Autumn is in full swing down on Plot #59 and we’ve got the seasonal veggies to prove it.
A few weeks back we harvested our squash and were quietly impressed with a decent showing in our first year of semi-serious squash growing:
We also called time on our single, lonely tromboncino squash. Not worth entering in the Sutton’s Cup, but definitely tasty – we oven-roasted chunks of it to accompany our Saturday sausages and it was pleasantly firm in texture with a lovely, nutty squash flavour.
Also on that plate were the first pulled roots of the year: a few trimmed-back but mostly manky carrots (not a good crop after all, by the looks of things), and some much nicer salsify, scorzonera and mooli (although at the risk of seeming indelicate, one of those last three gave me terrible wind yesterday… just a word to the wise, there).
We’ve continued to pick bags and bags of runner and French beans for drying. We I deliberately planted a lot of beans this year and we’ve got the pods to prove it. Here’s a small selection drying in the greenhouse at home, and there’s another batch just like it at the allotment greenhouse, plus the couple of kilos of dried beans already packed away, and a whole lot more still on the plants:
We’ve started to pick out first kale leaves and cabbages. They went in late and the slugs have had a field-day on the latter, so there’s a fair bit of livestock to remove before the cabbages can be cooked, but they’re very tasty once you get them properly cleaned up.
We’ve had a pretty decent chilli harvest from our main greenhouse at home as well. Here are a few ‘cayenne’:
Most of them went into a few jars of chilli jam. One of the jars – the last to be filled from the jam pan – had re-crystalised and I was going to ditch it, until my Mum suggested it might make a good chilli glaze for pork chops. Good call, Mum.
Fruit-wise, we’re all about the Autumn rapsberries at the moment, although everything else has finished for the year. We’ve been stewing most of them up with apple and some of our frozen blackcurrants, for use as a breakfast porridge topping or custard-drenched pudding. Delicious either way.
Well, the closing date was September 30th, and I took a photo of my best effort on that day:
As you can see, it barely reached 32cm or so. Compared to some of the tromboncino pics that have been posted on Facebook this year, it’s a tiddler. This was already my backup fruit, promoted to front-runner after the early competition candidate went down with a dose of soft-rot, but it clearly wasn’t up to the job.
I think the cold summer checked its growth; as you can see it’s already matured into something approaching a butternut squash colour, so must have finished growing a while back. Perhaps I should have kept the plant in the greenhouse instead of sitting it outside? Frankly though, there just wasn’t room for it. Or maybe I over-fed it? Or under-fed it? It didn’t really develop the super-long neck that usually characterises the tromboncino fruit, bulking up around the middle instead, so maybe there was a touch too much K in the plant food I gave it.
Ah well, it looks like there are a couple of meals’ worth of good eating to be enjoyed there. It certainly won’t go to waste.
I won’t be growing tromboncino for the Sutton’s Cup if they hold it again next year though. When I think of all the fruitlets I picked off so this one could get all the plant’s energy… a shocking waste of food, that was. Not really my style of growing at all.
One of my very favourite jobs of Autumn is planting out next year’s garlic crop. For me, it marks the first step towards growing a whole new year’s worth of tasty food, even though this year’s a re still very much in evidence and harvesting will continue for some time.
For the past few years I’ve bought my seed garlic from The Garlic Farm on the Isle of Wight. It’s always good quality, well dried, and ordering it gives me a chance to grab a couple of bulbs of their fantastic smoked garlic (which is properly smoked; long enough for the cloves to change to a rich golden colour and a softer texture, rather than just colouring up the outer skin as is the case for most other “smoked” garlic I’ve found).
This year’s order arrived on Friday and so on Saturday, with the ground still warm from a week of early Autumn sunshine, I took the opportunity to get it in the ground. Planting in Autumn gives the young shoots time to develop before winter’s cold kicks in and holds back any further growth, and a sharp frost or two will help the cloves to divide and grow on into full bulbs.
