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Late summer abundance

Posted by Guy Barter on 29 Sep 2008 at 08:47 AM

Warmth and sun make ‘allotmenteering’ a pleasure at the moment and it is tempting to indulge in unattractive gloating over the late summer abundance.

Turnips were reported on national media last week to, according to supermarkets, be increasingly popular on account of their low cost compared to other foods.  One suspects that the increase was from a very low base as turnips are a minor crop; the media always omit the crucial information.

My turnips, ‘Purple Top Milan’ are looking appetising at the moment.  They were sown in July following a crop of raspberries removed in winter and the plot covered with black plastic to kill the deeply embedded bindweed.  With the aid of generous doses of high nitrogen fertiliser the turnips have now suppressed weeds and are in perfect condition.  Some were used for a chicken and turnip stew with dumplings, but turnips are so very high yielding I have an embarrassment of roots – I might try pickling some.

Potato lifting continued with ‘Pink Fir Apple’; this potato does not bulk up until very late, but being highly susceptible to blight it lost its foliage early and crop is light, slugs had been active and the tubers small.  However, the fresh earthy taste of roast fresh tubers made up for it.  Small tubers don’t improve with keeping and 'Pink Fir Apple' will be used as soon as possible. Enormous, if rather scabby, white and pink ‘Ambo’ tubers were prised from the dry soil and consigned to the storage bin – these will be used last, in the spring.  A salad cultivar ‘Juliette’ was also dug.  Its heavy yield of shapely tubers were completely free of disease and it is worth storing until Christmas.

Sweetcorn are ripening in the last few days of summer and cut to ground level and composted as the cobs are gathered.  Swift cultivation follows by hoeing off debris with a mattock and consigning that too to the compost, loosening the soil, especially in pathways with a fork and cultivating the soil into a wide 15cm high flat-topped ridge to give well drained conditions for over-wintered onions.  A light dressing of sulphate of potash and chicken manure pellets were added.  There is no need to remove every last weed as the bed will be covered with weed-suppressing plastic sheet.

Useful crops of summer vegetables are still being gathered: aubergines, chillies, basil, courgettes, beans, peppers and tomatoes.  The July-sown runner beans are proving their worth now – they relish cool dewy nights and plentiful flowers are being produced around which numerous bumblebees ply their business.  With frost still not forecast there is a good chance of a prolonged crop.  Again an embarrassment of pods tempts me to think of preserving.  I once recommended, in The Garden, that people discard woody pods to promote more flowering, angering many readers who bridled at such waste (and in many cases suggested chutney) – I won’t do that again.

Autumn crops are ready too: cabbages, calabrese, cauliflowers, celery, beetroot, early Brussels sprouts, red cabbage and turnips.  The early leeks are disappointing however, due to spacing rather closer than was wise – only a few autumn leeks are needed so there is no excuse.  With the exception of calabrese and cauliflower these should ‘hold’ for a few weeks.

A few lettuces remain but salads now rely on the chicories that have hearted up now.

Cold nights are stressing pumpkin and squash foliage which curls up to reveal the fruits.  It is not a great crop this year, but much better than I feared.   There is now danger of squirrels and rats boring into the fruits in search of the the oil-rich seeds.  The closest watch has to be kept and once the stalks are hard, dry and woody, the skins firm and the fruits ring hollow when tapped they are truly ripe and can be taken to a secure place.



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