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Welcome to the start of the fruit bonanza

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Extract | 12 minute read
Make the most of raspberries, courgettes, asparagus and sunshine. It's July, in this month's extract from Lia Leendertz's book The Almanac

Summer starts to relax in July. The eager young lime-coloured leaves that filled the countryside last month have mellowed to a rich green, and the wheat and barley have started to turn golden, rippled silver by lazy breezes. Butterflies flit and mowers whir, and we start to believe it will always be this way. There are plenty of thunderstorms in July to mess with our idea of what summer should be, but often they will follow spells of warmth – fat droplets on dusty pavements – and bring with them the vibrant fragrance of wet earth after dry heat, an ozone-scented sigh of relief.

July was named to honour Julius Caesar, it being his birth month, and before him it was known as Quintilis, Latin for ‘fifth’, as this was the fifth month in the Roman year. More expressively, the Anglo-Saxons called it Weodmonath, the month of weeds, or Heymonath, as this is hay-making time.

Asterism of the month – the Summer Triangle

The Summer Triangle is an asterism – an easily recognised group of particularly bright stars – rather than a constellation, and it includes three constellations: Cygnus, Lyra and Aquila. July is its month, when it rides high in the sky all night. As evening falls, look east for sparkling blue-white Vega, the brightest star in the constellation Lyra, the Harp. Left and down you will find Deneb, the brightest star in the constellation Cygnus, the Swan. Right and down from Deneb is Altair, the brightest star in Aquila, the Eagle. Deneb will swing up to become the topmost star as the evening wears on. If you are lucky enough to be stargazing in a dark, rural location, you will see the Milky Way ploughing through the centre of the triangle, from Deneb to between Vega and Altair, so once you have familiarised yourself with the Summer Triangle you can use it as a Milky Way pointer, however faintly it can be seen.

WEATHER

St Swithun’s day if thou dost rain

For forty days it will remain

St Swithun’s day if thou be fair

For forty days ‘twill rain nae mare

Photo by V2F on Unsplash

Everybody knows that the saying about St Swithun’s Day, which falls on 15th July, never comes true. If it rains on the 15th, we are very unlikely to then be subject to 40 days of rain; likewise, if it is sunny, we are not guaranteed a scorcher of a summer. However, there is a grain of truth that may have inspired the legend, in that summer weather patterns established by mid-July often persist well into August. The day itself won’t tell you much, but the general trend might. Clearly, July can be beautiful, warm and sunny, and many of Britain’s highest temperatures have occurred in July, but the probability of rain does increase as the month goes on. July is one of the stormiest months, with thunderstorms sparked by high temperatures.

Average temperatures (°c): London 19, Glasgow 15

Average sunshine hours per day: London 6, Glasgow 5

Average days rainfall: London 14, Glasgow 21

Average rainfall total (mm): London 41, Glasgow 70

Day length

During the course of July, day length decreases by:

1 hour and 6 minutes, to 15 hours and 27 minutes (London)

1 hour and 22 minutes, to 16 hours and 6 minutes (Glasgow)

THE SEA

Average sea temperature

Orkney: 12.9°c

Scarborough:15°c

Blackpool:15.8°c

Brighton:15.4°c

Penzance:16.5°c

Dolphins and whales

Between June and October is a good time to try to catch a glimpse of some of the mega fauna that resides in or takes a summer migration through the seas around our coast, all making the most of our rich sea life while the weather is good and the sea is at its warmest. Hotspots include Lyme Bay, Cardigan Bay, Anglesey, Llyn Peninsula and the Sarnau, Celtic Deep, Pembrokeshire Marine, Bideford Point, the Lizard, Manacles, Silver Pit and Farnes East. Visit for glimpses of minke whales, fin whales, humpback whales, bottlenose dolphins, common dolphins, white-beaked dolphins, harbour porpoises and basking sharks.

THE GARDEN

Planting by the moon

Full moon to 3rd quarter: Harvest crops for immediate eating. Harvest fruit.

3rd quarter to new moon: Prune. Harvest for storage. Fertilise and mulch the soil.

New moon to 1st quarter: Sow crops that develop below ground. Dig the soil.

1st quarter to full moon: Sow crops that develop above ground. Plant seedlings and young plants.

Full moon to 3rd quarter: Harvest crops for immediate eating. Harvest fruit.

Jobs in the garden

Move your houseplants out of doors for the summer. Give the leaves a dust and a shower, then give the roots a feed and a good soaking, and they will quickly look twice the plants they were.

