Home in August takes on a deliciously doldrums-like quality. If you are able to take time off then days spill into each other in a haze of nothing much, maybe an afternoon visit to a lido with the papers one day, a dusk potter in the garden with a frosted glass of wine the next. If you are at work in August then the most basic task feels like wading through treacle, with every other email met instantly by an out-of-office reply that whispers: I am elsewhere, lying in dappled shade with a book, gasping as a cold, sun-sparkling wave crashes over me. Your sales figures will wait.
There is a suspension of activity and expectation in August, and it is good to see how little we can get away with. We have worked hard and now we can reap some time. But into the space that August leaves we do pour fun: holidays by the sea, barbecues with people we mean to spend more time with but never do, festivals, carnivals and day trips. There is another kind of reaping to be done too, as all of the produce of the vegetable patch, the cut-flower garden and the hedgerow start to ripen at once. In the countryside there is a sense of summer waning. The colours are turning slowly away from green towards golden, and in hot weather the grasses start to look parched and tired. A switch has been thrown: growth is no longer the goal, it is all about ripening now. All of this is a sign that these languid days will not last forever. Enjoy your August, you’ve worked hard for it.
Constellation of the month – Pegasus
Look to the east in the early evening and you will be able to pick out the ‘square of Pegasus’, the most easily identified part of the constellation, formed by four particularly bright stars. The square makes up the body of the winged horse. Scheat is the brightest of these four stars and is a red giant about 200 light years away from earth. It is almost 100 times larger in diameter than our sun. The square of Pegasus is a useful tool in determining sky-watching conditions: if you can pick out more than eight stars within its borders, you have a good dark sky; any fewer and light pollution is preventing you from seeing the sky at its best.
August is most often characterised by drama, with the energy of heat and humidity building into towering cumulonimbus clouds that release thunder, lightning and torrential rain
Train a bird-watching telescope or even a pair of binoculars on the moon and suddenly it leaps into three dimensions, the white disc printed becoming a solid sphere with weight and heft, improbably suspended. Although we love to gaze at the moon when it is full, it’s not the best time to take a closer look. It is too glaring. The sun is shining straight onto every nook and cranny so there are no shadows, making features harder to pick out. The best time of the month is either at or just after the first quarter phase, or at or just before the third quarter. Then the moon is half full, the sun shines on it from one or the other side, and every mountain range and valley along the lunar sunrise/sunset line is perfectly picked out.
We long for heat waves and the long and languid dog days in August, but while temperatures are dependably warm, August is most often characterised by drama, with the energy of heat and humidity building into towering cumulonimbus clouds that release thunder, lightning and torrential rain. In early summer, thunderstorms are brief, but by August they have turned into prolonged downpours, and in large parts of the east August is routinely the wettest month of the year (not to suggest that the west gets away lightly: this is only because the west is so much wetter the rest of the time). Should a wondrous heat wave manifest – and occasionally they do – enjoy it for the outlier it is.
Average temperatures (°c): London 19, Glasgow 15
Average sunshine hours per day: London 6, Glasgow 5
Average days rainfall: London 13, Glasgow 21
Average rainfall total (mm): London 48, Glasgow 60
During the course of August, day length decreases by:
1 hour and 46 minutes, to 13 hours and 38 minutes (London)
2 hours and 8 minutes, to 13 hours and 54 minutes (Glasgow)
Average sea temperature
Orkney: 13.2°c Scarborough: 15.6°c Blackpool: 16.7°c Brighton: 16.9°c Penzance: 17.1°c
Photo by Bastien Ruhland on Unsplash
August is the month most of us are most likely to find ourselves poking at limpid pools with bright pink plastic nets, forcing crabs, shrimp and tiny fish to scurry out from seaweed hideaways. When the sea recedes it leaves behind these glimpses of what was previously mysterious and hidden beneath the waves. Each rock pool is its own world, with its own host of temporary and longer-term inhabitants, but the nature of the pool will vary according to its position on the shore. The upper seashore is only covered during spring tides, and pools there can be full of gutweed and no good for rock-pooling. The middle shore takes the fiercest battering of waves, and here you will find lots of limpets and barnacles. The best pools for rock-pooling will be on the lower seashore, those only uncovered during the lowest tides. Look out for blennies and gobies, little fish that skulk under rocks, and for anemones, starfish and crabs.
