September pickings

Summer comes late to a Birmingham allotment, the first flowers not really blooming until June. They are white, pale and gentle: cosmos, foxglove, sweet-pea, forget-me-not. Then the season slips to autumn and WHAM BAM! Colour is everywhere! The sunflowers blaze and the blueberries turn a majestic russet; there are golden tomatoes, green peppers, red raspberries and purple beans. Not to be outdone, the artichoke still lures drunk bees to its violet spikes.

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There are still drunk bees on the artichoke flowers

The colours of the autumn flowers work together incredibly well, but it’s due to luck rather than judgment. The yellow, red and orange dahlias contrast against the peach calendula, in turn providing foil for the sunflowers.

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Sunshine yellow dahlias

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One of the last calendula

Speaking of sunflowers…they’re proving themselves to be showy madams. I think there are six different varieties – can’t quite remember – and the more I pick, the more they keep coming. The issue now is height: the best blooms are a foot taller than I can reach.

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The sunflowers, frankly, are showing off

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And they’re beyond reach. This is as tall as I go!

Truth be told, I’m getting a little bored of these late summer flowers (I know, it’s a terrible thing to say). Eyes now are on the crysanthemums, which hint at blooming daily but then never quite get around to it.

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The crysanths are thinking about putting on a show

The beans are starting to fade now, or at least the purple ones are. I’ve purposefully left a load of pods on the vine to fatten up, the beans inside perfect for winter soups and stews. Meanwhile, I discovered yesterday that one borlotti plant made it through the slug assault! We have pods, slim and mottled with pink, which in a month or so will be full of marbled borlottis.

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Swelling bean pods amidst autumnal leaves

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Joy! One borlotti plant made it through and now there are pods

Next to the beans I’ve allowed the bishop’s flower (or ammi) to fade, its seed heads just as pretty as the white fluff of flower.

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Flower head and seed head coexist on the ammi

Speaking of fading: the berries are long gone, but the blueberry delivers again with a show-stopping storm of autumn colour.

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Blazing blueberry bush

I’ve been forgetting that the allotment is meant to be about harvesting, and harvesting things to eat at that. The hops are nearly ready to come down (Matt’s in charge of that bit), and that favourite autumn delight – corn – has come up trumps. 18 ears are ready to cut!

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The hops are ready to harvest

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So too the corn, 18 ears and counting

The fennel started life with promise but has now had a hissy fit and bolted. I’ll pull it nonetheless, it’s anise flavour will come in useful somewhere in the kitchen.

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The fennel is deeply unimpressed with the weather and has bolted

The chicory I thinned the other week has relaxed into itself and started to hearten up. I love the flicks of purple, as if a paintbrush has been splattered over the leaves.

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Chicory is heartening up

The chard deserves a special medal for longevity. I planted this row back in March and it’s a bit hole-y now – that’s the slugs for you – but it’s still cropping and tender. The spinach will make it through to winter and, under cover, the mustard leaves and cavalo nero are relatively intact.

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The chard is still going strong, despite slug damage

The raspberries keep coming and, weather permitting, will do so for a few more weeks I expect.

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Luscious autumn raspberries

Amidst the loot, there are the interlopers. I couldn’t bring myself to shift this weed, which has seeded itself under a brick – no soil required.

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This brave plant has rooted itself under a brick on top of plastic. No soil here. It gets marks for perseverance.

I harvest carrots (wonky but tasty), leeks, beans, tomatoes, chillies, courgettes, sunflowers and dahlias, a trug which brightens a grey September day.

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Straight leeks, wonky carrots

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Colourful pickings

Harvesting: Beans, chillies, courgettes, raspberries, tomatoes, chard, corns, carrots, leeks, dahlias, sunflowers, cosmos, last calendula

Planted under cover: chard, kale, mustard spinach, winter lettuce

The early August allotment

The allotment’s been a little neglected of late, partly due to work, partly due to holidays, partly due to the rainy dully weather. But a visit to Kent at the weekend (of which more in a further post) has shamed me into action: I’ve seen beautifully tended veg patches, weed-free and neat, and return with a few ideas that I will pinch for next year. In our absence, the weeds have grown tall and errant raspberries and blackberries are attempting to set up home where they shouldn’t. I spent two hours in the drizzle yesterday yanking them up, both mystified and impressed with their persistence.

This year’s crop feels less bounteous than last year. Perhaps we had beginner’s luck, or perhaps it’s just not as warm. The cutting garden (which I will now pretentiously call it) is, however, a persistent delight. I’ve been picking sweet peas, bishop’s flower and lavender for several weeks, now joined by love-in-a-mist, cosmos, marigolds, the early dahlias and the most exquisite sunflowers. They leave their pollen over the kitchen table and give Gertie plenty of entertainment as she spots escaping earwigs.