Preparation involved re-raking a patch of ground that had previously grown this year’s ‘Saxon’ potatoes and been covered over since they were lifted. There wasn’t too much weed to deal with and no need to rake too far down; garlic is an Allium so its roots are shallow and well-spread, rather than deep. As long as the tilth is nicely crumbed, they should be just fine.
Here’s the garlic, ready for planting out:
I ordered three varieties this year: Extra Early Wight (Allium sativum) which grew very successfully this year, Red Duke Wight (Allium sativum) which is a new (to me) variety that I’m trialling, and firm favourite elephant garlic (Allium ampeloprasum), which is supplied by the giant clove, rather than as a whole bulb.
Splitting the smaller bulbs into individual cloves yielded a total of 28 Red Duke and 36 Extra Early; if they all develop that will be a handsome harvest to keep us going through winter 2017/18.
And this is the planting arrangement, before they went in.
Row (A) is the Garlic Farm’s elephant garlic, the two rows (B) are Red Duke, then (C) is Extra Early and finally (D) is a row of cloves from our own elephant garlic harvest this year. I’ll be interested to see whether our own stock will perform any differently, given that they’re from plants that have grown and adapted to our local conditions and soil, rather than the very different temperatures and chemistry of the Isle of Wight.
The planting method was relatively simple: dib (or dig with a trowel for the elephant garlic) a hole around one and a half times the size of the clove, then sprinkle in a small amount of The Garlic Farm’s proprietary blend of garlic fertiliser (N-P-K 5-12-20 +3%MgO made with 100% of the K from Sulphate of Potash) before popping in the clove and covering over.
Once the shoots begin to show I’ll mulch over with leaf mould and then net the patch, just to keep inquisitive pigeons at bay. Garlic isn’t a crop that suffers much from slug-damage and although white rot and rust can be problems to watch out for in Spring and early Summer, it’s usually just a case of watering in prolonged dry spells, but otherwise letting it get on with growing. Wonderful stuff, garlic.
September turned out to be a really good month, weather-wise, so I ought to have been down at Plot #59 for most of it, working my backside off to finish a few infrastructure projects, clearing the last few patches of stubborn weeds, sowing a few winter crops and prepping for next year’s growing season. Instead, I spent most of the month working on our cottage garden project – digging, digging, and more digging – so progress wasn’t quite as dramatic as I’d hoped.
Still, with a few good weather days on the weekends, Jo and I were able to get down to the plot and put in a good few hours’ graft. Here’s what we achieved:
September is, of course, the month of multiple harvests. At the beginning of the month we lifted the last of our main-crop ‘pink fir apple’ potatoes and a bit later on we picked our squash and put them to cure in the greenhouse. We’ve also had the last of the fresh runner and French beans and have been picking dozens to dry for winter stores.
Our chilli harvest has been pretty good this year as well; a first attempt at chilli jam was made, with reasonable results. We’ve also been picking and eating sweetcorn – served up in smoked paprika butter, more often than not – and have lifted a few turnips – they’re surprisingly tasty when oven-baked – and picked the first cabbage and kale of the year late (we planted them out quite late) last week.
I deliberately planted the cabbages out quite close, the aim being to grow smaller, two-person heads, rather than football-sized monsters. Of course, what’s happened is that every other plant seems to have out-grown its neighbours, crowding them out and developing into big ‘uns. Nature, eh?
And of course, the Autumn-fruiting raspberries are in their element at the moment. We’re picking a good-sized clip-top boxful every few days and we’re managing to eat our way through most of them, either fresh or stewed down with apple and blackcurrant as a topping for our morning porridge.
All in all, we’re doing quite well; we’ve not had to buy much veg from the market or supermarket to supplement what we’ve been able to pick from the plot, and if I was spending a bit more time down the plot and a little less in the back garden then we’d be eating even more of our own-grown, I’m sure. Next year we’ll see if we can get to 100% plot-grown for the whole of the Summer and as much of the Autumn as we possibly can.