Planting by the moon
Full moon to third quarter: Harvest crops for immediate eating. Harvest fruit.
Third quarter to new moon: Prune. Harvest for storage. Fertilise and mulch the soil.
New moon to first quarter: Sow crops that develop below ground. Dig the soil.
First quarter to full moon: Sow crops that develop above ground. Plant seedlings and young plants.
Full moon to Third quarter: Harvest crops for immediate eating. Harvest fruit.
Really fresh sweetcorn is one of the perks of the gardener’s year … Slather in butter and sprinkle with salt
Jobs in the garden
When off on your holidays, group your pots together in a shady place, and stand them in trays of water. Do the same with houseplants, either indoors or out: it is warm enough for them to be outside, but the bath makes a handy water tray.
Harvesting is the main job at the allotment, so leave plenty of time for it and do it regularly and frequently. There is a huge difference between a French bean picked when sweet, tender and tiny and one that should have been picked a week ago, and that difference is the thing that makes growing your own worthwhile.
Potato blight can devastate crops very quickly and arrives in late summer in warm and wet weather. Look out for rotting or shrivelling leaves and brown blotches on the stems. Dig up and use any affected crops as soon as possible, or cut off the leaves and earth up the stems to try to prevent further damage to the potatoes.
Glut of the month – sweetcorn
The sugars in sweetcorn quickly start to turn to starch once it is cut, so whatever you do with yours, do it quickly. Really fresh sweetcorn is one of the perks of the gardener’s year.
Leave the husks on and throw them onto the barbecues until they are burnt, then peel back to reveal bright-yellow cooked kernels with a smoky flavouring. Slather in butter and sprinkle with salt.
Make a flavoured butter to lather over by mixing additions with softened butter: chive and garlic; chilli and lime zest; basil and Parmesan; caramelised onion and sundried tomato. Make ahead and store in the fridge.
Southern US-style corn is boiled in a pot of water with a half-pint of milk, a good pinch of salt, and 125 g butter added to the pot. No need to add butter when it comes out.
Photo by Christophe Maertens on Unsplash
Garden task – sow green manures
Green manures are sold as big packets of seed to be sown directly on to fallow earth. There they germinate and grow quickly and thickly, covering the soil. There are several purposes to sowing a green manure. The main point is to create bulky organic matter that can be dug into the soil to improve its structure: a great solution if you want to give your soil a treat but don’t have access to farmyard manure or lots of compost, or if you don’t have adequate strength or stamina to hump that stuff around. They also drag up nutrients from the soil and make them more easily available to your plants: some have deep roots that go down, search the goodness out, and then hold it captive in the leaves until it can be released into the top soil to be grabbed by hungry vegetables such as courgettes and winter squash. Green manures also germinate so thickly across the soil that they prevent weeds from getting a toehold. And finally, those sown in August and September will cover the soil all winter, protecting it from rains that might wash topsoil away and leach nutrients.
The green manures to sow now and dig in during spring are:
Winter tares. An annual, fast-growing vetch that fixes nitrogen. After you dig it into the soil in spring, plant with nitrogen-lovers such as leafy vegetables.
Winter field bean. Another nitrogen-fixer, and particularly good on heavy soils and soils that need breaking up. It is a legume, so do not plant peas or beans straight after it.
Grazing rye. Deep roots and a good nutrient-fixer, and can be used anywhere in a vegetable garden’s rotation. Very hardy and continues to grow in cold weather.
The festival of Lammas is the first harvest festival, and a celebration of early August. And what a fine moment it is: all bounty and ripening warmth, deep blue skies and wheeling swifts. Like Imbolc, Beltane and Samhain, Lammas was one of the Celts’ ‘cross-quarter’ days: the dates that fall between the solstices and the equinoxes and that were used to mark out the agricultural year. This one marks the wheat harvest, and the arrival of the first berries. The wheat and barley have ripened and can be brought in, and the berries are fat and black on the bramble bushes. This would have been a time of hard work and good rewards, of grafting in teams in the fields to bring in the harvest by day, and enjoying the first breads and beers of the new crop by night.
