Clearing out

It’s that time of year again, many crops have yielded their bounty and are beginning to fade. Vegetable beds need to be cleared out for winter, seeds need to be gathered, annuals need to be composted and perennials need to be tidied up. It is still too early to cut back larger deciduous trees and shrubs, but there is a lot to be done to prepare the garden for the dark days and frosty nights.


This weekend I have cleared out my runner beans. They have cropped amazingly this year, we have had beans with every meal for months. Now only a few coarse pods are left and it’s time to take them out. The ‘Early Onward’ peas are also at an end. I did sow a late crop just to see how they would perform, they have blossom now but it may be too late from them to produce pods. The last of the potatoes are dug, I have left them in the ground as they hold better than if I dig them all up together, but I need to get them out now before the slugs attack them. I only sow early potatoes to avoid blight, so these potatoes will need to be eaten as they are not suitable for storage. It is wonderful to have the great taste of new potatoes up to October.


The courgettes are still producing, but fruits are smaller now. We had a night of frost during the week, I covered them with fleece and they survived, but it’s now only a matter of time until they succumb. The tomatoes are still struggling on, there has been enough sun between the showers to ripen them, but they do not have ‘sun-kissed’ taste that they achieve some summers.


I have mulched the rhubarb with home-made compost to give it protection and enrichment over the cold spell. I now grow rhubarb in two large bins as it was too vigorous in the ground and it swamped all around it. It seems happy as it has great depth of soil and it provides plenty of rhubarb for eating. Next job is to tidy up the strawberries. The older plants need to have their withered leaves removed and new runners need to be separated from parent plants. This year I have made a new strawberry bed, so I am discarding many of the older plants as they deteriorate after their third season.


Into the space left by the potatoes I have planted out chard and beetroot plants that have been grown from seed. They should survive until the new year. I have planted garlic and some red onions too. The rest of the vegetable beds will lie dormant for the winter. Instead of planting green manure I usually give the empty spaces a generous layer of home-made compost and cover them with cardboard (begged from the supermarket). A thin layer of clay over the cardboard will keep it in place and it will rot down over the winter.





Strawberry fields

I imagine that an independent survey would place the strawberry among the top five summer fruits. Once available only from late May to July, with perpetual varieties kicking in from mid summer to autumn, strawberries now appear on shop shelves all year round. But now they often do not have the fine flavour that made them so loved in the first place. When you grow your own you can rediscover that taste again.

We started out with three plants purchased by mail order from Holland. How glorious that first crop was! We’ve never had to buy another plant as they throw out runners every year and we could have hundreds if we wished, and we are also able to share plants with friends. We’ve tried not to let them take over the two vegetable beds: they would without any bother. They need to be replaced every three to four years, so the runners come in to play as the new plants.

The runners arch out gracefully and plant themselves in any convenient bit of earth in the ground or in a pot. If I intend to keep them I get them to root in small pots next to the parent plants, pinned down with a metal staple. This makes it easier to replant them when they have rooted. I cut off all unwanted runners as they weaken the plant. As complete takeover of the vegetable bed was becoming a real possibility I decided to plant the new runners in pots, this only worked for one season as the dreaded vine weevil colonized the pots after the first year. This year we have got a new raised bed, four feet by four, not very large but as much as we can accommodate. We found a space for it near the currant bushes, in full sun. As the runners root this year they will be housed in the new raised bed.


To keep the fruits protected and clean, I use paper from the shredder instead of straw, which can be difficult to obtain, this is a satisfying way to dispose of those Visa and other pesky bills. At the end of the fruiting season it is recommended to cut off all fading and withered leaves from the older plants. This seems to work well, it tidies up the patch and gives strong healthy plants the next season.

I do not think strawberries freeze well, they defrost in soggy lumps and make for watery jam. This means that the glut needs to be eaten or processed in a short time. After sharing with the blackbirds and any friends who call, we eat the best berries and make jam with the rest. This year I have tried freezing a container full of liquidized berries, I’ll see how this turns out as it’s faster than making jam when the pressure is on. All my friends may expect a pot of home-made jam for the next month or so.