Autumn days (well, almost)

It seems like ages since I was able to spend several days getting stuck in to all the jobs waiting in the patch, we’ve been so busy with other things. After the nightmare of filling in our French tax return form last week it was a joy to escape into the sunshine, fork in hand.

It’s worth visiting the patch at the moment if only to see the Jerusalem artichoke flowers behind the polytunnel.

The plants are 12 feet high and covered in blooms, as pretty as anything I’ve grown in the flower garden this year. They are humming with insects, last for ages in water as cut flowers and there’s still the promise of all those earthy little tubers to see us through the winter; perhaps I should spread them all over the garden?

My first job was harvesting and storing. The last of the podding beans went into the freezer and I cleared the plants out, digging over the ground ready for  planting some garlic in a little while. We’ve been eating squash for weeks, these are the last few from the tunnel and outside. I’m definitely planning to add some different varieties next year.

We’ve finished our stored potatoes (no surprise, we didn’t grow many this year) so we’ll tuck into squash now when we feel the need for starch. The ‘Big Max’ pumpkins are still growing so they can stay put for now.


I’ve trimmed the giant onions, some are still a bit damp but Sam and Adrienne’s sun terrace-to-be is proving an excellent sunbathing spot for them. They are real sumos – many of them weigh well over a kilo – and the flavour is pretty good, too. It will soon be time to start a cauldron of onion soup, I think.

The warm, humid weather seems to have triggered a second spring and there are annual seedlings popping up everywhere. I’ve been busy with the hoe but amongst the weeds and annual flowers ( the only drawback of growing meadow mixes to attract pollinators is they don’t stay in their ‘meadow’!) I was pleased to see the ‘Pixie’ spring cabbage, ‘Hi-Keeper’ Japanese onion, ‘Winter Density’ lettuce and chervil are all through the ground and zooming up.

I’m still picking tomatoes in the tunnel but the poor outdoor plants never really recovered from blight so it was high time I cleared their patch, especially as the perennial weeds were having a field day beneath them. I removed every scrap of plant material for burning, I’ve read that the fungus is spread though the seed so I picked over the ground several times for fallen fruits. It felt like a sad job – I really need to rethink tomatoes for next year. A different patch, more disciplined pinching-out, maybe a blight -resistant variety? Mmm, lots to think about.

I think this patch will be perfect for the globe artichokes I’ve raised from seed, it’s a sunny spot and protected by the tunnel. I know it’s probably the wrong time of year to be planting them but fingers crossed they’ll be just fine.

There have to be some bonuses to tidying up. Once I’d cleared the tomatoes and weeds, look what I found lurking in the undergrowth: a bit mud-spattered but a delicious surprise, there has been no sign of aubergines on my outdoor plants at all this year. That will teach me to look more closely in future!

Last month we spent several days emptying a hayloft of literally tons of old hay and straw. We’ve put most of it to rot down into compost but I’m using some as a mulch to cover bare earth over winter. I’ve started spreading the piles around this week, tucking it around the young asparagus plants and marking them with sticks so I can find them again in the spring.

Autumn slides in very gently here. The mornings are cool and dewy but the days are very warm and sunny (I’m still gardening in shorts). The maize and sunflower harvests are in full swing but the countryside is still very green with only the smallest hint of change in the trees. The swallows finally slipped south this week but in the golden afternoons, the blackcaps and chiffchaffs are still singing their summer songs. The garden is full of young frogs, toads and lizards,  it is buzzing with insects and dragonflies and the Michaelmas daisies are shimmering with butterflies.

It’s idyllic… so why, then, is there always something to spoil the party? First, the moles who are obviously enjoying the softer ground and seem intent on  (excuse the pun) undermining all my best efforts with a network of tunnels all over the patch. Then, there are the caterpillars. Aaaaarrrrgh, they are a nightmare. How can there be so many of them? I’ve spent hours every day picking them off (don’t they pong?) and scraping eggs, but the next day they’re back in their hundreds. My fault for daring to think we might just enjoy some brassica crops after all, they are devastating the lot. My poor, poor cabbages, sprouts, broccoli, kale… is there no end to the misery?

On a brighter note, there’s something about autumn days that always brings out the Earth Mother in me: I feel a pressing need to knit jumpers and socks, bake bread and go foraging. So, with my knitting basket overflowing and two homemade loaves cooling in the kitchen, I set off to forage round the patch for something to brighten up lunchtime. I love the physical work in all weathers, the seasonal challenges of the gardening year and planning our meals round what’s ready to eat but even sitting in the patch with a cuppa I find myself fretting about what needs to be done, making mental plans for planting and rotating crops next year, cursing (yet again) whatever life form is currently attacking the veg… how often do I just wander and enjoy? What a happy time I had feeling, picking, sniffing, tasting and gathering a basket of scrumptious bits and pieces.

‘Little Gem’ lettuce (going over, but the hearts are still crisp and sweet), endive and raddichio for a bitter contrast, rocket and its fiery little cousin wild rocket for a pepper hit, young rainbow chard and beet leaves for colour and earthiness, and coriander and flat-leaved parsley for a fresh zing. We only grew late carrots so these are a recent treat: the ‘Charlemagne’ orange ones are sweet and flavoursome but I love the ‘White Satin’, too. These are seeds, crunchy, tasty and (so far) totally free of rootfly. Perfect grated together in a Dijon vinaigrette with a dash of chilli oil. This was my last beetroot 😦 so I wanted to do it full honour: grated raw with a sharp apple and sweet pears from the orchard, mixed with lemon juice and olive oil (from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Year – simple but delicious).

A fresh, colourful, delicious, healthy and very cheap lunch,  a celebration of the season and all that’s good in the garden. Forget the ****** caterpillars, this is why we do it, isn’t it? 🙂


4 thoughts on “Autumn days (well, almost)

  1. Looking lovely as always 🙂 I’m refusing to grow any brassicas with out a netted cage, not one of my cabbages survived this summer!


    • Well, I’d like to say that caterpillar-picking is a therapeutic pastime but that wouldn’t be totally true! Hopefully you’ll have more luck in your new garden, it’s in a much better position to the old one. 🙂


  2. Your big onions look superb.

    It’s been a particularly bad year for caterpillars, all of our brassicas have been hit badly and I think a lot of gardeners will have to think about netting if butterflies make a come back.


    • Well thank you but I’m not sure those onions will keep well, I just didn’t get them out of the ground soon enough. I think we’ll need to eat them fairly quickly so it looks like French onion soup for the next few weeks!


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