September in the GIY garden.
This week I spent some time at either end of the food growing cycle: at one end, up to my neck in compost, turning the heaps at the end of the garden; at the other, up to my neck in a mountain of pears in the kitchen, turning them in to a pickle for the winter larder. When it comes down to it, you have to be willing to invest time at both ends of the cycle, if your food growing is to thrive.
Turning compost heaps is unsung, hard bloody work, and not particularly glamourous it has to be said. But, it’s a vital beginning and end to everything that happens in the veg patch. Spent vegetable plants and the rich manure-covered straw from the hen house are barrowed to the compost corner, and with the help of Father Time (and some back-breaking labour) magically turn in to crumbly black gold which is given back to the veg patch soil. I find it immensely comforting to be part of this virtuous circle and increasingly view my role in the veg patch as ‘nutrient shepherd’ – helping nutrients to flow around the garden between soil, plants, animal and man.
At the other end of the cycle, there are food gluts to deal with. At this time of the year I find these great autumn processing tasks towering over me, tapping their fingers expectantly. Every day as I went down to the end of the garden to feed hens or collect eggs, I was conscious that the pear trees were literally creaking under the weight of pears (a mature pear tree can yield 50-100kg of pears). If they were not to be wasted, a serious marathon of peeling, chopping and general sweating over a hot stove was required. It took me three early-morning hours to convert nearly 10kg of pears in to a pickle (see recipe below) – I’d like to say there’s great joy in this simple labour, but really I would have prefered a lie-in. There is however, a quiet satisfaction to be had in surveying a row of kiln jars and knowing that nature’s great bounty has been harnessed yet again for the winter.
The Garden in September
Lift crops which have finished growing and dress bare soil with manure, compost (or plant green manures). Wasps can be problematic as fruit ripens so make traps from jars of sugary water. Remove surplus leaves from tomato plants which allows air to circulate and sunshine to fall on the fruit. Go blackberry picking!
Last month for sowing perpetual spinach, chard and oriental salads – it will be worth it in the New Year when there’s almost nothing else to eat, so get sowing! In the polytunnel/greenhouse sow lettuce, mustard, cress, basil, coriander, parsley, radish, dwarf early pea, broadbean, cauliflower seed, rocket, onion seed and garlic. Outside sow white turnip seeds and autumn onion sets, e.g. ‘centurion’ and ‘sturon’. Plant out strawberry runners. Pot up some parsley for winter use.
Lift onions and leave to dry out in sun or in the polytunnel/greenhouse for two weeks. Apples, plums, pears are now in season. Continue to harvest salad leaves, tomatoes, radish, potatoes, carrots, turnips, beetroots, cauliflower, cucumbers, peppers, beans, courgettes, spinach, leeks, red cabbage, summer cabbage, aubergine, sweet corn.