Give hanging-basket plants a trim to encourage them to bush up. Feed once a week and water once a day.

Strawberry plants will have thrown out ‘runners’ by now. Pin them onto the surface of pots of compost and keep them well watered, and they will root there and can later be severed from the main plant and used to plant up a new strawberry bed, or be given away.

Glut of the month – courgette

The courgette glut is the glut of all gluts. The word ‘glut’ in the dictionary should just be a picture of a courgette, or seven. This is the month.

You can stem the tide of courgettes by picking them when they are very tiny or even when they are still flowers. Courgette flowers are delicacies, with a sweet and vegetable-like crunch, and tiny courgettes are denser and sweeter than big ones. Eat both raw, or lightly fried in butter and finished with lemon juice and salt.

Courgette fritters. Grate a couple of courgettes into a tea towel and then wrap and squeeze out the excess moisture. Tip into a bowl and mix in half a packet of feta, one beaten egg, and a couple of tablespoons of plain flour. Fry spoonfuls of the mixture in hot oil.

Roughly chop several courgettes and drop into a saucepan with good extra virgin olive oil, crushed garlic, pepper and salt. Cook slow and covered until they are soft enough to crush with a fork. Squeeze over the juice of half a lemon and serve as a side dish, warm or cold.

Garden task – sow again

Typically we make a frenzy of sowings in early summer and then sit back and watch everything grow, which leads to a wonderful heap of produce and flowers in July and August but little beyond. Sowing now will extend the season into autumn, winter and next spring, and it is easy when the ground is warm and seeds can be sown direct. There are a few different types of sowings to be made now for future colour, fragrance and crops.

Photo by Bailey Heedick on Unsplash

Late-summer vegetables. Sow short rows of spinach, lettuce, rocket, beetroot, radishes and spring onions every few weeks. Make a final sowing of courgettes, French beans and peas now for when yours run out of steam.

Biennial flowers. These are plants that need to grow through one season to flower the next, and they include some of the best and most fragrant cut flowers: sow honesty, foxgloves, sweet William, sweet rocket and night-scented stock in nursery beds now.

Autumn vegetables. Sow rows of Oriental greens mibuna, mitsuna, pak choi and others for autumn now. Sow your last batch of beetroot, plus fennel.

Winter and spring vegetables. It is too late to start Brussels sprouts, winter cabbages and autumn cauliflowers, but you can buy and plant plug plants. Sow autumn cabbages now, and winter carrots and turnips.

KITCHEN

In season

This is the start of the fruit bonanza. Apricots, peaches and nectarines, cherries, raspberries, currants, gooseberries, blueberries and strawberries are all in season. The first plums, blackberries, tayberries and loganberries are ripening.

Garden veg is bounteous. New potatoes, young carrots, salads, peas, asparagus, globe artichokes, mangetout, spring onions, lettuce, runner beans, French beans, celery and rocket are all ready, and courgettes are producing almost daily. There may be a few broad beans around but this is the end of their season.

Make use of the summer herbs that are at their best now, in particular mint, basil and dill. Edible flowers will be in bloom on the vegetable patch, including courgette flower and nasturtium.

Sea bass, mackerel, sardines and crab are all plentiful.

All of the fresh, young cheeses are wonderful at the moment as milk is produced from animals on plentiful, fresh grass.

Photo by Ben Moore on Unsplash

Ingredient of the month – green walnuts

Green walnuts are those picked before they have formed a shell, and they have been eaten pickled since at least the eighteenth century. Looking like shiny, deepest-brown marbles, and tasting both sweet and sour, pickled walnuts are eaten with blue cheese at Christmas. First, catch your green walnuts. They are good for this in July only, so go foraging or track down supplies on the internet. Take 2 kg of green walnuts and prick each with a fork, then put them in a bowl, cover with water, and tip in 225 g salt. Leave for a week, then drain and repeat. Drain and leave the walnuts out to dry for a few days, during which time they will turn black. Slowly heat 1 l of malt vinegar with 500 g sugar, 1 tsp each of cloves, allspice berries and black peppercorns, and a cinnamon stick until the sugar has dissolved, then add the walnuts and boil for 15 minutes. Spoon walnuts and liquid into jars and seal.

RECIPES

Vegetables à la Française

This is a useful recipe to have up your sleeve for when you have a bucketful of green vegetables and want a good way to use them up. It is traditionally petit pois à la Française, but the name change is just to let you know that you can throw in any green vegetables that are weighing heavily on your mind. Serve it as a vegetable side dish or as lunch with a hunk of bread and some good cheese.