This is the time you will see combine harvesters carving their massive swathes through hazy fields (and you will get stuck behind them as they trundle dustily between neighbouring farms on narrow country roads)
In Anglo-Saxon manuscripts Lammas is often referred to as the ‘feast of the first fruits’, and the word comes from the Anglo-Saxon hlaf-mas (loaf mass). On Lammastide a loaf of bread made from the new crop would be brought in to church to be blessed, and then the loaf was thought to have taken on protective qualities. Now the harvesting methods have changed, but the cycle remains the same, and this is the time you will see combine harvesters carving their massive swathes through hazy fields (and you will get stuck behind them as they trundle dustily between neighbouring farms on narrow country roads). It is a day to appreciate the turning of the year and the bounty and fun that it eventually brings, and to celebrate your own hard work and harvest.
Plums are at their best this month. Summer-fruiting raspberries finish now, but autumn-fruiting varieties begin. The first figs and melons start to ripen. Other fruits this month: blackcurrants, redcurrants, tayberries, apricots, peaches, blueberries, early-ripening apples and pears.
Late-summer treats are starting to ripen: sweetcorn, tomatoes, sweet peppers, chilli peppers and aubergines join courgettes, carrots, fennel, French and runner beans, potatoes, beetroot, lettuce, sorrel, spinach, cucumbers and radish. Herbs are plentiful.
Look out for cobnuts, picked when green, unripe and crunchy. In the hedgerows look out for elderberries and crab apples, just starting to ripen. Sea buckthorn is fruiting.
Plaice, mackerel, sardines, megrim sole, squid, crab, lobster and scallops are all in season.
Goat meat is available all year round, but it is particularly good and cheap this month, as increased production is timed to coincide with carnival season and with Eid al-Adha.
Ingredient of the month – brambles
Photo by Nine Köpfer on Unsplash
Call them blackberries if you like, but there is something special about the word ‘bramble’, covering as it does both the fruit itself and the act of gathering them. To bramble is to ramble and search, to take on the thicket, sleeves resolutely down, and to cover yourself in scratches and deep purple splodges anyway. You can buy blackberries or grow them in the garden, but it is not only the experience that will be missed: wild blackberries have a complexity of flavour that is completely lacking in the cultivated types, a wild, woodsy, homely taste, nostalgia in berry form. That is, if you get them fully ripe, not sharp and mean, and the way to spot these best few is to look for a fat, black shine that the unripe berries just don’t have. Pick them, then look at the inside: if this is still white then the berry is underripe and should be taken home for heat and sugar, ideally mixed with apples in the best crumble filling combination; if it is purple it can be popped straight into your mouth.
A special loaf for a glorious moment in the year, this takes a little doing, but make it ahead of time and take it up to the allotment around Lammas time to keep you well fuelled while harvesting, and to toast the arrival of the berries and the wheat.
For the dough
125 ml whole milk
10 g instant yeast
75 g sugar
500 g strong white bread flour
1 tsp salt
3 eggs, lightly beaten
150 g butter, softened
For the filling
500 g blackberries
225 g sugar
1 piece of star anise
For the glaze
3 tbsp of the blackberry mixture
A little water
Heat the milk in a pan until it is warm to the touch but not hot. Stir in the yeast and a pinch of sugar and let the mixture sit for 5 minutes, or until the surface is foamy. Mix the flour, salt and remaining sugar in a large bowl. Make a well in the centre and pour in the yeasty milk and the eggs, mixing with a wooden spoon at first and later your hands to bring it into a dough. Work the softened butter in, a little at a time. (If you have a mixer with a large bowl and a dough hook, you can put all of these ingredients in together and mix until you have a smooth dough, about 8 minutes.) Tip the dough into a clean bowl, cover with cling film and leave to prove in the fridge overnight. For the filling, wash the blackberries, then heat gently with the sugar and star anise until the sugar has dissolved and the juices have been released. Simmer and stir for around 10 minutes until thick and jammy. Leave to cool. (You will have plenty of this left over after making the recipe, but it can be used as jam, stored in a jar in the fridge for several weeks.)
Take two loaf tins, 22 cm x 10 cm, oil them and line with parchment. Knock back the dough, split it into two equal-sized pieces, and roll each out on a well-floured surface to around 40 cm square. Spread a layer of the blackberry jam mixture over each and roll them up tightly. Take one roll and slice it down the centre, then lay these two pieces alongside each other, cut sides facing upwards. ‘Spiral’ the two pieces around each other, always keeping the cut sides facing upwards. Pinch together the ends, then fold and twist the whole thing back on itself once. Pinch the ends together and tuck underneath the roll, then slot it into one of the loaf tins. Repeat with the other roll. Cover with a tea towel and leave to prove for about 2 hours, or until the loaves have doubled in size.
