Picking, propagation, preparing, preserving

This is the third blog of my series of blog posts, explaining how to grow vegetables and herbs which can be sown now to see you through the winter and spring โ€“ no hungry gap in 2018!
I have added the category No Hungry Gap, so you can find all of the blogs easily using the search facility.

All of the sowing for the polytunnel, except for carrot and radish which I’ll sow direct, is finished. It’s September 26th, I am sure it was mid July just a few days ago…..

Now it is time to:

  • continue harvesting
  • clear any dead leaves or plants and compost
  • clear any plants which are bolting or unlikely to produce any more fruit and compost
  • continue to prick out seedlings
  • make sure you have carrot and radish seeds ready to sow
  • preserve, eat and enjoy your autumn abundance

The spinach, which did not go according to plan, has lots of gaps. This might be due to some slugs which I found under the module trays, as there is no reason why half the tray should have failed to germinated, it was all the same seed in the same compost. So I have sown fresh spinach ‘Medania’ into modules today and am hoping for the best!

There are a few gaps too in the dill (again, more than likely due to nibbling pests) but most of the seedlings are growing really well. Every few days, I prick out some more seedlings into modules when they are ready as the seed varieties germinate at different rates. (I explain sowing and pricking out techniques in this post).

Meanwhile, I’ve been busy in the polytunnel harvesting and clearing. First of all though I have to get into the polytunnel, past this….

Recent storms caused a lot of damage in my garden and allotment, I’ve had to write off all of my climbing French beans (completely flattened at the allotment, they are still there reclining because I’ve not had the time yet to compost them, a fiddly job). About the only thing keeping this teepee of runner beans up is the thick stalk of the sunflower. Entering the polytunnel is somewhat tricky…

First task – harvesting all of the ripe tomatoes… there are many! So, so many. I think I have overdone the number of tomato plants this year, something to note down and remember for next spring. Too many tomatoes is a nice problem to have.

Outdoor tomatoes were affected by blight a few weeks ago; it has now got into the polytunnel. Although I keep the leaves dry and the tunnel well ventilated, I think side shoots touching the polytunnel roof, where condensation gathers, helped create the right moisture and warmth conditions for it.

When I discovered the blight infestation I immediately tore off my clothes, set fire to them and the polytunnel, streaked up the garden (alarming the neighbours!), in order to shower for a couple of hours to remove any trace of the spores…..

Of course I didn’t! But there is a lot of misinformation out there about blight (often sponsored by organisations who sell products to help prevent blight – it is always worth considering the source of information and whether or not there might be an ulterior motive). In the UK it is airborne and only survives on living tissue, it is fine to compost it in regular garden compost heaps. Just make sure it has composted, exactly as you would anything else you are adding to the composters. I cut off all of the blighted parts, except the stems as that would of course chop the plant in half, and put them in my dalek composter and a homemade pallet one.

It is fine to eat tomatoes from a blighted plant, you won’t get blight.

I harvested everything that was ready – only the absolute ripest of the cherry tomatoes as there are hundreds of them – including cucumbers, aubergines and sweet peppers. The raspberries are growing outside, not in my tunnel.

Use any damaged tomatoes first. We made a delicious roasted tomato soup from the split and nibbled tomatoes.

Basil doesn’t like English autumnal weather much, the leaves and stems are starting to turn brown. I’ve allowed almost all of the plants to flower to provide more food for foraging bees (the polytunnel doors are open all day for the bees) until I pull it out. I’ll preserve the fragrant leaves in pestos, sauces and also dried. You can use the flowers too.

Pak choi, planted a few weeks ago as a catch crop, is bolting due to the warm temperatures in the polytunnel. It’s still good to eat; I harvest it whole for stir fries and roasting. Pak choi is excellent for attracting pests – I’m sure slugs can smell it from miles away! Check for slugs before cooking, I found 3 – don’t tell my sons!

