“Now autumn strews on every plain,
His mellow fruits and fertile grain;
And laughing plenty, crown’d with sheaves,
With purple grapes, and spreading leaves.”
Felicia Dorothea Hermans
How can it possibly be almost October? October is the month of National Poetry Day (taking place this year on Thursday 3rd), so I thought I’d start with a verse! This year’s theme is ‘truth’ which made me ponder on the success of this year’s ‘harvest’. Could I truthfully say that the garden has been more productive than ever? My honest answer is, I think so. We seem to have been picking fruit, herbs and vegetables since early spring but, as with any year, there have been successes and, perhaps not disasters, but let’s just say things that didn’t quite go to plan!
Fruit has been incredibly abundant. Two years ago John remarked that the way the raspberries were developing, we would be making jam another year. How true! Little did I think we would be adding strawberry to that list alongside our more usual cherry plum and, hopefully, crab apple jelly still to come. The fridge is looking a little full so I shall be seeking to sell a few jars in aid of good causes. [See The Joy of Jam Making for a better insight and Thinking Forward to Fruit for where I was at with fruit growing a couple of year’s ago!]
If fruit was on the up side of things, then my peas were definitely on the down side. Every year I try to grow a bigger pea harvest but I seem to be thwarted. Top of my ‘don’t bother to try that again’ list was a late sowing. They were the last peas in the packet and they sulked. In the end I had just two seedlings which I gave up on as it was clear that they were never going to produce anything. I knew it was a gamble when I sowed them but part of my motivation was the failure of two previous sowings. The first sowing of the season was excellent and we were able to make our delicious ‘pasta with peas’ recipe (seek out Ursula Ferrigno’s Truly, Madly, Pasta) and we also had sufficient to add to a number of other dishes but the second two sowings fell victim to slug attack when the previously dry summer suddenly decided to become wet!
Back on the up side of things, this was a good year for garlic it turns out. Last year’s grew well but stored poorly but I am hoping for better things this year. As you can see from the photo, I started out determined that they would do well! The chicken wire was born out of discovering that, if the squirrels weren’t pinching the planted cloves, then the cats were digging them up! Back in November I planted two varieties, Early Purple Wight and Provence Wight, most of which have produced some good sized, healthy looking bulbs with quite a strong flavour. Normally when I lift them, I brush as much soil off the bulbs as possible and then lay them out, leaves and all, in a seed tray which I then put in the greenhouse to dry off before I do a final clean, trim and store. Last year I think I left them in the greenhouse for far too long, so this year I was particularly careful and allowed them to dry for just a week before I put them into storage. They seem to be doing well at the moment so I hope this was the right decision.
Garlic starting to sprout (c) Elizabeth Malone
Weather-wise I have called this the yo-yo summer as the temperature has gone up and down quite randomly. I seem to recall one weekend when we all roasted just on the Saturday and went back to reaching for cardigans on the Sunday! This has made judging when to sow and where to nurture seedlings really quite tricky. I lost one of my earlier sowings of peas when the beautiful fresh green shoots were burnt to a crisp in my greenhouse on an unexpectedly hot day. My tomatoes sat in the greenhouse for a very long time before I actually got to eat one! Late July and early August lacked sunshine and in the end I removed the shading early in the hopes of encouraging the fruit to ripen. The inevitable result of that was a sudden tomato glut when they all decided to ripen at once!
To avoid my salad leaves simply being slug food, I grow them as ‘cut and come again’ leaves in trays which I normally start off in the protection of the greenhouse. Having experienced the pea episode, I have spent more time this summer than usual, walking up and down the side of the house manoeuvring trays of rocket, red oak leaf and chard into either warmer or shadier spots depending on the forecast temperature. Twice I failed miserably and had to start again. In contrast to the tomato experience, the cooler, damper conditions of August were a welcome relief and we’ve had some great pickings.
Some crops are also more sensitive to weather conditions that others. For example, beans stop producing once the temperature goes much over about 28 degrees Celsius. That used to be a rare event in the UK and so not much to worry about but this year and last it has become more the norm. Does this mean that I will be wasting my time sowing beans in the future? Despite my failed late sowing of peas, I did the same with my French beans and, at the time of writing, the plants are scrambling enthusiastically up their canes so I am hoping that we may succeed in picking an autumnal crop.
By trying to get a late crop of beans, I’m not trying to defy the seasons. The September edition of Gardeners World Magazine focused on the seasons and what they mean. This year my church has decided to celebrate Harvest in October because it happens to fit in with other arrangements. There is nothing wrong with that but, living in the urban environment as we do, it’s important to remember how the produce from our gardens and the nature surrounding us is changing significantly at this time of year and, when we look on the supermarket shelves, to remind ourselves that we are not meant to eat strawberries in December in the UK! That said, I’m not going to preach about seasonality as life is just too busy not to succumb occasionally to non-seasonal produce. That said, I did enjoy this quote from Monty Don, reminding us of just how privileged we gardeners can be.
“The seasons connect us directly to the true rhythms of life. … No one is more connected to them than those of us lucky enough to have a garden.” (Monty Don, Gardeners’ World Magazine, September 2019)