Preheat your oven to 180°c/350°f/gas mark 4. Bake for 35–40 minutes. Make the glaze by warming a little jam in a pan with a splash of water. Either paint it onto the freshly baked loaves, lumps and all, or sieve first. Leave the babkas to cool for 10 minutes before tipping out and cooling completely on a wire rack.
Scotch bonnet pepper has a sweet aromatic flavour but a fiery temper, and can deliver a tremendous punch of heat if not treated with respect and kept whole throughout the cooking
Curry goat A recipe by Natasha Miles
The end of August brings Notting Hill Carnival, the biggest street carnival in Europe and a celebration of the heritage and culture of the British West Indian community. One of the most popular dishes at Carnival is curry goat, served from food stalls, a vibrant and rich dish that no Jamaican party or celebration is complete without. Its spicy flavours dance on the tongue to the beat of the parade. The use of Scotch bonnet pepper is what sets this dish apart: it has a sweet aromatic flavour but a fiery temper, and can deliver a tremendous punch of heat if not treated with respect and kept whole throughout the cooking. Betapac curry powder is a Jamaican brand with a high proportion of turmeric, while Bolst’s has a richer spice blend. You can find both in Indian food shops, but if not, then use a standard curry powder.
1 1/3 kg goat shoulder
2 medium onions
1 tbsp Betapac curry powder (or curry powder of your choice)
1 tbsp Bolst’s curry powder (or curry powder of your choice)
2 tbsp vegetable oil
3 cloves crushed garlic
1 chopped carrot
1 scotch bonnet pepper
2 sprigs of thyme
1 heaped tsp pimento seeds
Salt and pepper to taste
Place the meat in a mixing bowl, slice one of the onions and place over the meat, then add both of the curry powders. Mix thoroughly, cover the bowl with cling film and refrigerate for 12 hours, or overnight.
Take the meat out of the fridge and rest for 30 minutes before cooking. Scrape the onion off the meat and set aside. In a large pan add the oil and heat to a high temperature, then add the meat and half of the other onion, sliced. Fry vigorously until all the meat is brown, then reduce heat to a very low temperature and cover with a lid to slowly simmer. The meat will steam and create its own juices. After 30 minutes of cooking add the garlic, carrot, whole scotch bonnet pepper (do not chop it up), the reserved onions and the rest of the other onion, thyme, pimento seeds and salt and pepper to taste. Cook for 3–4 hours, or until the meat is tender. After 2 hours of cooking, carefully fish out the pepper, whole, or if you like your curry really hot, leave it in. If the sauce starts to dry out at any point, top it up it with water, but not too much, as you don’t want to dilute the flavours. Serve with white basmati rice.
Photo by Sean Paul Kinnear on Unsplash
Look out for:
Blackberries, elderberries, hawthorns and sloes start to ripen, and both birds and foragers move in to feast.
Heathland heathers are now flowering and covering hillsides with purple. Bilberries are ready to pick.
Hot days bring the sound of grasshoppers stridulating from long grass, advertising their territories to mates.
Meadow brown butterflies, small skipper butterflies, large white butterflies and gatekeeper butterflies.
Estuaries start to fill as waders return there after breeding or to prepare for migration. Look out for bar-tailed godwits, golden plovers and lapwings.
Lords and ladies are fruiting at the base of hedgerows.
Riverbanks are pretty with the flowers of meadowsweet, purple loosestrife and great willowherb.
Garden birds can look a little rough this month as they slowly moult and replace their feathers. Remember to provide water for bathing and drinking.
Most swifts fly south this month.
In July or August there falls a day when suddenly we are plagued by flying ants, the biblical atmosphere compounded by the packs of seagulls that wheel overhead to feast on them. This is flying-ant day, brief, impressive and not particularly beautiful, but essential to the ant life cycle. There is no signal to take to the skies – the ants respond to weather cues, generally flying when a period of wet weather is followed by a period of warm and dry conditions, and so you may see flying ants over several days, culminating in one impressive day. They mate on the wing, the females coming back to earth to create a new colony over which to preside for the rest of their earthbound year.
Want more great Boundless content in your inbox every Sunday? Sign up to the free, weekly newsletter, here.