Looking back at a unique year
There’s no escaping the fact that summer is now over and we are, meterologically, astronomically and weather-wise, firmly into autumn. As I’m writing this the rain is lashing down and a gusty wind is blowing, with a weekend of soggy weather in the forecast. Luckily I managed to get down to the allotment during a dry gap yesterday, so it’s a good time to write about what’s happening down there now.
Recently my visits have been more hit and miss than earlier in the growing season, and it shows. The weeds and grass have had a late growth spurt and windy weather was the final straw for some of the old canes that I had to re-use as I couldn’t get new ones. The runner beans, still flowering and producing beans, are now leaning over the path and the tomatoes have been whipped into untidy shapes as canes broke and are now tangled round each other.
Many plants are reaching the end of their growing season and showing their age. Sweetcorn, courgette and squash plants are all turning brown and decaying. The tomato plants, although all blight resistant (tolerant) varieties, couldn’t hold out forever and now have blight – happily it hasn’t yet reached the fruit.
A huge infestation of whitefly and a smaller infestation of cabbage aphid threatened to destroy all the brassicas during the warm sunny weather in September. Ironically as the plants are covered in enviromesh to keep insects off I didn’t notice the problem early enough (the netting has developed a few holes which was all these tiny opportunists needed). As soon as I realised what was happening I blasted all the plants with a jet of water from the hose and watered them well which, along with the cold nights and recent rain has reduced the problem. As long as I keep tabs on it now and squish the critters regularly, the plants should survive.
Slugs and snails have been enjoying the wet spells of weather. The runner beans might still be cropping, but the dwarf french beans were gradually reduced to skeletons. It would have been good to keep these going a bit longer, but they’d done well and I haven’t had a lot of damage generally this year, so it’s not the end of the world.
Digging up and picking
Late summer and early autumn is the busiest time for harvesting on my allotment. I started digging up some of the potatoes in September. I do this in stages one row at a time so I can reduce the time I have them in storage and be eating them as I dig them up as well. It’s ok to leave some in until late October usually, as long as the slugs don’t start getting into them.
If you want to store them it’s best to dig them up on a warm, dry day. Leave some soil on them and lay them out so the skins dry thoroughly. This helps to stop them rotting or shrivelling too quickly in storage. I keep mine in canvas potato bags in the shed and I’ve found that Sarpo Kifli (on the left) will keep till at least Christmas, and Arran Victory has kept well until March.
Other crops need to be eaten straight away or frozen.
Sweetcorn ‘Moonshine’ is a new variety and I was really pleased with it. These were the plants I feared were about to die when I planted them, but they grew and produced these big cobs that were almost all perfectly pollinated. I think the windy weather might have helped. They also tasted delicious. The cobs in the photo were from the second picking which I did a couple of weeks after the first so they lasted well on the plant, too.
The tomatoes are ‘Cocktail Crush’ and ‘Oh Happy Day’ both tasty and both, as I say, still ripening although the plants do now have blight.
The beetroot and turnips are from a late sowing in early June which has germinated and grown really well. I’ve read you can store beetroot but I find they shrivel quite fast so I put them in pot roasts, casseroles, salads and sandwiches. I’ve also made two curries and a beetroot and spinach daal this year, all delicious, although there seemed to be almost too much beetroot in the curries – and I love beetroot.
The cabbage ‘Summer Jewel’ has formed huge heads which I usually shred and add to stir fries. It freezes well, too, and making sauerkraut is an easy and effective way to store it. The broccoli – ‘Autumn calabrese’ has been a gradual cropper, producing a good handful of sprouted stems a week. The beans have had a resurgence since the weather cooled and are now much more tender than they were a month or so ago, though I don’t think they’ll keep going much longer.
Crown Prince has done reasonably well, I’ve got quite a few acorn squash (‘Mashed Potato’ and ‘Baked Potato’ – I’ll let you know when I eat them), a few spaghetti squash and, hooray, the butternuts (‘Hercules’ and ‘Early Butternut’) came through in the end though I have about half the number I grew last year.
In the greenhouse
Just a quick mention of the cucumbers, aubergines and peppers I’ve grown at home. I nearly didn’t grow peppers this year because they don’t always ripen, especially in my greenhouse which is shaded by a neighbour’s tree, but in this super sunny year I put most of the plants outside in a warm, sheltered spot near the house and they’ve ripened well. I prefer to grow aubergines outside as they’re less likely to be attacked by red spider mite, although I also had a couple of plants in the greenhouse (with red spider mite but they responded well to a spray with SBK Plant Invigorator) along with the cucumbers (Mini Socrates which I started picking in late June or early July and am still picking now) which need the reliable warmth and humidity of the greenhouse, so I keep them in there.
When the weather turned cold recently I moved all the outside pots back into the greenhouse in the hope they’ll carry on ripening. The red square peppers are meant to be ‘Marconi’, but as that’s a long red horn variety I think the seeds were mislabeled. The black one that ripens to red is ‘Cardinal’ and I’m also growing Etiuda (orange, not pictured as it’s only just ripening). The aubergines are ‘Black Beauty’ (the best in my opinion, tastes good, not too many seeds, crops well) and ‘Meatball’ (not as prolific but big, meaty aubergines with great texture).
With peppers in particular it’s best to grow them in pots that aren’t too big (around 30cm diameter is best). Pinching out to promote bushy pants is often recommended though I don’t always do it. Plants can get leggy but pinching out delays flowering as new stems have to grow first so I’m not sure you gain anything by doing it (except pot stability!) The summer season in the UK is relatively short and our weather so unpredictable that it’s always a bit of a race against time to get ripe peppers, especially if you’re growing them outside. If you’ve got a greenhouse with plenty of light you can be more ambitious.
So, I tend to leave the plants to grow unmolested and then pinch them out and start taking off the flowers when it I feel enough fruit have formed (maybe five or six, by which time it might be August) as any fruit that grow later than that won’t have time to get to full size let alone ripen.
This season is nearly over, but that doesn’t mean you can relax yet! Apart from the veg that are already in and will carry on for a while yet (roots, many brassicas, leeks), there are plenty of things you can be sowing and planting at this time of year.
Broad beans, peas, winter lettuce, onions and garlic can all be planted now, and it’s not too late to sow spinach and spring onions for crops next spring. I’m trying out a new broad bean called ‘Luz de Otono’, an autumn cropping variety. I’m not sure how this will go as the plants were sent a bit later than expected at the end of August. I’ve been growing them on in modules and only planted them recently. They are in flower so we will see …..
Categories: Grow veg