If Autumn is the season of mellow fruitfulness then July is surely the month of frantic fruitfulness…. Autumn offers us harvests to slowly gather and store at our own pace for the winter months, whereas the peak of summer is about grabbing whatever is at its best and either enjoying it in that moment or preserving it straight away, jarring and bottling the taste of summer before the sugars fade from the freshly picked produce. It’s an exciting month in the garden (and the kitchen), and one that I tend to envisage as an idyllic time of relaxation, reaping the rewards of the hard work done through spring. In reality the harvesting and processing of produce takes a considerable amount of time – always longer than I expect – and there are plenty more jobs to be done (sowing, replanting, weeding, pruning….). Not that I’d have it any other way – try as I might to sit down in the plot and relax, it’s never more than five minutes before I’m on my feet again, happily pulling up some bindweed….
Our two gooseberry bushes have produced 7kg of fruit this year (compared with 1.6kg last year!). I have scratches all along my arms from picking the fruit (cue many expletives) and there’s actually still quite a few gooseberries on the bushes hidden amongst the overgrown thorny branches. They say ‘when life gives you gooseberries, make ketchup’, so I did – a River Cottage recipe for gooseberry ketchup (gooseberry pulp, vinegar, sugar, spices) which required the addition of considerably more sugar than the recipe specified but is delicious, particularly with a good barbecued sausage. I’ve also made gooseberry sorbet, jelly and frozen a lot of them to enjoy on my morning porridge in the winter.
We’re also getting modest quantities of blackcurrants, and a steady stream (rather than a glut) of strawberries, tayberries, blackberries and tummelberries (a delicious cross between a blackberry and a raspberry). Japanese wineberries are looking good, as are the autumn fruiting raspberries and we should be in for a good crop of apples too. The only thing that has let us down has been the red and white currants, all of which were eaten by the birds before they had even ripened – I’ve resisted netting them for aesthetic reasons but I think next year I’ll have to if I want to enjoy any of them.
I lifted our first new potatoes of the year this week – a variety called ‘Colleen’. These were delicious, so full of flavour when they’re fresh from the ground, and went nicely with our first big harvest of agretti (and a fillet of salmon on the barbecue). Aside from that, all the usual suspects are ready for harvest – peas, courgettes, little gem lettuce, shallots, spring onions, beetroot, kale…. And the first of our polytunnel tomatoes – a heritage variety called ‘Sundrop’, so delicious and sweet that it makes me realise how terrible every shop bought tomato has been that I’ve eaten between last autumn and now. Homegrown really can’t be beaten!
What a Difference a Mulch Makes
We were slightly disappointed with the planting around our pond this year – it had been lovely through spring with calendula that had managed to overwinter but by the start of July they were looking scruffy with powdery mildew so they had to go, leaving a load of gaps. An emergency trip to our local nursery to buy some of their ‘reduced to clear’ plants and a bag of pine bark mulch seems to have remedied the situation, in time for the judging of the hotly contested Newcastle Allotment Competition (in which we are competing for the ‘best half plot’ prize). Fingers crossed!
This time of frantic fruitfulness is made more frantic because we, like many others, are off on our summer holidays shortly (two weeks on the Isle of Barra, in case you were wondering). While the plot may be a little overgrown when we return, I’m confident it will be fine our absence. Here’s a few things I’ve been doing to ‘holiday-proof’ our allotment:
- Being mean with the water. Beyond the first week or two after planting in spring I’ve been rather austere with the hose, only watering during particularly hot and dry periods and doing so thoroughly so that the plants send their roots down deep into the soil in search of water. As a result they should all be fine even if Newcastle has minimal rain while we’re away (and let’s face it, how likely is that…?!).
- Planting out anything in pots. I’ve had a few new strawberry plants and kale seedlings growing on in pots. These will dry out far quicker in a pot than in the soil, so I’m making sure to find some space to plant these out, even if it’s not going to be their eventual position.
- Timing my sowing. I stopped sowing anything in modules/seed trays two or three weeks ago as any seedlings will need planting out if they’re not to wilt in our absence. There are some gaps in the veg beds from shallots/broad bean clearance into which I have direct sown carrots, spinach, coriander and rocket.
- Picking before we go. We’re going to be staying in a self catering cottage so the day before we leave I’ll go and pick anything that’s ready, including any tiny courgettes and peas, to take with us. I’ll also deadhead things like sweet peas.
….with all that done I’m looking forward to a break, and will be admiring the wild flora of the Hebridean machair and thinking how nice it would be to have orchids growing like weeds instead of the usual bindweed!