September in the Garden Smallholding

I’m pretty sure autumn arrived earlier this year, but now it’s official I have to say it’s my favourite season of all. I recently spent a bit of time in the vegetable garden clearing away debris for composting, generally tidying up and grappling with weeds. Lovely home compost is ready to use now so I shall be digging plenty of that into empty beds as they become available, this will give the soil a really good boost. One job that I’ve been putting off is tidying the greenhouse. I didn’t opt for a concrete base or slabs so I should have put membrane cover down on the floor with gravel on top because now it resembles something like a hot-house from Kew Gardens – the grass and weeds have really done well. I think I’ll leave it through autumn and winter, just in case baby frogs from our wildlife pond have taken up residence.

It’s nearly time for planting the first of the spring garlic, I will probably grow ‘Cristo’ again, I’m really pleased with it so far and it seems to be keeping well too. I’m still deciding whether or not to autumn sow broad beans and peas, although nature has already beaten me to it thanks to some stray pods. There’s still plenty to eat from the vegetable garden including, cabbages, kohl rabi, carrots, beets, squash, autumn raspberries, runner beans, potatoes and huge parsnips although I like them to get a frosting for the best flavour. I planted two large blocks of sweet corn this year, one block went to my allotment and the rest in the garden, by doing this I managed to accidentally extend the picking season. Carrots are proving to be a big hit this year, hardly any carrot fly damage! I grew Flyaway, a variety with a higher resistance to carrot fly. Admittedly, I did wonder if the flavour would be impaired due to breeding but I was pleasantly surprised.

Now is a perfect time to plant spring-flowering bulbs, I haven’t yet but I might pop some more daffodils in simply because I adore them. I highly recommend planting ornamental Allium bulbs, I have ‘Purple Sensation’ and they’re so striking. There are some really large-flowered varieties available if you’re after something extra eye-catching.

How are you getting on at your veg patch or allotment?

Cabbage Harvest

I’m not a huge fan of the Brassica family, particularly cabbage but I decided to give red cabbage a go this season. I grew a variety called ‘Rodeo’ which is a long season variety that can be cut from July to December. I cut a few with nice firm heads, peel back the lovely purple tinged leaves to reveal the beautiful ruby-red colour. 

This variety didn’t become a thug, was relatively pest free and stayed in its alloted space – a great ornamental for the flower borders if you’re low on space.

Storing Onions

Having grown onions successfully year after year with good yields, I soon realised I should learn how to store onions properly in order for them to keep for as long as possible. I learnt the hard way that there’s little point putting effort into sowing seeds or planting sets, running around your veg patch like a demented scarecrow, arms-a-flapping while you try desperately to protect your tiny onions from birds and cats that seem determined to dig them up, just to end up throwing out rotting onions by the bucket load come late autumn/early winter.

If like me you grow a lot of onions, then storing is vital to see you through winter and beyond. Below is what I’ve learnt so far, it has helped to keep us in onions for some time but I did make the mistake last year of unwillingly feeding a hungry population of field mice in our garage (a hazard of living so near to farmland and woodland), so a more suitable place has to be found for the trays this year.

Lift onions on a dry day, lay them out on top of the soil for as long as possible if weather permits with bulbs fully exposed to the sun, otherwise put them straight onto racks or greenhouse staging in an unheated greenhouse, conservatory or shed. Leave them for as long as possible to fully dry, the leaves will all but wither away but that’s fine. Once the outer layer of white/yellow skin onions starts to darken to a caramel colour (red onions will darken) and become crispy to the touch, drying is well underway and your onions should store well. Drying is key to storing onions for as long as possible.

Discard any bulbs that have signs of fungal growth or disease (avoid compost heap) and use spongy or sprouting bulbs immediately – they won’t store. Once the bulbs have fully dried store them in nets, trays or tie them in bunches and put in a cool, frost-free place such as a shed or garage. If your unheated greenhouse is guaranteed to be frost-free then this would be suitable also. Red onions tend not to store as well as white/yellow onions, different varieties may vary with storing abilities too so it’s best to check this before purchasing onion sets/seeds.

As I said before, this procedure works for me (apart from mice chomping their way through a lot of my onions in the garage) so hopefully this will work for you also. If you have any other points to add with regards to storing onions successfully please feel free to drop them in the comments box.

Goodbye Becki Hen

I’m sorry to say that one of my hens passed away suddenly today. Becki was one of 10,000 ex-battery hens rescued by Little Hen Rescue just over 2 years ago due to a farm closure.

I will miss her very much.

A Good Year for Plums

Our young Marjorie’s Seedling rewarded us well this year with a decent yield of gorgeous deep purple fruits tinged with blue which I’m pleased to have captured in the photograph – they really are that stunning to look at. They’re not at all bitter or sharp and make good eaters, we’ve enjoyed eating them fresh from the tree without the need for pulling silly faces. Marjorie’s Seedling are good cooking plums too, a perfect choice for jam making and other scrummy plummy recipes.

If your garden is a frost pocket in spring then Marjorie’s Seedling may be the answer to succeeding with plums, flowering later than other plum trees it stands a better chance of setting fruit.

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Tidying Summer Fruiting Raspberry Canes

The summer raspberries are just about coming to an end now, they fruited well for new plants and being a mid to late summer variety they’ve been a real treat all summer long. Some of the canes are finished and looking scruffy so I decided to start the raspberry cane tidy up.

Canes producing fruit throughout summer will probably look tired and dead looking now, especially if they’re early fruiting varieties. Cut these canes down to just above ground level. You should have fresh new growth too, these are new canes which will produce fruit next year so don’t cut them down, tie the new canes onto the frame support instead.

Raspberries will appreciate an autumn mulch around the base with well-rotted manure or fresh compost. We had a bit of a glut with our summer raspberries even though I only planted 3 canes so I’d better look for some interesting recipes to store away for next year.

The autumn variety raspberries are fruiting now, I’ll never get tired of picking and eating raspberries – especially because they’re so expensive to buy!

Make a Garlic Plait

I harvested all the garlic in July, since then it has been laid out on racks and dried to a perfect ‘rustle’ but there’s plenty left and it needs to be stored. I’ve decided to have a go at plaiting it. I think the bulbs look visually appealing hanging in a plait and it’s a useful way to have the bulbs to hand too – just pluck them as and when you need them. Here’s how I did it:

I started with three bulbs complete with long stem, plait the stems together tightly just as you would for hair styling, an inch or so will do.

Add another three bulbs to the plait, joining each of their stems to one of the other stems in the plait, continue this process until you’ve used up all of your bulbs. Plait any excess stems for a really lovely look and hang it up in a dry place, such as a shed or kitchen.

I’m sure there are fancy ways of plaiting garlic but I’m pretty chuffed with my attempt and it does the job. Have a go yourself!

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