This week began with the Autumn Equinox, the festival of Mabon, which starts on September 21st although the actual time of the equinox was Sunday 23rd at around 2am (in the UK). Day and night are of equal length once more, before the nights get longer and the days shorter. It is a time for celebrating the harvest and making preparations for the winter. At this time of year, gathering food to store from my garden and allotment in the warm, golden light of the afternoons (weather permitting!!), I always think how for our ancestors this must have been a time of celebration, busy-ness and uncertainty – so much to harvest, prepare and preserve! Would the stores last the whole winter through until spring comes again?
It’s not quite the same for us in Britain 2018, but the sense of accomplishment as we bring in homegrown squash to ‘cure’ on the windowsill, slice the last runner beans for the freezer or preserve that forgotten courgette which transformed into a marrow in a spicy chutney, is lovely. It speaks to something deep within us, an ancient desire to put something aside for the winter months.
These photos were taken yesterday morning at around 7 am driving to Alhampton, so two days after full moon. It was 1˚C so rather chilly. In front of me, the bright setting moon. Behind, the sun rising.
On Monday a dazzling Harvest Moon made sleep difficult (it was like daytime outside) and the clear sky sent temperatures falling for the first time this autumn. My garden and allotment just escaped the frost, but over at Charles’ Homeacres the garden shivered with two days of ground frosts. Concerned about his czar and borlotti beans still not quite ready to harvest, Charles made them a cosy tent out of fleece!
It’s a time of transformation in the garden. Summer plants are coming to an end; as they die back and are removed, it’s the time of the autumn and overwintering crops to shine in the garden – my Brussel sprouts really are looking lovely 🙂 And there’s so much still to harvest, plant and sow!
It’s a time of change too for this blog! Over the next couple of weeks I will be setting up a page so that I can sell my new book The Creative Kitchen, for those who would like a signed or dedicated copy (published in November). The blog will have a different, one that I hope will be easier to navigate; the content is going to stay the same. I’ll be doing all of this myself so there may well be a few teething troubles to begin with as I’m a gardener not a web designer – please bear with me if it goes a bit peculiar for a day or so 🙂
In the greenhouse, I’ve been pricking out many of the seedlings sown a couple of weeks ago into module trays, so they can grow on to become sturdy transplants. The greenhouse is filling up! It is sunny here most days, temperatures in the greenhouse reaching over 30˚C (85˚F) so I’m watering the seedlings every morning and sometimes in the evening too.
If your seedlings have got ‘leggy’, bury them up to their ‘necks’ in the compost when pricking out. I use a pencil as a little dibber to make the holes and gently ease the seedling into place.
Seedlings sown earlier in the month are ready to plant now. Most of these are for the polytunnel and I will be planting them today when I’ve finished writing this blog.
Be kind to your future self. After watering, refill the watering can so that it’s always ready for use. It really does make things easier.
My greenhouse is really old, this is as clean as the glass gets. I think it was treated with something a long time ago by a previous owner that just doesn’t want to come off.
At Homeacres, Charles’ greenhouse is full of seedlings too – he needs a lot more lettuce plants than me for the market garden! Many of the module trays under the bench have been in use for over 30 years.
Harvesting happily creates abundant ingredients for the compost heap as plants are cleared. My under-the-apple-tree compost heap is full, so I have made it an ‘extension’ out of flattened cardboard boxes to create a bit more space. Remember to remove any tape or staples first. It will rot down along with the other composting materials. Comfrey is a great addition to the heap, I have several plants in my back garden.
At the moment I can’t actually get to my kitchen table! The beans here need shelling, they’ll be fine for a few days in these trays until I have the time. All of the squash will go on windowsills for a week or two to cure, and then onto shelves in the living room and kitchen for winter use.
These are my biggest squash! Musquee de Provence, from Real Seeds. They are not quite ripe yet but I didn’t want to risk them getting frosted. They’ll ripen to orange. I don’t have a windowsill large enough to accommodate them, so will have to improvise; at the moment they are on newspaper on the living room floor. These weighed 16.4 kg and 12.1 kg (approx 36 lb and 26 1/2 lb)!!
Seasonal Tip! Keep an eye on the weather forecasts for your area for frost. I am bringing in less hardy pot plants such as pelargoniums, lemon verbena and chillies. Anything in the polytunnel will be fine here (Somerset) for now.
Making the most of my tomato and courgette gluts, I’m drying slices for winter use. They store well in glass jars and are a delicious addition to soups, stews, salads, pates and sauces.
The basil is starting to die back a bit and I am letting more of it flower as useful food for bees and other insects. I’ll be preserving some basil in oil in the freezer, some in chutneys and sauces and also drying a lot. It’s lovely to see roses in bloom – I dry the petals, too for herbal teas, cooking and making ‘potions’. There are recipe ideas for using rose petals in my new book, The Creative Kitchen.
In the front garden, I grow a lot of wildflowers which self seed with enthusiasm. Yesterday I weeded this bed, composted old brassica leaves, removed two courgettes to make some space (they were still producing but I have another 10 plants!) and interplanted with endive and chicories. There are some spring onion modules to go in too which are not quite ready yet.
As I won’t be able to give this bed an autumn mulch (it’s too full) I sprinkled some Organic Extra from Marshalls to give it a bit of oomph. I was given this tub to try out and it is very easy to use, doesn’t smell too bad either: ideal for small gardens, I have also been mixing it with compost for plants in pots. A veganic option would be comfrey and nettle feed, comfrey pellets or seaweed meal or liquid.
I put up the cloche hoops (they were being thrown out at a place I was working at a few years ago!!) and covered with butterfly netting to protect against butterflies and pigeons.
At this time of year when the jobs are really mounting up, it is good to concentrate on one thing at a time – so although I knew the sprouts bed also needs a weed, I focused on this one bed. That way you get a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction rather than worrying about not having got everything done (I am very good at worrying about that!)
Another job for this week is stacking the logs. My log stores are made from old tables and crates rescued from skips (with permission) to raise the pile off the ground. I’m doing this in half hour or so blocks so I don’t hurt my back.
At Homeacres, we harvested some carrots and beetroot from the Dig/No Dig experiment and were rather surprised at the difference!
Off now to hang out the washing and plant that polytunnel. But before I go, a few pictures of a mud larking adventure last week! I was in London at the Landscape Trade Show in Battersea and took the opportunity for a walk beside the Thames. It’s amazing what you can spot on the muddy banks. I met a real modern day mudlark with a metal detector who said that this bank is for him a little oasis of calm in the city.
The treasure I spotted was mostly bits of clay pipe, glass and pottery. There are also a lot of bones!
NB: You need a permit to properly mud lark ie: use a metal detector or dig into the mud, searching for treasure. I was basically just going for a walk, but I felt like a real mud lark!