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Vegetable Garden

Seven jobs for your autumn vegetable garden

October 2, 2014

7 jobs for the autumn vegetable garden“And all of a sudden it was autumn”

The words from the social media stream of Foxglove Lane, one of my favourite photographic blogs, captured the almost overnight change in our weather. Our wonderfully long Indian summer is coming to an end. The leaves have started to flutter down in the autumn breeze and the hedgerows are giving us hints of the glorious shades that will soon adorn the landscape in their fall displays.

In the laneways the hedge cutters are busy trimming and tidying and thankfully those around us are doing so with sharpened blades that don’t leave the branches scared, torn and naked. The hedgerows are looking trim and tidy, ready to take the weight of snow that may befall them and the regrowth that springtime will bring.

7 jobs for the autumn vegetable gardenIn our homestead Mr G has been busy clearing out sheds so he has room to cut and store firewood and make space for workshop repairs, a never-ending pastime when you live in an old, rescued farmhouse.

And the garden… I’m beginning to despair at the lack of time I’m managing to find in my own. I do know however, this is a temporary glitch, soon I’ll be able to spend some precious hours inhaling the scent of soil and vegetation, preparing the garden for winter, hopefully before the rains come.

If you’re growing vegetables and are wondering what you could be doing outside now in the autumn days to ready it for winter, here’s seven jobs you could be getting on with. I keep adding to them, this was meant to be a list of five, and of course there’s plenty more, but I might frighten myself if I begin to list them all…

7 jobs for the autumn vegetable gardenSeven Jobs in the Autumn Vegetable Garden

1. Pumpkins, Courgettes and Squash

7 jobs for the autumn vegetable gardenThe days and nights are still warm but that could change, quick as a flash. Keep a close eye on your squash plants and the weather forecast as members of the squash family are frost tender. If you haven’t already done so, cut the stems of any plants that aren’t producing fruit and stop them growing. Small fruit are unlikely to amount to anything at this stage so its sadly time to get rid of them too. It may seem harsh but it will allow the plant to put all it’s energy into developing the remaining fruit on the plant. For more information on growing, harvesting and caring for squash, the RHS have a very useful information page here.

Courgettes will be coming to the end of their season and you may have noticed some whiteness on the leaves. This is likely to be powdery mildew and can be treated by removing the worst of the infected leaves from the plant and spraying the rest with a solution of 30% milk to 70% water. Don’t forget that plants have a natural lifespan and many will be starting to die off at this stage anyway so it may just be time to let nature take her natural course.

7 jobs for the autumn vegetable garden2. Clear away dead plants and debris

Now’s a great time to get outside and clear away all the debris of plants that have finished growing. Compost anything that’s not diseased, tidy away canes and netting. Clear away dead leaves away from plants such as the brassica that will be overwintering.

3. Cover the Soil

Once you’ve cleared away all the old plants and vegetable debris from around your garden, you may be left with beds of bare soil. If you’re not planning on planting any vegetables to overwinter, it’s a good idea to cover the soil with well-rotted manure or compost then cover them with black plastic or cardboard to prevent the nutrients leaching out during the winter months and polluting water streams. This will not only feed the soil over the winter months but prevent weeds growing too.

If you don’t have access to manure or compost, most garden centres and online stores now sell green manures that can be sown and left to grow until the springtime before being dug into the soil before planting season begins again.

7 jobs for the autumn vegetable garden4. Start Collecting Leaves

Leaves are a valuable source of nutrients and will rot down to create leaf mould that will turn into a wonderful soil conditioner. It’s a good idea to keep leaves separate from your compost area. Sacks can be purchased to keep them in or make a leaf mould bin using four fence posts and some chicken wire. The Secret Garden blog explains leaf mould in more detail and why it makes sense to collect our leaves.

5. Look After Your Rhubarb Patch

I spotted some very useful tips from the Real Men Sow blog recently that will tell you how to look after your rhubarb patch in the autumn. If you haven’t done so already, stop harvesting, let the leaves die down naturally then mulch heavily with well-rotted manure. Don’t cover the crowns completely is it may encourage rot to set in. Tending to your rhubarb now will make sure you get a good crop of stalks next year.

6. Harvesting

7 jobs for the autumn vegetable gardenGrab what you can when you can! I’m pining for some time to preserve all the fruit and vegetable growing in my garden but have given up stressing about it. Berries (including hedgerow berries) can be frozen flat on trays then bagged up, ready for some quieter time during the winter months for jam and juice making. Apples can be washed, peeled, sliced and basted with lemon juice before freezing flat on trays, then bagging up. Runner beans can be blanched and frozen in handy sized bags and courgettes will keep for a while in a cool, dry shed. (Whatever would we do without a freezer?!)

