THE AUTUMN HARVEST
As autumn comes to an end most crops have been harvested and we can assess the results of our gardening skills and the effects of weather on the different plants.
It has been a good growing season for those plants that like plenty moisture, but a poor one for those that prefer a bit of sunshine after a shower. Many plants need a dryish warm and sunny spell at maturity to ripen up. This helps them to sweeten up, improve the flavour and assists their ability to store well. That kind of weather has been in very short supply this autumn.
This is a very busy time to harvest, dry off, clean and find storage space in garages, sheds or the freezer. However there are still many vegetables still growing slowly to take us into the winter with fresh healthy greens. Brassicas have really enjoyed the wet year. Cabbage, kale and Brussels sprouts have been excellent, though losses from clubroot and attacks from mealy aphis, caterpillars and cabbage rootfly very serious. Early summer cauliflowers were wiped out by clubroot so I grew a stronger batch in pots for late summer cuttings. These got wiped out by rootfly. Alas the home gardener no longer has any chemicals to protect our crops from these attacks.
At least leeks do not seem to have any pest or disease problems and it has been an excellent year to grow huge Swedes.
My last variety of apple has now been picked. Bramley is a huge fruited cooker that is very reliable giving heavy crops that store right into March. The tree is strong and not affected by many pests or diseases, though I always find and remove a few mildew infected young shoots in spring. These primary infections come from overwintering spores in buds that develop as the young bud grows. However if you remove them quickly you prevent the disease spreading.
The huge crop was more than we can use, so a batch of good windfalls, smaller fruit and those with blemishes was put to immediate good use. I needed 30lbs for a three gallon batch of Sauternes type wine also adding raisins and ripe bananas for body, strength and flavour. With modern yeasts it is not too difficult to achieve a high alcohol content for this sweet dessert wine, if only I can be patient enough to wait till it reaches a fuller maturity. Gardening can be very rewarding. This is what makes the hard graft very worthwhile.
Other Bramleys going into storage are sorted into boxes and kept in my cold garage. They get a regular inspection and any showing signs of brown rot are removed immediately. Bramley is the perfect apple for cooking and numerous recipes abound for crumbles, stewed fruit, pies, stir fries, added to a cooked breakfast, curries, apple jelly, sauces, baked apples.
The gardener has no a bad life!!!
Dessert apples Fiesta and Red Falstaff are in store and continue to be used daily. Red Devil apples were fantastic, but have now all been eaten.
Under glass the Black Hamburg grape continues to fruit, but lack of sunshine has caused some bunches to shrivel up without ripening. Not such a heavy crop as last year and outdoors my Brant grape is late but needed to be picked as the blackbird found them, told his mates and I had to chase four of them off before I could pick them. The berries were picked from the stalks, crushed and put in a pan to heat up and simmer for ten minutes. This helps to extract the juice and sterilise it. It is then strained through a jelly bag and bottled in sterile plastic bottles. These will keep for two weeks in a fridge, and any surplus bottles can be frozen.
Growth has been excellent but lack of sunshine has prevented them from fully ripening even if they are grown against a sheltered south facing fence. They really need a decent summer if you grow them outdoors. I still await my first fruit and although I have great patience, I am not hopeful.
Swiss chard always looks brilliant in such a wide range of bright colours and it is a very healthy plant to eat. It is having a good year unlike my beetroot which have struggled badly to grow bigger than a baby beet. They might be delicious, but there is nothing to store.
Courgettes were very poor with me as my plants got severely damaged by the gales in May and never really recovered, but other gardeners who kept them protected at that crucial time have had a great crop with massive surpluses.
Pumpkins need plenty moisture, a rich soil with extra feeding and warm sunny weather to pollinate the flowers and produce a good crop. This then needs a lot of sunshine to ripen up the swelling fruit. Sadly my two plants only produced two small pumpkins. I did not need a wheelbarrow to take in this year’s crop. However they do make a terrific soup, so my small crop will be much appreciated even if only for a very short spell.
Leeks are looking very strong and should keep cropping right through winter into next March.
Kale, swedes and Brussels sprouts are also in good form so we should be ok for healthy living if the snow arrives early and if it gets too cold I may just open up a bottle of my Apple/sauternes wine to cheer us up.