It is the first day of September and autumn has been in the air now for a few weeks, earlier than usual here in Somerset. The garden is full of vegetables, fruit and flowers, bright with sunflowers and snapdragons, but now when I rise at 5 am the sky is still dark and the curtains remain drawn until almost 6 o’clock. I have ordered firewood…Driving to Charles’ to pick, the air is chilly and there’s mist across the fields; although sandals and shorts go in the car for mid-morning, I once again need to put on a vest for dawn gardening!
The polytunnel creates a microclimate within my garden, extending the season and harvests considerably. Relaxed summer picking, baskets of ripe tomatoes, cucumbers, basil, aubergines, harvested and eaten daily for meals (my sons can eat their own body weight in cherry tomatoes and cucumbers every day!) is now transformed with a sense of urgency. The nip of chilly air reminds me that the summer crops will soon be ending and it is time to preserve everything that I can.
There is another motivating force this year – I have to have all of the winter crops in the polytunnel by the 9th October, a couple of weeks earlier than usual. This is to make sure that everything is well watered in and happy before I go away for a couple of weeks (burglars please note, my house will still be occupied!) I’m often asked to explain my schedule for growing over wintered edibles in the poly tunnels, so will be blogging regularly about the transformation from summer to winter from now until then, including what I’m growing, timings for sowing, watering, etc. If you follow this routine, making allowances for your location of course, then you should have a polytunnel, greenhouse or cloche full of wonderful food to see you right through to mid spring when the summer plantings all happen again.
The polytunnel is currently pretty full…..!
And is home not only to my food but wildlife too including a lot of spiders and some young toads:
Most things have grown amazingly well. I have a small problem with the melons, which were labelled when planted but grew crazily and now I don’t know what most of them are! Some plants mysteriously died off before the fruit ripened and the watermelon pictured below fell off, not yet ripe (I am going to try pickling its rind). I have absolutely no idea what the large furry fruits are! I clearly bought the seed because I have several of the plants, but none of the photos of the melons online are like it. It is possibly Five Desserts, as it is so big, but I am not sure.
The melons were all planted in the side beds this year, growing up and along strings.
I enjoy making salsa from the Tortarello, which tastes like a melony-cucumber. It is firm and fresh tasting, easy to grow.
Other more unusual edibles include blue butterfly peas, lemongrass, cinnamon, Thai and Holy basil, Thai pea aubergines, Papalo, Pipiche and Quillquina. These last three are from the Real Seed Company, I am still experimenting with their use.
There’s also green and red Perilla/Shiso. I had no idea that green Shiso grows so tall in a polytunnel, it is about 5 feet now! The shiso plants at my allotment are much smaller than this. Green shiso is much used in Japanese recipes.
Clearing some melon plants which had mysteriously died and basil which was past its best created useful space to pop in module grown Florence fennel and Pak Choi. Growing in modules helps to make optimum use of space – the young transplants are growing as the older plants finish, and are ready to put in as needed. Polytunnels are a precious resource and this helps to make the most of their protective microclimate.
First I watered the polytunnel thoroughly using a hose… I am not very good at avoiding my legs!
Making holes with the dibber in the moist compost, I planted the pak choi and fennel in gaps. Pak choi is a fantastic slug attracter, you can see where some have had a nibble of the leaves. The pak choi will be ready to harvest quickly, the fennel takes a lot longer but is an autumn crop. Soon I’ll be sowing fennel which will over winter for an early spring crop.
Over the weekend I’ll be planning my schedule for sowing, planting, harvesting and transforming the polytunnel; this will be on my blog very soon along with recipes and ideas for preserving the summer harvest.
Tomorrow I have a full day baking for our open day at Homeacres on Sunday! Many of the cakes will have hidden vegetable ingredients 🙂