Monday, 17 October 2011

Putting the Garden to Bed

We're coming to the end of the garden season. I should be able to get a few more weeks worth of swiss chard and parsnips, and the cabbages probably won't be ready until winter (if then - I have yet to have any real success with cabbage), and I'll have to plant broad beans and bulbs later this fall. But most of the plants are reaching the end of their life, and it's time to tidy up and cover as many beds as possible to prevent a proliferation of weeds.

I'm going to be controversial and admit that this is my least favourite time of the gardening year. I know, it should be a time to celebrate the bountiful harvest - but both my husband and I are neat freaks, and the garden gets VERY messy this time of year. Some plants are dying off and looking very sad, others are flourishing a little bit too much for my liking. Also we completely lost control of the weeds this year because we were away quite a bit over the past couple of months. On top of which I lost my allotment key and was not able to visit the plot for several weeks until I acquired a replacement.

But we finally made a good start this weekend tidying up. We have three compost containers on the allotment, but even that is not enough to keep up with all the garden and kitchen waste, so we tried burning some of the leftover plant materials for the first time. Our allotment neighbor let us borrow their handy metal bonfire barrel, so we were able to have a very tidy bonfire. Unfortunately the plant material was not nearly dry enough and we have no outdoor skills whatsoever, so we had to use a lot of lighter fluid to keep the fire going. Which means I can't use the ash to fertilise the plot, but at least we had the satisfaction of getting rid of all the mess.

Nightfall is coming earlier - soon it will be too dark to visit the garden after work.

We try to cover as many beds as possible over the winter, because what with the shortening days and holiday travel we know we won't get down to the allotment often enough in the upcoming months to keep the weeds at bay. Weeds still somehow manage to grown under the black cloth covering but they are pretty sparse and spindly, easy enough to dig up in the spring.

Hoping the cover keeps out the weeds - and the foxes & badgers

In terms of the boutiful harvest I'm most pleased about the pumpkins and beans. I got fewer pumpkins this year but they were larger than last year, so I'm going to interpret that as progress. The genius of beans and pumpkins is that you don't have to harvest them until the end of the season and they store easily through the winter, so you get to enjoy your garden produce for longer. I harden off the pumpkins in the kitchen by the heater for a couple of weeks, and this year I'm storing them in the hallway outside our flat (they need heat and humidity for the curing process and a cool, well-ventilated space for storage). The beans mostly dried on the vine, so we didn't have the trouble of storing them until we were ready to shell them. The shelling by hand was a bit of a chore - I suspect my husband will be getting a bean sheller for Christmas this year.

Shelling beans - with no help from kitty

My husband is most pleased about the parsnips. After getting a lot of freakishly forked parsnips last year we carefully cleared the bed of rocks, and so far this year's crop has been perfectly formed. Perfectly formed, but enormous. Some of them obviously should have been picked earlier, but I'm not a huge fan of parsnips so they had to wait for my husband to return from Paris at the end of September. I cut out the inner core from the especially large ones and they were perfect roasted.

I've been convinced to grow more rows of parsnips next year. They are easy to grow and you can leave them in the bed late into the season, so you have a continuous supply into winter. Along with the pumpkins and the slowly swelling brussel sprouts, we should be all set for Thanksgiving!