Well, I’m writing this on Hallowe’en and, appropriately enough, until I lit the fire I could hear the wind howling down the chimney. In the pre-Christian Celtic world this festival marked the end of the harvest and the start of winter. I can see where they were coming from: in the space of a single month – October – the bright autumn leaves all but disappear from the trees and the first proper frost arrives to kill off any remaining summer crops.
I was away when it froze and returned to find mushy rhubarb leaves and the leafless carcasses of courgette plants. This marks the beginning of the great annual tidy-up. Today I stripped tired beans from their poles and carried them and all the other trashed plants to the compost heap. The poles themselves – hazel cut by a local coppicer – I stacked indoors to preserve them for another year. It’s now time to weed the plot before the soil gets too wet to work. The weeds, of course, never seem to stop growing, especially chickweed. This creeping green carpet is one of the banes of my life, though it can at least be eaten – as an addition to salads or briefly steamed as a green vegetable.
It’s important to keep an eye on the weather forecast at this time of year – by covering the remaining lettuces with horticultural fleece before I went on holiday we should be able to eke a couple more weeks out of them. I also fleeced the Florence fennel and then sent the lot down to the Barbecoa restaurant this Tuesday. They can stand a little frost but not sustained cold. You wouldn’t think it but the same is true of lettuce, chillies and sweet peppers. It’s always a shame to see them go but there are plenty of fine winter vegetables coming into season: chicories and celeriac, parsnips and kale, Jerusalem artichokes and oca.