This hit-and-miss weather is certainly keeping us on our toes: one minute hot and sunny, the next pouring with rain and windy. Still, at least there’s something for everyone there, and even though the temperatures are dropping, things are still growing well. Plus the late-flowering plants and herbs are putting on a nice show of flowers (the nasturtiums are going for it again, having recovered as I knew they would from the blackfly attacks in mid-summer – thanks ladybirds). These flowers are great for morale, as well as useful for selling, and for wildlife to enjoy too: there’s nothing like a splash of colour, or some dainty flower to cut through the mess of muddy-ness in wet weather.
The pinky-yellow sunflowers are finally doing something, and providing a bit of a windbreak for the polytunnels too, as well as providing some much-needed food for bees and other insects once they venture out after the rain showers. White garlic chives are also now flowering, yummy, fragrant and delicate, and beloved by bees, hoverflies and butterflies. Beautiful blue borage is still going strong, as are the shungiko flowers (chop suey greens) which have been producing flowers in the Little Tunnel all summer (an edible chrysanthemeum, some say they taste a bit like gin…) They all look and taste great in the salad bags, as well as being essential for wildlife.
While mowing and strimming the Old Field headlands (hopefully for the last time this year), I also stopped to move this handsome toady fella to a more secure patch of grass – great to see him in the field, it’s the first I’ve found there for several years (not that I’ve been looking too hard). Hopefully he and his pals will keep the slugs in check over the winter.
There also seem to be tons of ladybirds around – and not just round the nasturtiums – which is great. I keep pulled weeds round the edges of the polytunnels, to dry out & provide a habitat for frogs, toads and ladybirds (among others, such as beetles). I discovered one that seemed to be incredibly small too! As long as it eats a few aphid, it is welcome here.
These sunny days are great for our colleagues gathering in the traditional wheat harvest and other crops from the fields; but they are also good for us veg growers too. The chilly mornings of late have meant that the early pumpkins are ripening well as the leaves die off naturally from cold and mildew, exposing the green fruits and encouraging them to turm orange. We will start bringing them into the polytunnels over the next few weeks, to finish off the ripening, and protect them from any really old nights before Hallowe’en (and allow the green manures to completely take over the patch before winter). The squash will soon follow, but their foliage is looking more robust, so they will be fine out there for a few more weeks.
This time of year is brilliant for veggies; not only have you got the summer crops of tomatoes, peppers, chillies, courgettes and cucumbers still producing (or finally really hitting their stride in the case of tomatoes and peppers), but we also have autumnal crops of fennel, leeks, coriander, parsley, dill, kale, spinach beetroot, leaf beet… So it’s easy and fun getting healthy and tasty veg inside you and stock up on vitamins and freshness, ready for the darker winter months ahead.
As well as picking and gathering on this bountiful harvest, the salads are still producing really well – the nasturtiums as ever have recovered brilliantly from their inevitable attacks of blackfly in the summer (thanks ladybirds), and have a great second flush of leaves and flowers on the go, swarming with bees and hoverflies – who are also enjoying the flowering of all the herbs, especially garlic chives. Plus this is the time for getting the polytunnels ready for their autumn and winter crops of celery, winter salads, herbs and chard – so it’s a really busy time. Fortunately the next batch of outdoor weeding and mowing/strimming will (hopefully!) be pretty much the last of the year, as growth slows down from now. The Persian clover has now been incorporated in the Vole Tunnel, more woodchip for the path put down, and Mypex pinned down to keep moisture and warmth in and weeds out; and this afternoon I’ll be planting out endive, radicchio, Oriental and mustards in there, ready for continuous production throughout the winter months.
I’m not even talking about the animal kind here: this is a quick post in praise of the legume. I’ve managed to be reasonably on it this year when it comes to green manures, and under-sowing crops with clovers etc; Persian clover went in the Vole Tunnel after the leeks, as usual; and I’ve just cut them down, ready to turn in next week before planting out the next lot of salads for winter. It was a great crop, about half a metre high, with tons of sweetly scented lilac flowers that bees and hoverflies went mad for.
We also managed to undersown yellow trefoil under the brassicas, broadcasting the seed a month or two ago, after weeding the plants and before the brassicas covered up the ground too much. This has taken well, and is will wait patiently until there is more light once the crop has been harvested, before it goes mad.
Likewise, our own mix of trefoil and clovers looks great under the squashes and pumpkins; and once the foliage dies back (which it started doing a couple of weeks ago, autumn certainly feels early this year), they will cover the ground well, and protect the soil from winter damage and erosion – as well as capturing nitrogen from the air for the plants, which will then go back in the soil once incorporated in spring.