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Life in the veg garden is taking on a definitely autumnal feel… it’s all fuzzy edges, like a woolly jumper


Harvesting this month:
French beans, carrots, the last of the courgettes and patty pan summer squash, Musquee de Provence winter squash, potatoes (maincrops to store), raspberries, curled-leaf and flat-leaf parsley, baby-leaf salads from pots outside the back door.

Sowing this month: Broad beans for overwintering, beetroot (for leaves), turnips (for leaves), spring onions, and round-rooted carrots.

This month I will be:

  • Clearing out the greenhouses
  • Pricking out greenhouse salad seedlings
  • Turning the compost
  • Mulching empty beds
  • Planting herbs and perennial vegetables
  • Juicing the last of the apples (mine and other people’s!)
  • Repairing fences

Mouse update

Remember my poor mouse-beheaded beetroot seedlings from last month?

The obvious solution was to trap the mice – and that’s certainly what I would have done before I became aware of the need for sustainability in the garden.

I don’t like killing things at the best of times: and with mice in particular they’re a really important food source for larger predators like owls, so every mouse that you trap is one removed from the wider ecosystem.

Also mouse traps are, usually, plastic, and I have vowed not to buy any new plastic for my garden (even if it’s not strictly for gardening).

The wildlife photographer Simon King once said to me that we humans are really, really clever animals: so if we can’t figure out a way to keep other animals away from our food without killing them, we’re not thinking hard enough.

Quite right: so I put my humanoid thinking cap on, and this is what I came up with.

I bought myself a big roll of 8mm gauge mesh from B&Q for about £20 and made myself a mesh cloche (the roll was big enough to make two or three, but one step at a time).

It took a while to get right: I had to staple the bottom edges to wooden battens, burying these in the ground to hold the whole thing stable and prevent mice from burrowing underneath, and the ends are squares of mesh tied in with wire, again buried a few inches beneath the ground.

But I resowed my beetroot seeds at the beginning of the month and they are already much bigger than they ever reached last month before the mice got them. It’s tricky to get in and weed, but I sow into mulch so the few weeds that have come up aren’t too troublesome. Once the seedlings have developed into sturdy young plants, of less interest to mice, I will remove the whole cloche and stash it to use elsewhere. It should last me several years of mouse-free sowing.

The big greenhouse clearout

That’s it: time to admit defeat. I had a good pick over of the last tomatoes to cook down and freeze, and now the plants are undeniably finished. They’ll go onto the compost heap (I had a spot of blight during the season where the rain got inside the greenhouse – but even blighted foliage can be composted as the disease doesn’t survive once the foliage breaks down).

Once the toms are out I’ll give the glass a good wash, then weed out the borders and refresh with a good thick (5cm/2″) mulch of garden compost before replanting with greenhouse salads (see below). My only dilemma is that I can’t bear to pull up those lovely French marigolds just yet; I sowed them back in February and they’ve been flowering their socks off all summer, no deadheading required. I guess the salads will just have to go in behind them till they’re done.

Pricking out salads

From this….
…to this: give them another few weeks and they’ll be the perfect size for planting into the greenhouse borders after the summer crops are cleared

All the salad plants I sowed last month are now big sturdy seedlings and ready to move on into their own individual newspaper pots (the above are Winter Density lettuce (left) and mizuna (right)).

I’m a big fan of newspaper pots: zero plastic and pretty much zero carbon (as you’re reusing waste newspaper to make them) and the seedlings do so much better as their roots grow through the sides and don’t circle as they would in plastic. I get much better results from them every year – well worth the extra 15 minutes it takes me to fill a seed tray with paper pots.

Juice!

The last of the windfalls: I have a lovely little Devonshire Quarrenden apple tree, very early eater with a lovely sweet, strawberry-like flavour. But my only slight problem is that it crops so early in the year – over by about mid-September most years – that I miss all the Apple Days and my windfalls are already long gone before I can juice them.

This year, what with the coronavirus an’ all, Apple Days aren’t really happening – or at least not the ones with the big community juicing events. Luckily, though, I’ve found a friend with access to a scratter, to chop up the windfalls into rough pieces, and a press, to make the juice.

I am taking along my own few remaining windfalls, and scavenging apples from everyone I can think of with a surplus. It’s one of the best ways I know of storing the abundance our apple trees provide: tip the juice into saved plastic litre bottles and freeze, then savour the rich, sweet flavour all through winter. Yum.