I returned home from a fortnight’s holiday earlier this week, during which time our regular weekly articles have been on hold. After an ebullient welcome from Wren I dropped my bags in the house and made a beeline for the vegetable garden and polytunnel.
I had spent the week before we travelled madly crossing tasks off a seemingly endless vegetable garden job list. First of these was to clear the tomatoes from the polytunnel, which had finally succumbed to blight. Given the cold, wet summer I had been concerned that we would not have a comparable harvest to previous years. I normally start processing tomatoes for the pantry in early August, but this year they did not come on stream properly until the third week. Then it was all systems go.
Having bottled whole tomatoes for a couple of years, I have found the process to be too time consuming and the final product takes up too much room in the pantry, so I’ve now settled on two main ways of preserving them. Passata made with a passa pomodoro tomato mill (20 litres this year, which is comparable with previous years) and a tomato concentrate made from dehydrated cherry tomatoes reduced to a paste in the food processor with olive oil. There is still a tray full of green tomatoes in the tool shed, which we will eat green now or as they ripen over the next month or so.
This year I mainly grew varieties I was familiar with, including the ever heavy-cropping ‘Purple Ukraine’, ‘Orange Banana’ and ‘Feo de Rio Gordo’, some fruits of which weigh in at 500g. The best new discovery this year was the purple-shouldered ‘Blue Beauty’, which surprisingly was the earliest to produce fruit and delicious eaten raw.
Left in the polytunnel to continue growing until our return were aubergines, peppers, chillis and melons, which I was keen to check on my return. Five aubergines that were small when we left are now a decent size to harvest, including a pale, purple streaked variety named ‘The Bride’, grown from seed gifted by a friend. Having failed for many years with aubergines I was delighted to get the plants to flowering size this year. Again they were a little late to fruit due to the cold, but we had a good number of meals from them in August, particularly from ‘Black Beauty’, the variety most fool proof for growing in our cooler climate.
The peppers have been more productive than ever this year and were still mostly green when we left. Apart from ‘Amanda’, a pale yellow wax pepper, which I harvested and put into the salad drawer, where they have come to no harm during my absence. Those we left are now as red as they ever will be and need picking before the weather gets much colder. I am planning to chargrill, peel and deseed them this weekend and bottle them in a vinegar brine so they can be used throughout the winter. The ’Hungarian Magyar’ (the traditional paprika pepper) and ‘Jalapeño’ chillis I will smoke and then dry to be made into chilli powder.
In the cleared tomato beds I sowed the following;
Cime di rapa
Hungry Gap kale
I returned to good germination of everything apart from the winter lettuce. These usually provide well for us throughout the winter, with some plants grown outdoors under cloches and some in the polytunnel and we wouldn’t want to be without them, so this has meant a last minute online order of plug plants, which feels like failure, but I know we will be glad of them come December. We have found that those grown under cover outside fare better and we were still eating last year’s ‘Rouge d’Hiver’ in May of this year. Those in the polytunnel produce soft, lax growth and, in the damper environment, are more prone to mould and rot.
On the harvesting list prior to departure were;
Beetroot (to store)
Carrots (to store)
Turnips (to store)
Kohl rabi (to store)
The cobnuts I managed to get to before the squirrels this year and, left out in the sun at the beginning of September, they quickly turned from green to brown. The roots were put into potato sacks and into the barn in an elevated position to deter mice and rats. The incredibly productive gherkin cucumbers I have been fermenting all summer with garlic, chilli and dill, so that the fridge is now full of pickles for the next few months. I did the same with some of the kohl rabi and plan to make a turnip kimchi this weekend with some of the larger ones.
Although we still grow climbing beans I have developed a preference for bush beans in the last few years. They can be grown in pots undercover and planted out earlier than the heat-loving climbers and I make a number of successional sowings from early May until the end of June. This year I was keen to grow more beans for drying, as we eat a lot of pulses in the winter and I wanted to see what kind of yield we could achieve from our plot. Despite being the earliest to flower – and perhaps again in response to the cold weather – the ‘Greek Gigantes’ beans were not as productive as I had anticipated. Two climbing plants produced a scant 700g of dried beans, but this was a trial and so I will make space for 6 plants next year, dig in more manure than usual and hope for a warmer summer and harvest of a couple of kilos. The borlotti beans that we grow every year were as productive as usual and will provide plenty of winter meals as the days grow colder.
A new pumpkin discovery was ‘Thelma Saunders’ Sweet Potato’, an acorn type squash which I grew up tall hazel wigwams. Two plants each produced five amber-coloured, fluted fruits and took up just more than a square metre of ground.
Although the season is closing in there is still plenty to harvest to keep me busy this weekend and next. Namely, the apples and pears. We have just bought an old apple store and I will look forward to filling this with some of our heavy croppers and good keepers this weekend. I picked a basket of ‘Ashmead’s Kernel’ and ‘William Crump’ this morning, which will be the first to take occupancy tomorrow, to be followed by ‘Blenheim Orange’ and ‘Pomeroy of Somerset’. Then onto the ‘Bramleys’ and ‘Peter Lock’ for pureeing and freezing.
The pears are almost finished, apart from the queen of them all, ‘Doyenné du Comice’, which waits to greet us every year when we return from Greece. Just this week the fruits have started to release their hold on the branches when gently twisted, and so I have been gathering them carefully to ensure no bruising before placing them in perforated trays to ripen. With such precious fruits checking them is a daily exercise and as soon as the tip of the fruit near the stem yields to gentle pressure we find an excuse to eat it as soon as possible. If kept carefully in a cool, dark place we are still eating these in mid-November.