I’ve finally been able to get to grips with the tricky central section of the plot and have started digging and levelling a channel for the main path. Again, progress has been a little slow, mainly due to the presence of a rubbish midden right in the middle of where I’m working; more on that in another post.
Soon to be tackled: the asparagus patch is looking like it’s ready for cutting back, once the stems begin to turn a little more yellow:
The leeks that I planted out at the end of August have put on some good growth. It’ll soon be time to start thinning out a few baby leeks for eating, to give the others more room to grow and develop.
It’ll soon be time to start pulling our root crops – for roasting and mashing with some of our squash and ‘Saxon’ spuds – as well. The salsify and scorzonera seem to be doing well, we’ve got massive mooli radishes coming along, and I think the carrots – presumed fly-eaten and useless – might actually have made a comeback. I’m not too sure about the Hamburg parsely, but I’ll lift some in the next couple of weeks and see where we stand.
The sunflowers have finished and gone over – we’re leaving the seed heads for the birds – but Jo’s Rudbeckia and Cosmos are lovely at this time of year, adding bursts of late-season colour in splashes of yellow, orange and red.
Our Dahlias are still going strong as well; they’ll keep flowering until the first frosts and then we’ll need to see about lifting, drying and storing the tubers. Likewise the Tagetes among the courgettes and the Nastutiums that have run rampant across about a third of the plot; they’ve dropped so many seeds we’ll be seeing them for a few years to come, I reckon.
It’s been a good month, lack of time notwithstanding. Let’s see what the rest of October brings.
The weather was kind in September – until the last few days’ worth of persistent, soaking rain, that is – so I’ve been taking the opportunity to push ahead with the hard digging phase of the landscaping.
As I’ve mentioned before, it’s a bit of a slog: weedy turf to remove (hand-picking the perennial roots out as I go) and then set aside until I’ve been able to clear the top-soil (varying in depth from about two to eight inches) and sand (mixing it together for an improved overall consistency), before breaking through the sub-surface pan by hand (and foot: standing on a fork and working it back and forth has proven the best method). Then the turf has been re-laid, broken into chunks and arranged in a rough mosaic, upside-down, at the bottom of the newly-dug section, with the sandy soil mix (or sand with added soil) piled back on top.
I’ve made good progress though: the shed bed is now dug over and shaped, ready for the addition of plenty of organic matter in the Spring, before we start any serious planting (although one or two plants may live in there over winter, nursery-bed style). I’ve also dug out a couple of the path sections and back-filled with a mass of sand, ready for a layer of weed membrane and, eventually, gravel on top.
I also dug a good-sized sump at the far end of the path, where the down-spout from the shed spews its rainwater. About eighteen inches deep, filled in with all the rougher chunks of stone and brick I’ve removed from the shed bed, all well stamped down and topped with a layer of finer gravel. As it happened, the mid-September storm hit a few hours after I’d finished it, turning sump into pond… but only temporarily, so I think it seems to be working.
I’ve dug a trio three-foot post-holes as well – they were fun, I found a sub-layer of solid clay about eighteen inches down, which had to be carved out with a hand trowel – on the off-chance that the weather clears again long enough for me to get posts in and a couple of six-foot trellis panels fixed up, although I’m not sure that’s going to be possible before the onset of Autumn’s wet season (as opposed to Summer’s wet season…)
Here’s an out-of-the-bedroom-window pic of how things are coming along, overlaid with a general outline to show how we’re intending to divide up the space:
All in all though, I’m pleased with how much I’ve been able to get done so far, considering the ground conditions I’ve been working with. One more path section to dig out and sand in, up the centre of the grassy area. And then the larger bed to dig out once conditions improve again towards Spring. That should be a little easier; there’s a much deeper layer of topsoil to work with, so less juggling of soil / sand mixes etc. to slow me down.
