September transformed the garden from the lush green opulence of summer to the soft golden decay of autumn.

Stephanie's Kitchen Garden Diary - 27th September 2017

September has seen the garden transform from the lush green opulence of summer to the soft golden decay of autumn. It never ceases to amaze me how the seasons change in a blink of an eye. One day we are experiencing gloriously hot sunny days and the next we are reaching for jumpers and wellingtons and reaching for cloches and fleece. As a self-confessed tidy gardener I am torn between trying to extend the growing season as long as possible, and clearing away crops that are beginning to fade, to keep the garden looking spic and span.

Our courgette plants were a good example of this. They have provided us with an amazing supply of courgettes throughout the entire season and still had flowers coming. However the plants were straggly and untidy and we had earmarked the space where they were growing for overwintering Kale. Desperate to make the summer last just a little longer, we persevered and picked small courgettes right up until the last days of the month. Then, after a cold damp night they turned grey and yellow and flopped to the ground. They are now consigned to the compost heap and the raised bed was cleared, dug over and planted with Kale.

Similarly most of our tomato plants suffered the same fate. Those grown outside suffered from the changing conditions and have now been cleared away to the compost bin. The green unripe fruits were harvested and are now in the fridge ready to be made into chutney. The tomato plants grown in the main raised bed in the greenhouse are now bare of fruits which have now all been harvested. The bed has had new compost added and has been replanted with winter salads such as mustard greens and rocket. The wall behind it has two large shelves added to it in the autumn and winter to house any tender plants and crops that we want to overwinter.   The aubergines and peppers growing on the greenhouse staging are still going strong and the greenhouse heater should keep them happy for a few more weeks.

Our French and runner bean plants are still producing beans, but there are the tell-tale signs that they are close to the end of their productive lives, with leaves beginning to yellow and fall.   We will keep picking the beans as long as we can. We have already cleared the sweet corn plants, having harvested all of the delicious cobs. Some of the early squash plants have also been cleared away, after their leaves turned brown and crisp, literally overnight. The squashes are laid on a tray in the greenhouse to harden their skins before being stored in the larder. It is so important to clear dead leaves and plant debris from the garden at this time of the year. They may contain pests and diseases that will overwinter in the soil ready to appear again next year, and clearing them away quickly will help prevent this from happening. Plus it keeps the garden tidy and looking it's best as long as possible.bare soil

This month it was time to dig up our main crop potatoes. During August, the entire crop was hit by blight; a common problem for growers this year. We cut the haulms right down to the ground and burned them. The potatoes were left in the ground to allow blight spores to disperse before digging, and to help the skins of the tubers to harden. In the last week of September, on a warm sunny day, we spent an enjoyable day digging up the tubers, which were a really decent size despite the blight shortening their growing life. The spuds were left on the soil to dry before being stored away in the larder in bags. The bed was dug over and raked and will have a generous mulch of compost and manure added before being left fallow over the winter ready for the next growing season to begin. Afterwards I sat, cup of tea in hand, and admired the sight of the bare earth in the autumn sunshine. Only a true gardener can find beauty in bare brown muck!

The harvest has continued with the picking of our apples. We been steadily picking some of our cooking apples for some time, as they became ripe, and have been enjoying home-made apple pie, as well as popping some in the freezer. As I write this, we are just beginning to harvest the eating apples. Each apple is given a gentle twist. If it comes away easily in your hand, it is ripe and ready to be picked. If not, it is left on the tree for another day. We have set the apple rack up in the garage and are adding apples to it as they are picked. They are easily at hand to be added to the fruit bowl as and when required.

Talk of Autumn and cooling weather is slightly depressing, but the growing season isn’t over yet. We have been very busy planting out more vegetable plants in the gaps created by harvesting and clearing. Spinach, kale, cabbages and broccoli have been planted in the vegetable cage and under netting in raised beds to provide us with a late winter / early spring harvest during the hungry gap. They have time to become well established while the soil is still warm and are protected from the hungry pigeons that are looking for food.   Our onion sets and garlic cloves have been sown into trays in the greenhouse to get them rooted before being planted out into the ground in October. We have beetroot, parsnips, leeks, brussel sprouts, broccoli and kale ready to be harvested in the coming months. Our celeriac plants are very healthy size this year. We usually grow them in the ground in full sun but they never provide very large roots. This year we have tried them in a raised bed at the back of the garden where it is slightly shady. This has meant that the plants haven’t dried out as much and they seem to be faring better for it.

The leaves from the surrounding trees are already begin to litter the ground, signalling that it's time to dig the leaf rakes and grabbers out of the shed. Leaf fall always keeps us busy for several months in the lead up to Christmas as the garden is situated in an area of woodland and we have many trees in the wider gardens. We like to keep on top of the leaves by regularly clearing them away and keeping the garden as tidy as we possibly can. Our leaf mould bags are empty and ready to be refilled over the autumn months. This is my least favourite job of the gardening year, but it is the price I pay for being a tidy gardener and my reward, as always, will be the lovely rich leaf mould that is the result of all our efforts.

Here are some of the jobs we’ve got planned for October in Stephanie’s Kitchen Garden:

  • Apply nemaslug to the soil.
  • Clear leaves and plant debris to the leaf bins and compost bins.
  • Clean greenhouse
  • Sow broad beans
  • Harvest apples as they become ripe and store
  • Add bubble wrap insulation to the greenhouse

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