How to look after home-grown veggies and herbs during a summer washout

It’s official – summer 2021 is a soggy one.

While most of us hoped for balmy days and glorious sunshine, the British weather has had other plans.

But it’s not just us humans who are facing endless showers, our plants are dealing with this summer washout, too.

The prolonged damp and wet weather can be problematic for certain home-grown veggies, such as tomatoes and potatoes. 

This is because mixed weather patterns can cause outbreaks of blight – a plant disease typically caused by fungi, such as mildews.

With this summer shaping up to be a particularly drizzly one, gardeners are being advised to keep an eye on their crops.

Here are some different ways to ensure the wet weather doesn’t ruin your vegetable bounty. 

Know the different types of blight – and how to prevent them

Gabby Woodward, who runs urban gardening account @gabbygrows, stresses that there a few different types of blight. 

The most frequent form is late blight – which is common in wet weather. 

She tells Metro.co.uk: ‘The combination of high humidity and high temperatures means the fungus can spread more easily.’

Gabby says you can reduce the spread by watering at the base of a tomato plant, earthing up potatoes (by covering with layers of soil) and putting a cover over tomato plants.

She adds: ‘If your plant gets blight you can minimise the impact by removing the parts that are infected to slow the spread to the rest of the plant. Blight doesn’t harm any of the plant that isn’t visibly impacted, so you can eat tomatoes which are next to one that has blight.

‘If you have a small garden, like me, it’s unlikely that you will have space for a greenhouse (the ideal space for growing tomatoes), so the chances of blight when growing tomatoes outdoors is even higher.

‘Given the amount of rain that is forecast for July we could have a year with lots of spoiled tomatoes and potatoes, but gardeners are used to accepting their annual environment – you can’t work against the elements, you just have to adapt the best you can.’

It’s a good idea to keep an eye out for the warning signs of late blight, such as white powdery leaves (mildews), blistering, brown discolouration or wet rot.

If you see any, sustainable garden designer Elizabeth Waddington says: ‘Remove and dispose of any infected material as soon as possible – keeping it well away from the compost heap.

‘If you spot blight on your potatoes later in the summer, consider cutting off and carefully removing all parts of the plants that are showing above ground. The potatoes will not get any bigger. But the tubers may be saved if the infection has not yet reached them.’

Elizabeth adds that you can also register for Blightwatch, which will send out alerts to those in the UK – at postcode level. 

Secure your veggies

‘In general, when dealing with periods of strong wind and rain you should ensure that your taller and climbing plants – such as cordon tomatoes, broad beans and squashes – are properly supported and tied in,’ adds Gabby.

If the rain is intense and persistent, more fragile young vegetables can be protected by a waterproof covering.

Gabby says: ‘Sometimes if I know a storm is coming I temporarily move my small pots of outdoor herbs to the kitchen windowsill until the storm passes. 

‘Once the rain stops make sure you check that there are no exposed roots (recover if so), drain away excess water from pot saucers and remove any damaged bits of plants.’

Keep air flowing

The next challenge is the huge amounts of rain falling on plant leaves.

Elizabeth adds that making sure there is good air flow around your plants can reduce the chance of damp conditions – where these mildews, blights and other types of fungi thrive. 

A good place to start is to make sure your plants are not overcrowded. 

‘But also remember that companion planting can bring a range of benefits and make your main crops healthier overall,’ adds Elizabeth.

‘Healthier crops are less likely to succumb to a serious infection. When choosing companion plants, make sure they do not compete too vigorously with the main plant.’

Another way to reduce the spread of fungal infections is to create a ring of mulch around the base of each plant with organic matter – to stop soil splashing up onto the leaves. 

Elizabeth says: ‘Just take care not to mound material around the stems or they can rot. 

‘Mulch will also reduce weed competition, and add fertility for healthy plants. Top dressing beds and growing areas with plenty of organic matter also ensures healthy soil – which is key to growing food successfully, wherever you live.’

Consider raised beds or containers

‘Growing in raised beds and containers can bring challenges in dry weather, because they require more water than you’ll need when growing plants in the ground. But during wet weather, especially where the soil does not drain well, it can be a good idea to grow in containers or raised beds,’ says Elizabeth.

She stresses that this is especially true if you are growing plants – like Mediterranean herbs – which do not like having wet feet. 

Create your own undercover areas

Another way to ensure your plants aren’t drenched is to create your own covered areas. 

Elizabeth says: ‘If you are experiencing regular summer deluges, you might also wish to consider creating undercover growing areas.

‘You can use row covers or cloches, or invest in a polytunnel or greenhouse to keep the rain off your plants. 

‘You’ll have to water the plants yourself and should still collect and use rainwater to do so. But you will have a little more control over how much water they get.’

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