Still to do in addition to that: installing the aforementioned six foot trellis panels, another, shorter trellis panel at the near end, a wooden arch across the path and an Indian stone seating platform nearer the house; edging the beds with split-log chestnut hurdles (we’re fetching those from a chap in York); digging compost / manure in to the main beds and mulching with composted bark; gravelling the paths, and then, the good bit: planting up. Jo and I are definitely looking forward to that, although it’s not going to happen this year as we’d originally hoped. So it goes. Slow and steady wins the race.
At this time of year, the greenhouse does double-duty as a giant drying-rack, first for the onions and garlic crop and then for runner and French beans. It’s also a great place to cure our winter squash harvest ready for storing, and this year we’re delighted that we’ve actually got a few squash to cure and store:
The weird and quite wonderful, knobbly-looking specimens are Cucurbita maxima ‘Turk’s turban’ and as you can see we ended up with seven good-sized fruits from our three-sisters patch. There were a few more that almost made it before the rot or the mice got them, but we’re happy with our seven; that’ll be plenty to keep us going a while(if I don’t get over-generous and start giving them away). I reckon they look like baking-squash to me, that rind will be a beggar to peel otherwise.
The three large, almost-round squash are mature Cucurbita pepo ‘Tondo di Piacenza’ (a.k.a. courgettes). An accidental discovery last year, when one last courgette matured into what a Twitter-correspondent from South Africa identified as a gem squash. So this year, I deliberately left one fruit on each Tondo plant to do its thing, and this is the result. If they’re as tasty as last year we’re in for a treat, especially once they’re steamed and then mashed with mountains of butter and black pepper. Yum.
We also have one rather small ‘spaghetti’ squash, a couple of courgettes-gone-to-marrows that we’re curing to see what happens, and a ‘tromboncino’ that isn’t going to win any prizes (more on that in another post) but will hopefully make a tasty meal or two. All in all, not bad at all, and we already have plans for boosting next year’s harvest…
Well, the chillis that I sowed back in January and have been nurturing in the greenhouse have been steadily growing away; setting flower, fruiting and now ripening up nicely. Here they are the other day:
I’m quite pleased with the size of the plants and the number of fruits, considering that it’s my first year giving chillis a serious go, and that I didn’t get round to putting any of them in the chilligrow planter than I bought specially for the purpose. Next year, definitely (I have plans for reorganising the greenhouse along more sensible lines…)
Most of the fruits that have ripened so far are the standard ‘cayenne’ variety, probably the one you see in most supermarkets. They’ve either been shared around (it’s a minor irony that I love growing chilli plants for some reason, but I’m not all that keen on cooking with them, as I tend to prefer spice to heat) or have been set aside for a batch of chilli jam. There are a few small fruits on one of the habanero / scotch bonnet plants that have ripened to bright red already. I might sneak those into the chilli jam as well, just to give it a bit of a kick.
Here are a couple of close-ups on the more interesting varieties – ‘pot black’ and ‘prairie fire’ that haven’t quite ripened yet:
I’m hoping the burst of warm weather we’re having this week will help them along towards ripening at long last.
The do say a picture is worth a thousand words, but I’ll briefly walk you through the above. From the top-left: a bag of apples and plums donated by a plot-neighbour; the last of this year’s maincrop ‘pink fir apple’ potatoes, with three giant black radishes on top; (in the box) autumn raspberries and Japanese wineberries; this year’s onion harvest, cleaned and trimmed and ready for storage; the first of this year’s ‘turk’s turban’ squashes (we have another nine or ten at varying stages of size and ripeness); a few more courgettes and a smallish spaghetti squash (at least, I think it is…); another bag of fresh runner and French beans, plus an unruly head of bolted purple cauliflower / broccoli.
Not too shabby, if we do say so ourselves.
