Another growing year has come to an end, the bean poles have been packed away again, the beds mostly cleared, some have been topped with a thick layer of manure, some planted up with over wintering onions and garlic. There are leeks and parsnips to harvest over the next few months, but little more and there’s really little more to be done. Which is just as well as the weather has been extremely wet and has now turned icy cold.
I have been very busy over the last couple of months bringing in the harvests and finding various ways to store or preserve what I can. Tomatoes have been bottled or frozen in chunks, chillies have been made into sauces, pickled or dried and ground into powder, apples and blackberries have been turned into jelly (seedless jam), carrots sliced and frozen, garlic strung into long plaits and hung up, potatoes stored away from hungry mice, beans and chickpeas podded, dried and stored into airtight jars, there’s a big tub of mangetout peas in the freezer and squashes decorating my windowsills. Phew, it’s not easy living the Good Life.
It hasn’t been a bad growing year, compared to previous years we had a more balanced mix of sun to rain, no droughts or floods to report, and no blight thankfully, but we’ve had our various successes and failures as we do every year. For those of you who don’t follow me on Instagram (which I update regularly through the summer) let me quickly catch you up in photos and illustrations from my ongoing journal.
June gave us the first few proper harvests, and a welcome break from mountains of rhubarb. Golden Sweet mange-tout peas, a few stalks of asparagus (never enough), the first heads of lettuce and garlic scapes (the flowering stems of hardneck garlic) which always get blitzed into a delicious, and very garlicky, pesto.
The sweetpeas also started to flower and by the middle of the month we were harvesting a few garlic bulbs and red onions to use fresh in the kitchen. By late June I was struggling to keep up with both the mangetout peas and the sweetpeas. I definitely don’t need two wigwams of sweetpeas next year. We also started to harvest the first courgettes and some small beetroot, and the first harvests of Charlotte potatoes by the end of the month.
Oh how I love June on the allotment, the risk of frost has passed meaning you can go all out with plants and seeds, the plot really starts to take shape, and those first early harvests are often small, but they’re sweet and delicate and so fresh. Also, the gluts haven’t started yet (unless you are lucky enough to get an asparagus glut, in which case I envy you) so the tastebuds are delighted with every mouthful.
July bought more harvests of all of the above, but also the flowers really started to get going turning the plot into a colourful riot. A huge golden cross of calendula gave me plenty of flowers for infusing into oil for homemade remedies for the skin, as well as bringing all the bees to the plot. The sweetpeas continued to challenge my abilities to pick and transport them home, and find enough small vases to put them in. I ended up with flower filled jam jars all over the house. There were also lots of cornflowers, lavender, oxeye daisies, flowering herbs and by late July, bright yellow sunflowers and lots of dahlias.
I finally got my first cucumber by the 1st August after my second attempt to grow some. Sadly they didn’t last long, we had a mini glut through August and then the plants gave up after we had a week away and failed to water them. They were nice while they lasted. We then had some fresh beans, and a few plums. Not the mass overflowing baskets of plums we’ve had in previous years, but that’s okay. Sometimes you’re actually glad when a full on glut doesn’t happen.
By the end of August, the tomato harvests had started. It felt like I’d been waiting all summer for a host of green tomatoes to ripen, and then all of a sudden I had a bagful, and then several bags full, and then I had to employ the other half to help me chop and bottle them because I literally couldn’t keep up with them. We had a production line going over several weekends, and were just getting into the swing of it before the heavy downpours came and then they mostly split open through trying to take up too much water and they started to rot. To be honest, by then we’d filled every jar in the house and had pretty much cleared the shelves of preserve jars in the local shops. I had also filled two trays for the freezer and we’d eaten a ridiculous amount too. I actually couldn’t face another tomato and so our final harvest was taken to mums to fill her freezer. I may not need 12 plants next year.
So September was filled with tomatoes and the mass podding of dried chickpeas, and October was mostly spent harvesting squashes, chillies, and a few carrots, beetroot and spinach.
The biggest successes have been chickpeas, even though they got taken over by bindweed and weren’t quite as good as last year, I grew lots more and so still ended up with a bigger harvest; tomatoes; chillies; potatoes (Charlotte, Anya and Desiree, all grew well with no pest damage); and then I’d have to say sweetpeas, they just grew in abundance. Most other crops were about average.
My failures this year have mainly been sweetcorn and brassicas. The sweetcorn was a new variety which refused to grow well, and then tasted chewy and very disappointing, despite what it says in my journal above – the first one was okay and I was initially hopeful, but one by one the whole sorry crop ended up on the compost heap. And my brassicas (red cabbage, sprouts, and purple sprouting broccoli) all suffered yet again with whitefly. The red cabbages grew barely bigger than grapefruit, but they weren’t wasted, all 4 of them were chopped and fermented into sauerkraut, which we are still eating now. The Brussels however have been too badly infected and need to be pulled up and composted, I’ll give the sprouting broccoli a chance to recover but I won’t hold out too much hope. It’s fine, there are always a few disasters every year, but they’re an opportunity to learn or try something different.
The cold, wet weather lately has been a good opportunity to stay indoors and make plans for what I want to grow next year. Especially when those tempting little seed catalogues keep dropping on the doormat. Writing this has been a good starting point, as it’s always worth looking back over what has grown well or not, before deciding where to go from here.
I think I might give myself a break from brassicas next year, although I may make a small exception for some Cavolo Nero kale. I forgot to grow any this year and I regret it. A smaller crop will mean I can cover it properly with finer netting and hopefully keep off the whitefly. I’m also going to have a break from conventional sweetcorn, but instead I want to try some corn for popping such as this Strawberry popcorn. I’ll try a new variety of carrots (not sure what yet) and hope that one day I’ll get a decent crop. I want to grow more beans for drying, and maybe some dwarf ones too to extend the cropping season. Borlotti beans in particular are so nice eaten fresh from their pods before they’ve dried. I’ll have another crack at growing outdoor cucumbers, I’ll have to research that one, and I’ll also try again with ‘red lipstick’ bell peppers that grew pretty well for me, and I think most of the other crops will stay the same.
Plans and lists will be drawn up soon, and then in January, when all the excitement of Christmas and the New Year is over, I’ll get organising and ordering new seeds. I actually can’t wait! Take care till then.