourself a new tenant of an allotment or patch of community garden at any time of of the year. But is it too late to get started from scratch?
Good news, you can start a pretty decent kitchen garden in August, although it’s wise to leave a few crops until next year, especially if you live in one of the colder parts of the UK.
Here are your main options, and you can choose some or all of them according to your personal circumstances and resources:
- Sow some quick-growing crops to harvest and eat this year
- Sow a few winter-hardy crops that will mature next year
- Plant out larger seedlings and more mature plants for this year or next
Now let’s run through everything that can be done this month.
Quick growing crops to eat late summer & autumn
There are plenty of seeds you can sow around this time to get a crop within a few short weeks. These are mainly leafy plants (baby lettuce, rocket, endive, lamb’s lettuce / corn salad, chicory, chard, spinach, etc) and faster root vegetables (summer and winter radishes, smaller turnips, maincrop carrots and so on). There’s also kohl rabi, which looks similar to a turnip as it grows, but is actually a swollen lower stem rather than a root, and makes a tasty change from ordinary supermarket fare.
Have a look at the full list of seeds you can sow in August for more inspiration. Depending on the weather you might also be able to grow some of the seeds that are traditionally planted in July too, although this will be more of a gamble. Some seeds, especially many varieties of lettuce, won’t germinate in very warm weather, but you might be able to get around this by keeping them in the fridge for two or three days and then sowing them on a cooler evening once the heat of the day has passed.
You can also try growing microgreens and pea shoots, as well as some cress and a few soft baby herbs (coriander, parsley, chives). These will give you a flavoursome and fast little indoor crop most months of the year.
In general, it’s too late now to sow seeds for fruiting plants, as they tend to need longer to grow and will probably be taken down by frost before they can mature. This includes peppers, chillies, aubergines, tomatoes, pumpkins and courgettes. It’s also, realistically, too late for larger root vegetables such as potatoes, swede and celeriac. Save your money and effort for next year if you want to grow those…
Winter hardy crops to sow now & eat next year
Fortunately there’s still time to sow many brassicas and other plants that will feed you through winter or make a crop in early spring. You might also be able to take a few baby leaves off them here and there for late summer and autumn salads, as long as you don’t overdo it. Examples include chard, leaf beet (perpetual spinach), spring cabbages and spring greens, some sorrels, winter mustards, pak choi, mizuna and other oriental greens, hardy types of spring onion and Japanese onions.
Curly parsley and coriander usually survive the winter if they aren’t covered by snow, and can be used to add interest to many dishes. You can also sow some of the more hardy varieties of broad bean and ‘first early’ peas for early crops next year. If you’re lucky, you might still be able to grow certain types of kale or cauliflower as well, although it’s a good idea to check the packets of specific varieties and sow them sooner rather than later – a long ‘Indian summer’ might help plants to become better established too.
Be prepared to provide extra cover such as a cold frame or a cloche if there’s an early cold snap. Most of the plants listed above will grow slowly but happily with a little extra protection, even in the darker months, then put on a growth spurt when the sun comes back the following year. Some will do better in an unheated greenhouse, especially the smaller and more tender plants.
Although they’re not edible, you might want to sow ‘green manure’ seeds (clovers, some mustards, field beans and others) soon if there are going to be bare patches of soil round your plot. These will protect the soil and many add nitrogen and other nutrients to it into the bargain. Let them grow over winter and dig them back into the ground at the start of the new year, ready for the growing season a few weeks later.
Planting out larger seedlings and mature plants for this season & next
While it isn’t especially cost effective, you might be able to get hold of some well established seedlings and mature plants to give your August kitchen garden a boost. For this season, you might pick just a few mature plants such as tomato, sweet pepper or chilli, as long as you can give them a warm, sheltered and sunny spot. Make sure they have fruits forming on them already, or you’re unlikely to get a crop.
This can get very expensive, but you might be lucky and be given spare plants by a kind neighbour or relative, or find something via Freegle, Freecycle or Gumtree. You can find them discounted in many garden centres at this time of year too, as they start to clear their shelves of surplus stock.
For winter and spring food, there’s still just enough time to look out for larger seedlings of Brussels sprouts, sprouting broccoli, winter cauliflower and cabbage, and cavolo nero / kale. Looking further ahead, August is also a good month to plant out small strawberry plants (rooted runners) to get fruit the following summer.
For general jobs to do in any kitchen garden, allotment or other growing space, have a quick look at the list of garden jobs to do in August. Happy growing!
So, there are plenty of options if you start from scratch in August! Are you thinking about starting off any new seeds or plants this month?