Make the most of a bumper harvest
Tuesday 10th September 2013, 2:01PM BST.
The warm summer months might be over, but the abundant wild berries, plentiful apples, and juicy tomatoes they helped create can make it feel like the sun is still shining.
It’s unlikely keen gardeners can manage to eat all this bumper produce immediately though, which is where the art of storage comes in.
Maincrop potatoes and onions will keep well in a cool shed or garage, while garlic should be placed in a cool room in the house. All three should be free of soil and perfectly dry before storing. Onions and garlic can be strung and hung up, while potatoes will be quite happy in paper or a hessian sack, kept in the dark to stop them from sprouting.
If you have blackcurrants, redcurrants and gooseberries, these are perfect for jams, partly because they contain plenty of pectin, the ingredient that makes jam set. With jams or jellies, it is important to sterilise the jars and lids for 10 minutes in boiling water before using them. Most fruits and vegetables will last up to 12 months using this method.
Blackberries and other wild berries have been abundant this year, thanks to last year’s wet summer and this year’s dry one, and are easy to freeze (although avoid freezing strawberries as they become mushy). Just select the best fruit, spreading the berries in a single layer on a clean tray and put it in the fast-freeze section of the freezer. Once it’s frozen, transfer it to bags and return it to the freezer.
If you have too many ripe tomatoes, try drying them in the oven, placing them on a tray at the lowest setting for several hours with the oven door just ajar. Alternatively, skin them by placing them in a bowl of just boiled water, leaving them there for a few minutes, then removing the skin and blitzing them into a puree which can be a base for any Italian passata, which can be frozen. Unripe tomatoes can also be transformed into delicious green tomato chutney, there are umpteen recipes to be found on the internet.
Cucumbers spring to mind when we think of pickling, but many vegetables and fruits can be preserved in this manner including peppers, cauliflower, apples and pears. Peas and green beans should be blanched (dunked in boiling water for several minutes, then plunged into cold water and dried off) before freezing, while courgettes freeze satisfactorily in prepared dishes such as ratatouille, and pumpkins can be made into preserves using lemons, sugar and mixed spices.
Root vegetables such as carrots, parsnips, beetroot and celeriac can generally be left in the ground until required, although try to dig a few up to store in a cool place before winter sets in and the ground becomes too hard to harvest them easily.
To store gluts of apples and pears, you’ll need to handle them carefully, placing them in a room with a low, even temperature, good ventilation and a moist atmosphere such as a cellar. If you are putting apples in your garden shed, wrap them in newspaper (this slows the shrivelling process and isolates rots), put them in boxes, stack them in a cool spot under insulation (such as straw or polystyrene sheets) and cover with polythene. Check them regularly for signs of disease and remove any which have rotted. Pears prefer slightly drier and warmer conditions and are best not wrapped or stacked.
Best of the bunch – Japanese anemone
Don’t confuse the low growing, brightly flowered anemones you find in late spring with Japanese anemones, which bloom from late summer until the first frosts of October. A. japonica (A. hybrida) stands 60cm-1.2m (2-4ft) high, producing saucer-shaped flowers in white or pink with a central boss of golden stamens. Good varieties include A. x hybrida ‘Honorine Jobert’, a tough, late-flowering plant on strong stems carrying single white blooms, which flower for up to eight weeks and reach 100 cm (3ft) in height, and A. ‘September charm’, a slightly smaller pink variety which reaches about 60cm (2ft) in height. Japanese anemones will grow in any well-drained garden soil in sun or semi-shade. They look great in the autumn border alongside asters and chrysanthemums or can be used in front of shrub roses and large shrubs. In a small garden they make reliable back-of-the-border plants behind summer bedding, which can be removed when the anemones are ready to bloom.
Good enough to eat – Fuchsia berries
If you grow fuchsias you may have noticed that after the flowers come shiny purple berries, which are actually edible. All fuchsias produce berries, although some varieties have much better tasting fruit than others.
The berries are produced as the flowers on the plants mature and fall off, leaving berries which can grow to almost an inch long on some hybrids and species fuchsias, or to just half an inch on the miniature ones.
Single-bloom fuchsias produce more fruit than double-bloom fuchsias. Fuchsia berries can taste very peppery to very sweet, almost like a kiwi. The berries of Fuchsia procumbens, the groundcover fuchsia, are among the sweetest.
Other good varieties include F. regia subsp. regia, which produces black, sweet berries on trailing stems, and F. ‘Jingle bells’, which produces enormous berries which look like cherries.
Late summer and autumn are good times to harvest fuchsia berries. Pick the berries when they are soft and squishy and test them by tasting them to make sure that they are sweet. Botanist and BBC presenter James Wong, author of Homegrown Revolution, says they are delicious scattered over Greek-style yogurt and honey, made into jam or thrown into a muffin mix like blueberries.
Anyone fed up with planting the same old bulbs should take a look at the new range from Thompson & Morgan which includes Tulipa ‘Double Flaming Bird’, a hugely flamboyant tulip, which is twice the size of most other tulips and boasts stunningly coloured petals which give the impression of a huge bowl of exotic colour. They are expensive but then they are pretty rare and will be a conversation starter in spring. (one bulb £14.99; two bulbs £24.99, www.thompson-morgan.com, 0844 573 1818)
What to do this week
- Leave tomatoes on the plants until the weather turns, to allow them optimum time to ripen.
- Leave nets over brassicas to stop pigeons feasting on them.
- Reduce the watering and feeding of greenhouse plants.
- Continue to deadhead roses.
- Trim hornbeam, beech, Leyland cypress and thuja hedges, if you haven’t already done so.
- Take hardwood cuttings from roses, choosing healthy stems of the current season’s growth.
- Root cuttings of lavender directly into gritty soil outside or in a cold frame.
- Pick crops at their best including marrows, runner beans, ridge cucumbers, spinach, sweetcorn, beetroot and salads.
- Sow hardy annuals like calendula, godetia, larkspur and candytuft outside where you would like them to flower.
- Plant tubers of Anemone ‘De Caen’ and ‘Saint Brigid’ at intervals to extend their flowering next spring.
- Sow poppies where you want them to flower next year.
- Lift Lilium regale clumps and re-set, planting them about 15cm (6in) deep in well-drained soil improved with compost and grit.
- Give autumn green crops a light dressing of general fertiliser hoed into the soil around them.