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The sunflowers are out and proud

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I’ve been picking these jewel coloured posies for the last month or so

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The marigolds and bishops flower give colour to the veg patch

The ornamental gourds have given great ground cover but now threaten to take over. I’ve mercilessly ripped out the two least-pretty gourds – productive but pointless. In their place go a few butternut squash seeds just to see if they will grow this late in the season. If they don’t, no matter.

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The gourds threaten to take over

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Bi-colour gourd

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Yesterday’s gourd haul. I’ll leave these to season and then they’ll turn into an early autumn table decoration.

The hops have grown so bushy and weighty that they broke their wooden support last week; the entire hopolisk had to be taken down, repaired and re-assembled. The smallest of flowers are now starting to set so I think we’ll be looking to harvest in mid- to late- September. I discover daily that hop leaves are abrasive, leaving cuts and grazes on any exposed flesh they touch.

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The hops are outgrowing the hopolisk

Down in the greens patch, the Red Russian kale and salad bowl lettuce are starting to fade but the chard, sorrel and beets are still green and luscious. And actually, the winter lettuce (not pictured) is still croppable, though I’m now using it to support netting for the cima di rapa. Some of these will have to come up over the next few weeks to make room for winter greens.

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The kale and lettuce is starting to fade (background) but chard and beet tops are still cropping well (foreground)

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The beets and our first teeny tiny wonky carrot

The sweetcorn are proof that the gardener cannot control everything: the Seeds of Italy corn are tall and strong, whilst the Thompson and Morgan corn are weedy and struggling. The two varieties are right next to each other and were planted out at the same time.

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The disappointing corns…

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…and the good corns

Speaking of struggling, it’s not a great year for beans. I don’t think any of the borlotti have made it, but the purple French beans are now cropping and we’ll also get a few green French beans.

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Purple beans

The tomatoes got a long overdue haircut yesterday. They have been getting a daily water and weekly feed, but really they needed weekly thinning and trimming. Instead of being tall and lean, the plants are squat and fat – but there is still good fruit set. Not much sign of ripening yet, with the weather being so cool.

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In the greenhouse, good fruit set but it’s all still green

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First hint of red on the tomatoes

The three chilli plants are creating so much fruit I could set up stall in the Birmingham markets. These are cayenne but they look like those terrifying chillies you see in Indian supermarkets; I think the cool weather has prevented them from plumping up.

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One of the terrifying chillies

Over the next week I’m going to give the spring onions another go, seeing if planting at this time will make any difference to their persistent failure. The last blackcurrants need harvesting and the first blueberries and autumn raspberries are shouting for attention. Then it’s time to think ahead to autumn and winter, sowing spicy mustard salad and chard, and planting out the cavalo nero seedlings. For now – I’m off to make beetroot humous.

Ripped out: gourds, lots of weeds, lots of stray raspberry and blackberry shoots, dead-heading the flowers

Harvesting: lettuce, sorrel, rocket, red russian kale, chard, courgette, gourd, beets, first carrot, sunflowers, cosmos, sweet peas, love-in-a-mist, dahlia, bishop’s flower, marigold, last blackcurrants, first raspberries, first blueberries

Sowed: late butternut squash

Indian summer

After the dismal August, the weather has got all perky. As I write I’m considering putting my shades on just to see the laptop as sunlight streams in onto the kitchen table. Gertie kitten is sprawled out in front of me, between chest and keyboard, absorbing the rays. I love an Indian summer, it suits the English psyche. You get sunshine and a bit of warmth, but not too much, not enough to prevent the baking of bread or the eating of gravy.

The cold August / hot September is having repercussions though. Some of the tomatoes are rotting on the vine, I think killed off by the late summer chills. And news from the Shire tells me that the sloes are already going over – these that traditionally aren’t even picked until after the first frost! A Christmas of purple gin drinking is threatened.

I think the Shire is about a month ahead of Birmingham. I still have ripening borlotti beans and corns whilst my Mother’s been picking hers for about a month. Their spring started earlier of course, and most of the harvest is going over now. But not all.

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Mother’s epic peppers

 

Remember those sea-monster/crook neck squash we were offered the other week? Well, I took a look at the vine. This is a 12 foot wall. That is one epic plant.

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Squash plant / jungle monster

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Crook neck squash

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These are kinda fun

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The Viburnem in full glory

 

As ever, I’m sent home with a car full of food. Their tomatoes have already been roasted and sieved into passata, and the chillies will become sweet chilli sauce. But you know, the weekend’s picking from our allotment is pretty outstanding too. The raspberries just keep on coming. We’ve had the last of the beans now but the tomatoes are fat, soft and fragrant. Season’s pickings.

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Mother’s September harvest

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My September basket