All of my regular melon vines have died back, so I’m ripening the last of the melons indoors. In comparison, the Kiwano (horned melon) is still growing and growing…. This is my first year trying Kiwano, all I know is the fruit turns a bright orange when ripe.


Now is a good time to clear all dead or dying vegetation and compost.

Both the green and red perilla/shiso is producing flowers – having never seen them before, I am curious so have left the plants in the ground for an extra week. I’m thinking of leaving one shiso plant to see what happens, but the rest will come out soon. In a few weeks I’ll dig out the clump of lemongrass photographed below and transfer to a pot to over winter indoors, the rest is going to remain in the polytunnel.

My Blue Butterfly pea plants clearly demonstrate the problems of trying to grow a tropical plant in Somerset. It’s just getting going as the season is coming to an end. Not frost hardy, it won’ survive the winter here. I am pondering what to do with this one ๐Ÿ™‚

After harvesting, remove all blighted leaves and fruit, plus any side shoots.

Afterwards, the plants look rather startled. If you can, it is worth going round again as there are always some sneaky blighted leaves or fruits hiding!

I stopped watering the tomatoes 2 weeks ago; this helps to encourage the plant to concentrate on ripening the fruit. ย It’s a bit tricky as I still need to water the plants growing between them so they will be getting some moisture. If you have continued to water don’t worry, just stop now. I’m trying to speed things up because I have a deadline looming – if you have any unripe tomatoes when it is time to clear them it’s not a problem; there are various ways of ripening the fruit off the parent plant.

Usually, I would be leaving tomatoes here until the 10th-14th October or even later, which is an ideal time for the milder areas of the UK. If you live further north, you might also want to clear your tomatoes at the same time as me, which will be the week commencing October 2nd.

This is a side shoot for Rosada F1 which I’m going to remove and (hopefully!) overwinter. They are not selling Rosada seeds anymore, so this is the only way of continuing to grow it. Charles has been doing this successfully for a few years, this is my first go. More on this in another post, soon.

In my kitchen there are crates of tomatoes, aubergine, sweet peppers, summer squash, courgettes….. All of this needs preserving! I’m planning what else to make, using some of my library of preserving books to get ideas – I’ll be explaining more in another post and sharing some recipes.

More tomato ideas in this blog post including a tomato tart recipe and many ideas in our book, No Dig Home and Garden.

In my next post, I will be looking at planning the crucial next stages, so that we can keep focused on what needs doing and when over the next few weeks.


10 thoughts on “Picking, propagation, preparing, preserving”

  1. Thanks Stephanie for all the lovely tips and advice , when you are quite new to all this like I am it gets a little confusing at what to do this time of year . You are making it a lot easier to understand . I have got Charles’s Diary and my next book is No dig Home and Garden xxx

  2. You forgot the ‘Turn round 3 times on the same spot’ when finding the blight! ๐Ÿ˜‚
    I lost all my outside Tomatoes and 1 greenhouse Tomato to blight, luckily they didnโ€™t get it in the polytunnel.
    My Melons werenโ€™t that great in the tunnel this year, the leaves and stems all died off before the fruit had fully ripened and the taste was indifferent. Oh well, I’ll get it right next year ๐Ÿ˜„๐Ÿ˜„

    I hope you get the Rosada plants through the winter, itโ€™s a tasty Tomato but as you said, you canโ€™t get the seed now. Iโ€™ll have to make do with Sungold and Maskotka next year as my cherry ones.

    Thanks for all the info in the update. ๐Ÿ‘

  3. So much information – thank you!!! I’ve blinked and missed September, am I too late to sow any ‘funky brassicas’? I’m so annoyed with myself having ordered the seeds nice and early.

    1. I think it is worth trying, especially as you already have the seeds. You’ll get a later crop but that’s still worthwhile.

      Last year I planted mustards and kale outside in November as an experiment, they sat there most of the winter but in the late winter/early spring suddenly took off and we had a great crop of leaves. It helped that it was a mild winter of course (here in Somerset).

  4. Pingback: Clearing the polytunnel for new plantings – nodighome

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