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Winter begins

Posted by Guy Barter on 19 Nov 2007 at 09:16 AM

After a week of frosts the summer crops are finally finished. Last weekend I picked a whole carrier bag of runner beans, from the July sowing, in top conditions, but this weekend I pulled up the entire browned, frosted row, consigned the haulm to the compost pit and recovered the canes for use next year.

Turnips have grown mightily in the mild autumn weather and despite their reputation for strong taste and woody flavour have been very acceptable when glazed or made into soup. A colleague suggested raising some in module trays from seed to maturity when they are the same size as a large radish. The resulting mini-turnips were especially fine textured and mild flavoured. An excellent vegetable for a small space.

However it is stem vegetables that are at their best now – celery, Florence fennel and leeks. The celery and fennel will rot after frosts although the leeks will go on all winter.

Chopped and made into savoury bakes with cheesy potato toppings or fresh creamy soups – these have been the staple of our autumn meals.

However, now the winter vegetable from store or the garden come into their own. Cabbages from storing are very useful as they can be kept in the store shed in the back garden and used as needed for salads and casseroles. The red cabbage have been especially productive now that I have switched from April to March sowings. The white cabbages were less successful, although adequate. This was mainly because they were badly hit by mealy cabbage aphid after transplanting and there are no really effective insecticides for this problem. One cultivar 'Bartolo' was lightly infested with while blister fungal disease but all the other cabbages and indeed Brussels sprouts were free of infection showing the high level of resistance currently bred into modern cultivars. The clubroot disease resistant cabbage 'Kilaton' turns out to be a storage cabbage rather than an ordinary autumn one. This was not at all clear in the seed catalogues last year. However, this means that one of my main crops, storing cabbage, is now very easy to grow which is a great relief.

Other crops gathered this week include carrots, parsnips and beetroot in white and red shades, while stored potatoes and pumpkins have also been used. Pumpkins won't keep after December.

After taking stock it was clear that I would not get through the accumulated crops before they go over in March. People after ask how we get through the extensive crops. The answer is that with most people the veg accompany the meal, but with us the veg are the meal. Also luxury uses such as stock making use up plenty of produce. This weekend I reckon that £5 of red cabbage at supermarket prices went into a big pot of red cabbage ragout, £4 of leeks, carrots, onions, celery and turnip went into the stock pot and a big roast dinner with vegetable soup for some visiting relatives used another £8 worth of beetroot, Brussels sprouts, carrots, parsnips and pumpkin. However this has only dented the available supplies.

Fortunately a wedding in the family last weekend brought the relatives together and after the ceremony and before the breakfast, while the newly weds were extensively photographed, there was a general distribution of surplus produce to the needy.

At this rate of consumption the 'cupboards' should be nearly bare by April. And then I start again with spring cabbage, lettuces, salad onions and sprouting broccoli, until the recently sown or planted broad beans, onions and peas, just beginning to emerge now, take over in May/June.

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