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Great Autumn Clear-Up

Posted by Guy Barter on 07 Oct 2007 at 09:30 PM

The great autumn clear-up begins.  French and runner beans are largely gone now.  Pumpkins and squash are spent and the fruit gathered in.  The haulms, as the stems are officially called, have been  raked up along with the weeds that have begun to thrive as the haulm dies back letting in light to the enfeebled weeds.  

As the compost pits are full and the dislodged weeds are mixed with soil, it as quick to dig in the waste materials as compost them in a temporary heap. A strip of black plastic laid across the pumpkin bed as a path was lifted.  The weed free soil was excavated to make a trench halfway across the plot 25cm deep and 40cm wide.  The trench was filled with weeds and debris and half the plot methodically dug burying the weeds and wastes.  When the end of the plot is reached the trench will be opened on the other side and the remainder dug.  Weeds and crop debris from elsewhere in the allotment are brought to the trench for disposal as are the outer leaves and unwanted roots from leeks and celery.  The cabbage patch was weeded as the weeds lurking beneath the cabbages show their ugly heads.  Many of the cabbages are storing cultivars with both red and white heads, so clearing weeds and dead foliage will make for easier cutting later in the month when the heads are taken into store for the winter. 

The plot looks very smart with its level evenly tilled surface.  Unfortunately, sandy ground dug in autumn often settles to a soggy mass by January, but at least it will be full of rotting organic matter and be ready to be rotovated for a crop of early potatoes in March.  However, it won't come to that as polythene will be laid over the plot in mid-winter once heavy rain has thoroughly wetted the soil keeping it in prime condition for planting in spring. 

The black plastic from the pumpkin bed was laid on ground recently cleared of spuds, ready for garlic to be planted through it next month. The onion sets already planted alongside have begun to emerge, rather too quickly for my liking, but that is down to the amazing, warm dry weather we are having in the south-east. 

Harvesting continues.  The first autumn carrots have been lifted.  What an enormous crop of beautifully coloured roots. These, washed and topped, sit in my vegetable cupboard with baby beetroot, white turnips (both from July sowings), long white leeks and piles of red beefsteak tomatoes, making a pleasing autumnal still life. 

The runner beans sown in July are now in full crop.  The yield and quality of these beans far surpasses that of the May sown crop - the cool nights, heavy dews and late summer rains suit runner beans much better than mid-summer conditions in this district. 

Cauliflowers, calabrese and cabbages would be the mainstay of my autumn crops if I lived further north, but in this warm southern district courgettes, fennel, runner and French beans, peppers under fleece and tomatoes continue to crop (frost permitting, and it seems to nowadays) deep into the autumn.  It seems hardly worth growing autumn crops, but I have robust beetroot, celery, leeks and turnips in reserve in case of light frost and for variety. 

A few of the very earliest leeks have gone to seed and these have been instantly consumed, adding a new texture and flavour to the vegetable sauces served with pasta or baked potatoes that characterise my table as I struggle to make the most of the abundance of vegetables being gathered now. 

The first of the autumn soups can be tried now - pumpkin (or rather blue kuri squashes as I use up some squirrel-damaged ones) and prawn soup is a favourite - microwaved squash is cooked in milk and stock with ten percent of its weight in prawns, then seasoned and blended.


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