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autumn asters

So it’s officially autumn. It was the autumn equinox on Saturday and from now until March the nights are longer than the days. The weather is distinctly autumnal and it’s cold enough to light the wood-burner. The problem is I’m in denial; I refuse to light the fire in September, it’s just too early. I even went into town last week in flip-floppy things, cropped trousers and no jacket. The sun was shining, which had lulled me into thinking it was warmer than it actually was but the nip in the air quickly made me regret my attire. It’s unusual for me to be under-dressed. I have never bought into the ‘a coat is not an option, even if it is minus 15 outside and blue skin is distinctly unattractive’ ethos that some of my fellow north-easteners have become famous for. I guess I’m still hoping that by some miracle an Indian summer will appear and my trips to the allotment won’t require layers of fleece just yet.

Of course, I know denial is futile. Burying my head in the sand like an ostrich might keep my head warm but it won’t do much for the rest of me. Do ostriches actually bury their heads in the sand or have they been badly misrepresented over the years?

Borlotti beans

Borlotti beans

I did make the most of Saturday’s lovely sunshine though, to start to prepare the plot for its winter slumber. We’ve been lucky to escape the early frosts that have affected some but the cooler temperatures had started to take their toll on the French beans and the weight of the plants on the teepee had caused quite an alarming lean to the structure, so with strong winds and rain predicted I thought it was time to remove them. They were the tall climbing bean variety ‘Blauhilde’ with long purple pods which I would highly recommend, partly because it coped with the worst summer any of us has ever known, and also because the beans were very tasty and never got tough or stringy. I harvested the last two Florence fennel bulbs and made the decision to pick No. 1 squash. It could have done with longer on the plant to ripen a bit more but after nurturing it for so long I didn’t want to lose it to frost. It’s now on the kitchen window sill where the skin can harden a little more but to be honest as it is our only decent sized squash curing the skin to prolong storage is not really an issue; I’m sure we’ll be cooking with it in the weeks to come.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time over the last couple of weeks moving manure from the allotment pile to my own plot. I can only really manage an hour or two before my back hurts so I try to do a little bit every couple of days if the weather allows and gradually the beds are being mulched.

Russian red kale

Russian red kale

My plan was to have more winter veg this year so there’s some mizuna and cavolo nero kale in a bed along with some red Russian kale. This Russian kale is actually more bluey-pink and it’s particularly versatile. I love it wilted in omlettes and pasta dishes or in bubble and squeak. If you grow one winter veg I’d recommend this one.

The purple and white sprouting broccoli plants have recovered from the caterpillar onslaught. Even though I had covered them in enviromesh butterflies had still, somehow managed to lay eggs on them. Vigilance and judicious squishing saved the day but it just shows how a gardener can’t rest on their laurels even when pest controls have been employed.

My leeks have not faired so well, in fact they’ve been a bit of a disaster. It appears they have been subject to an attack from the leek moth. I perhaps wasn’t as vigilant with my leeks as I now realise I should have been. They had started to look a bit raggedy but I didn’t think much of it until an inspection last week when I discovered tiny little caterpillars chomping their way into the stems of my leeks. With little hope of some of the leeks recovering I had to remove them. So it seems I need to cover them too next year, with fleece or enviromesh. You never see the elegant kitchen gardens in sumptuous photo shoots swathed in fleece, do you?

Not wanting to end on a tale of leek destruction though, I have planted up some more biennials for early flowers next year. I love biennials as they give me hope at this time of year. It can be quite melancholic removing this year’s plants but biennials remind me of my plans for next year and they fill me with hope for good weather and bountiful crops.

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