Gardening Diary September Week 2

IN THE VEGETABLE GARDEN

We are now approaching the season of frosts, and although these may be delayed in the south for another few weeks, in the north they may occur at any time. Even if frosts are delayed, then gales with heavy rainstorms may batter the crops. The lifespan of the more tender varieties, such as tomatoes, runner beans, sweet corn and marrows, is clearly nearing its end.

We have already discussed the pros and cons of saving one’s own potatoes for seed. There can be no controversy about doing so with certain other vegetables, marrows, pumpkins, squashes, cucumbers, runner beans and dwarf beans, for instance. Select individual plants and retain them for seed. With beans, leave all the pods on the plants to ripen; do not pick any for cooking. With marrows and other cucurbits, cease cutting for the kitchen from the selected plants and allow each plant to concentrate on ripening just one large fruit. When the marrow is ripe the skin will be almost as hard as horn, the lighter parts will be tinged golden-yellow, and the stem will harden so that it can be snapped off the parent stem. Then remove and store the fruit in a dry, airy, frost-free place. Marrows for use in autumn and early winter should be ripened and similarly stored. They should keep until Christmas or perhaps a little later. Pumpkins and custard marrows may be treated in exactly the same way. Custard marrows, which have interesting shapes, can make an attractive addition to an ornamental fruit bowl. They will last for several months, and when you are tired of looking at them you can eat them. Cucumbers may be similarly ripened, but they tend to be rather bitter when fully ripe. Do not save the seed of first hybrid varieties of any vegetable.

In a sunny September outdoor tomatoes may still be in full production, but remember that time is short. Do not encourage the plants to produce any more fruit, but help them to concentrate on filling out and ripening the fruit they are already bearing. Snip off any leaves that are shading the fruit, and continue to pinch out any new shoots. I pick these later tomatoes while they are still yellow or orange and allow them to ripen on a windowsill, or in a drawer. If wrapped in tissue paper and stored in a drawer the ripening process is slowed down and the season prolonged a bit.

If bad weather threatens, remove the stake that is supporting the tomato and lay the plant on its side on the ground. Then insert one or two forked sticks to support the stem a few centimetres above the soil surface. Remove all surplus leaves, and cover the plant with a cloche. The fruit will continue to ripen.

If the weather remains sunny and dry, continue watering all crops. Be particularly generous with celery and celeriac, which should now be making strong growth. Continue earthing-up celery, taking care to keep the soil out of the centre of the plant. Earth-up when the soil is moist but not saturated. The earthing-up operation should be finished by mid-September, when the plants will appear to be growing in ridges, with only the foliage visible. This does not apply to self-blanching celery (which should now be ready for lifting) or celeriac, though with these, as with celery, any sideshoots that appear should be removed.

Another crop that can do with plenty of water is leaf beet (also known as seakale beet or spinach beet). It should be possible to take several crops of leaves during the late summer and autumn, picking the outer ones first, followed by more next spring. But keep the plants growing vigorously.

In my herb garden I always grow a few roots of fennel. The plant is a perennial, and once you have it in the garden you do not easily get rid of it. It is used for flavouring fish and cheese dishes and in making pickles and chutney. I also enjoy the young leaves in a salad.

A herb which usually finds a place in my garden is summer savory. The little leaves are picked off as needed through-out August and early September for flavouring almost any savoury dish. They have a hot tang, not unlike pepper. Now is the time to gather the entire plant and dry it for winter use.

Chives is another perennial which you will always have in the garden once it has become well established. At this season I dig up a few clusters and put them in pots for winter use. They will grow quite happily in a cool greenhouse or indoors on a windowsill. They need to be kept well watered, and the leaves have to be picked regularly (otherwise they wilt when fully grown and die). With a pot of chives and a succession of crops of mustard and cress grown in shallow containers in a warm room you can have fresh salads throughout the winter.

IN THE FRUIT GARDEN

Now is the time to cover the autumn-cropping strawberry plants with cloches to give added protection against birds, rain, and possible frost in northern districts. Make sure the ends are closed. Maiden strawberry plants can be potted up into 13.5 cm (5”) pots in John Innes potting compost No. 2, and placed outside, plunged up to the rims in peat or gravel. Water carefully until well established. These will be brought inside in mid-winter for forcing.

Planting arrangements for a windbreak around your fruit garden should be made now. Conifers such as Leyland Cypress are good for this. The trees should be container grown to avoid a check when planted out. A visit to a good garden centre will provide some indication of the plants available.

Gooseberries that are covered with the felt-like infection caused by American gooseberry mildew can still have the tips of diseased shoots cut back to healthy growth. Spray with benomyl.

With the increasing humidity of the season, extra care will be needed to ensure that apples and pears are dry before going into store.

IN THE GREENHOUSE

The days in September will be shortening, and the sun will be getting less intense, so it is important to keep the glass of your greenhouse thoroughly clean, so that the maximum amount of light can pass through. Continue to provide ventilation, but reduce watering and damping down, unless the autumn is extremely hot and dry.

Continue harvesting greenhouse crops when they are at their peak, and continue to sow seed for later crops.

24. June 2013 by admin
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