Coming soon: sweetcorn, which I’m leaving a little longer to enjoy this week’s forecast sunshine, and perhaps the first of the cabbages.
Ah, the long lazy days of high Summer! (What’s that? Summer? Has it arrived yet? Are we due one? Answers on a postcard to the usual address…) Definitely long, but not so lazy if you’re an allotment holder, with early crops finishing and going over that need clearing away, and later crops just starting to come into their own, with plenty of picking, preparing and preserving to do as well. And of course, that’s before you start on the weeding…
Down on Plot #59 we’re in full Summer-to-Autumn transition phase. All the onions and garlic have been lifted and dried. The broad beans have finished producing and have been cleared away. The peas will follow shortly. The strawberries, gooseberries and blackcurrants are long-finished, but the Autumn-fruiting raspberries are starting to fruit on a regular basis. Likewise the Japanese wineberry: from a single plant we’ve had a regular supply of sweet, tart, raspberry-like fruits with just a hing of wine-gum about them.
The beans are in full flow: runners and French varieties alike. We’ve been eating them and giving them away for weeks now, and our freezer is packed to the gunnels with packets of beans for winter. It’s getting to the stage now where we’re deliberately leaving the larger pods on the plants to ripen up: we should have plenty of dried beans for winter soups and stews.
Our courgettes are marching on as well. The three ‘Tondo di Piacenza’ plants each produced a full-sized fruit, so we have three large squashes maturing for use later in the year. Speaking of squashes, this is the first year we’ve grwon ‘Turk’s Turban’ and the results have been impressive: we’ve got a good dozen maturing on their vines in the ‘three sisters’ section at the front of the plot, alongside some nicely-ripening sweetcorn cobs (and yet more beans).
This year’s leeks have been planted out and the area nearby cleared, ready for the seed garlic which will be arriving before too long from the Garlic Farm.
I’ve made a start on lifting the last of the blight hit second early potatoes – ‘pink fir apple’, which a couple of folks have told me is particularly blight-susceptible – and I’m happy to say that the crop has been reasonable, if not as impressive as last year. The tubers are smallish, but perfectly usable and tasty. Thankfully, taking swift action to remove the haulms seems to have kept the blight from infecting them, so they should store quite nicely.
None of the cabbages are ready yet – they’ve only been in the ground since late July so there’s a chance they went in a bit too late, but we’ll see – apart from a bit of calabrese-style broccoli. Hopefully we’ll start to get some kale in September. The sprouts seem to be coming along nicely though, and we have lifted a few decent-sized turnips, and some very tasty black radishes that I sowed on a whim.
And of course, the floral department continues to put on a good display. The sunflowers are starting to look a little ragged around the edges, but the Dahlias, Lavender, sweet peas, Tagetes, wallflowers, evening primrose and Verbena are still going strong and the Nasturtiums are everywhere. Jo has planted out a few rudbeckia, black-eyed Susan, and Zinnia as well. We’ll have a lot more flowers on show next year, when we sort out the central path and dig out flower beds either side.
Apart from all of the above, the main work on Plot #59 has been the aforementioned weed-clearing. Unfortunately our plot-neighbour to the back moved to a new plot and his old one has been left to go to wrack and ruin, rather than taken on by new tenants. So that’s now weed-choked and is spreading seed, spores and rhizomes through to the back of ours. And another plot-neighbour hasn’t been around as much as usual (for entirely valid personal reasons), so his plot is starting to go the same way. I’d love to spend a bit of time helping him out, but to be perfectly honest there’s more than enough to do to keep our own plot in reasonable shape at the moment. I’m spending a lot of time at home digging out the first bed for our cottage garden project, so that’s keeping me from putting in the hours that I’d like to.
Well, nowt for it but to do what I can, when I can: roll up my sleeves, reach for the fork and dig out the worst of the weeds, then get the covers down and try to keep the beggars at bay until we next need the ground for planting. That’s the allotmenteers way: grin and get on with it.