With the arrival of June brings the longest days, lots of sunshine and, with any luck, intermittent rain showers. All this combined makes for perfect growing conditions for the kitchen garden. For me, June is a time when the garden looks at its best, all luscious and full of vigour, ready to give its yield over to the busy kitchens.
As crops begin to fill out, weeding will be reduced, however keep the onions and root crops well weeded – having thinner leaves means they struggle to compete with fast-growing weeds. Many of the common garden weeds are not always destined for the compost; some, like chickweed and hairy bittercress, find their way into summer salads.
The winter garlic will have produced flower spikes or scapes. These need to be removed to prevent the garlic from becoming woody before harvesting. Luckily the scapes are a delicacy to the chefs at River Cottage, and can be steamed or seared on the griddle and eaten like asparagus. The leeks are ready to be planted out. My preferred method to provide the blanching they need, is to dig a hole six inches deep, drop your seedling in, backfilling with water only. This will be sufficient to settle the leek in without any further firming in. I tend to harvest the leeks slightly smaller than most, so I space closer than convention at about 15 cm apart, which is ample room for growth right through to early winter.
Edible flowers have always been at the forefront of our summer menus, usually as a bi-product of companion planting. We grow nasturtiums, calendula and viola for trap (sacrificial) plants. All offering beautiful and delicious edible flowers, whilst keeping the aphid, caterpillars and slugs away from our precious crops. Borage is one of my favourite edible flowers, and with the delicate flavour of cucumber, it’s a delicious addition to ice water, cocktails, salads or even dessert plates. Grown as an insect attractant it hums with bees at this time of year, proving its worth for increasing pollination.
Once you are confident that the frosts are well and truly gone, it is safe to plant Mediterranean crops outside. Be sure to grow them in the sunniest position possible, preferably up against a wall for shelter from strong winds. I tend to grow tomatoes in the polytunnel, wanting for a higher yield, but there are fantastic outdoor varieties available if inside space is not an option. Keep sideshoots on the tomatoes pinched out to focus the plants’ energy on truss and fruit growth. This will also decongest the plant, allowing airflow and helping to keep your plants free from fungal disease.
Strawberries will start producing runners in June and can be used to propagate new plants for future use. I cut off runners at this time of year anyway, which concentrates growth to the parent plant for fruit production. Pick regularly, removing any rotting or diseased fruit and net, if birds are an issue. We grow three varieties: an early, mid and late summer strawberry; staggering the harvest throughout the season to give the preserving pan a break!