Ingredients

3 spring onions

2 cloves garlic

50 g butter

1 Little Gem lettuce

150 ml hot chicken or vegetable stock (use water if you don’t have the real thing)

300 g peas/French beans/runner beans/mangetout/shelled broad beans or a mixture of several

Salt and pepper

Method

Chop the spring onions and garlic and cook them in the butter until they are soft. Shred the lettuce and add it to the pan, stirring until it has wilted. Add the stock or water, bring to the boil and add the vegetables. Simmer with the lid off until all is cooked and tender but still vibrant and green. Season and serve.

Sundowners

‘Sundowner’ is a term from Britain’s colonial past, denoting a long, cool drink served in a highball glass and taken at sunset – an icy and alcoholic breather between a long hot day and dinner. Gin and tonic is the classic sundowner, and here are three others:

Lime Rickey: fill a glass with ice cubes, pour in 2 oz gin and a squeeze of lime juice. Top up with club soda and stir, garnishing with a wedge of lime.

Mint julep: muddle together 3 oz bourbon, 6 sprigs of mint and 2 tbsp of simple syrup in the bottom of a glass, crushing the mint. Add ice, then top up with club soda, stir, and garnish with a mint leaf.

Moscow mule: fill a glass with ice and pour on 1½ oz vodka and 1 oz lime juice, then top up with ginger beer, stir and garnish with a lime wedge.

NATURE

Look out for:

Hedgerows full of nettles, burdock, cleavers, creeping thistle, meadow crane’s-bill. The wild clematis known at this stage of its life as traveller’s joy (and later as old man’s beard) is draped over the hedgerows, flowering brightly.

In shadier spots and in the north, foxgloves are just coming into flower. Meadowsweet flowers in ditches and on damp verges.

Red and white clover flower in bee-friendly, neglected lawns. Rosebay willowherb bursts into flower across disturbed ground. Pineapple weed flowers along rough paths.

Buddleia, the butterfly bush, comes into flower and will be covered in basking and pollen-sipping red admirals, small tortoiseshells, peacock, chalkhill, marbled white and common blue butterflies, and buzzing with bees.

Towards the end of the month grass flower heads start to mature and turn golden and straw-coloured. Meadows may have been cut by now, or at the very least will be starting to shed seed.

Look out for red poppies and white campion along the edges of arable fields.

On chalk and limestone grasslands look for fragrant orchids, pyramidal orchids and common spotted orchids. Also harebell, marjoram, thyme, field scabious and greater knapweed.

Adult cuckoos leave our shores this month for Africa, the first of the summer migrants to depart. Their offspring follow later.

Swarms of low-flying summer insects can lead to spectacular swooping displays from swifts, swallows and house martins.

Photo by Diana Parkhouse on Unsplash

Crop circles

July is the month in which the most crop circles appear, stems trampled, bent or otherwise transformed into beautiful geometric patterns within golden fields. The earliest known report of a crop circle was in 1678 in Hertfordshire, but it was the 1970s that saw the start of a resurgence of circles that has now become a boom, with 40 to 50 appearing every summer, and sometimes more. Most crop-circle activity is concentrated in Wiltshire, a county blessed with a combination of large, flat arable fields – this month filled with wheat and barley tall enough to take a pattern, but not yet ready to be harvested – and mysterious, prehistoric monuments. Crop circles are often found in the vicinity of Stonehenge and Avebury and the smaller prehistoric sites around them. Famous hoaxers Bower and Chorley have claimed responsibility for a great many crop circles since they went public in 1991, and some are now claimed by other crop-circle artists, who have steadily grown in number and whose methods and ideas have become increasingly sophisticated and ambitious. Crop circles nowadays are no mere circles – they are grand and intricate works of art, often representing complex mathematical formulas or astronomical patterns. Of course not everyone thinks that all are man-made, and those who want to believe have many convincing arguments that something more mysterious and complex is afoot than a couple of blokes with a measuring tape and a plank. Either way, Honeystreet, a small village roughly equidistant between the two big sites, has become unofficial crop circle HQ, and sees a great influx of circle-spotters each summer. Some come to stand in the rippling fields simply to admire this blossoming and seasonal guerrilla art form, some to commune with a sense of wonder, possibility and cosmic mystery.

The Almanac by Lia Leendertz is published by Unbound 

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