Story by Peter Wrapson
Well, after a blinding June the ‘barbecue summer’ prophesied by the Met Office was largely rained-off. Still, there are plenty of reasons to be cheerful in September, with or without any Indian Summer. There’s plenty left to harvest, much stored away to contemplate with satisfaction and even things left to sow to see us into the winter and beyond. Though the season has now peaked it’s never entirely over, but I’ll be glad of the breather to come.
Each year the whims of the weather create a different set of winners and losers. This time it’s undoubtedly the Year of the Courgette, to the point where I’ve even tried palming them off on strangers passing my house. Salad crops, so prone to bolting in a dry year, have performed well too and the rain has meant a healthy yield of potatoes. ‘Salad Blue’ is an unusual variety: it produces a striking light blue mash which looks pleasingly weird on a plate with ‘Graffiti’ and ‘Trevi’, cauliflowers that are purple and green respectively.
The June sun got the outdoor tomatoes ripening early and they did not show signs of blight until the third week of August, which is better than last year. This fungus, which likes humid conditions and makes an appearance here at some point every year, rots tomatoes on the vine and potatoes in the ground. The last of my own ripe tomatoes were roasted and frozen for cheering winter meals and the green ones were turned into chutney. Once dug, potatoes should be dried briefly in the sun then kept somewhere cool, dry and dark. Exposure to light causes them to turn green (and poisonous).
The pumpkin and squash plants are, of course, still rambling everywhere. You know they are ripe when the skins have hardened in the sun, which usually takes till the end of the month. If it’s very wet it can be a good idea to put a slate or tile underneath the fruit to prevent rotting. A fun thing to do with them before they are fully ripe is to take a blunt knife and carve names or pictures on them. As ripening continues these cuts will turn into thick white scars that will remain legible.
Even though the nights are starting to draw in the soil is still nice and warm – perfect for sowing over-wintering crops that will fill the ‘hungry-gap’ next spring (the lean time when, traditionally, stored food was running low and the hedgerow greens and spring-sown crops were not yet ready). ‘White Lisbon Winter Hardy’ is a salad onion that will provide the first fresh onions of the year, just as the leeks start to run out. My new favourite is a spinach called ‘Giant Winter’. Given a warm autumn it should be possible to harvest some leaves this side of Christmas but failing that it will stand the frost and race away as soon as the weather starts to warm up again, providing a welcome change from winter cabbages and kales Then there’s rocket and hardy oriental salad leaves such as mizuna and spicy mustards. These grow quickly and will provide salad interest through the autumn and again in the spring. If you can treat them to a greenhouse or even a cold-frame it should be possible to stop them dying back so that you can harvest some leaves even in the middle of winter. Sow winter-hardy lettuce in there too and some ‘Palla Rossa’ chicory, the leaves of which turn red as they mature, and you can put together a properly exciting salad to liven up the winter stodge.
About the Author: Pete Wrapson is a very experienced gardener who lovingly takes care of Jamie’s garden in Essex. Do you have any similar experiences or hints and tips about composting and fertilizer’s then log onto the forums and let us know.
Grow your own: Jme (www.jmeshop.com) sells some fantastic organic garden vouchers which you can use to get your own garden growing.