7. Plant something new

Just because we’re approaching winter, doesn’t mean we can’t grow anything. Now’s the time to plant overwintering onion sets and garlic cloves. Oriental salad leaves grow well in our climate as well as winter spinach and hardy peas.

If you’d like more than seven things to get on with in the vegetable garden, check out the Garden Tips page on the tab above for a month by month guide, as well as some handy, free downloads. Oh and if you can think up any upcycling ideas for a pile of old bicycles, be sure to let me know!

Vegetable Garden

Identifying Squash Seedlings

May 23, 2013

The following post comes hot on the heels of the earlier one today following a twitter comment from Rachel where she was wondering about how to identify seedlings.

Cucumber, squash and courgette are all in the Cucurbitaceae family of vegetables and their seedlings look remarkably similar. I’m sure many of us have planted modules full of the flat seeds in multipurpose compost, labelled them, watched them grow, potted them on to individual larger pots, forgotten to add new labels and then completely lost track of what we’d sown.

If this has happened to you this year, here’s a few pics that may help you to name your seedlings:  Continue Reading…

Food & Drink

Recipe: Chocolate Courgette Cake

October 15, 2011
Chocolate Courgette Cake Recipe

Credit: photo credit: Wurz via photopin cc

The original recipe for this chocolate courgette cake came from the BBC Good Food but feeling impatient and not having all the ingredients in the press, it’s been adapted (and worked).

Today’s cake baking was saved for school home time knowing how much the girls like to help. Today our youngest came running in the door to see what I was up to and immediately put on her apron full of delight at the prospect of helping mum … the delight was short-lived and the smile quickly turned into a frown…

She spotted the courgette that was waiting to be fed to the grater in the food processor “ahh no – we’re not putting THAT in a chocolate cake!!” She loves cracking eggs and sieving flour however, so was persuaded to stay and give it a go. A few hours later when her big sister returned home she excitedly dragged her into the kitchen … “you have to try the chocolate cake – it has courgettes in and its DELICIOUS!”

She’s right, so here it is…

Chocolate Courgette Cake Recipe

Cake Ingredients (my version)

350g self-raising flour
50g cocoa powder
1 tsp mixed spice
175ml olive oil
375g caster sugar
3 free range eggs
a few drops of vanilla extract
1 tsp salt
500g grated courgettes
140g roasted pistachio nuts, roughly chopped

Ingredients For the Chocolate Fudge Icing

100g dark chocolate 70%
75ml evaporated milk
75g granulated sugar
40g butter
few drops vanilla extract

Cake Method

Heat the oven to 180°C. Grease and line a 24cm deep cake tin.

1. Place the flour, cocoa powder, mixed spice and salt into a large bowl and combine.
2. In another bowl combine the sugar, eggs, olive oil, vanilla extract and grated courgette.
3. Mix the dry and wet mixture until almost combined then add the pistachio nuts.
4. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for approx 50 min’s (use a skewer to ensure its cooked)
5. Cool in the cake tin for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack and cooling.

Chocolate Courgette (zucchini) Cake Recipe

Chocolate Fudge Icing Method

Put the sugar and evaporated milk into a heavy based saucepan and heat until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil then simmer without stirring for 6 min’s.

Remove from the heat, add the broken up chocolate pieces and once fully incorporated, stir in the butter and vanilla extract, stirring until smooth. Pour into a bowl, cover with clingfilm and once cool place in the fridge to thicken.

Spread the chocolate fudge over the cake and enjoy!

Have you tried eating vegetables in your cakes? If so, what’s your favourite?


Vegetable Garden

How to Treat Powdery Mildew Without Chemicals

September 8, 2011

Last week in the community garden polytunnel the courgettes were looking fab. I can say that with certainty as we’d closely checked all the plants following the discovery of the red spider mite (see previous post). So the last thing we were expecting this week was a fungal disease, and quite a major outbreak at that.

It’s often the way that during the first year of growing fruit and vegetables everything will perform spectacularly for you. You may be lucky the following year too, but no matter how often you wish or believe otherwise, sooner or later a pest or disease will find your plants and my experience in the Greenside Up garden has been that it will be a different pest or disease each year.
Identifying the pest or disease quickly is the key to preventing a larger, more devastating disaster and there are many books out there to help you do this.
My current favourite is The RHS Pests & Diseases by Pippa Greenwood & Andrew Halstead. It’s full of colour photographs, good descriptions and a great A-Z of pests, diseases and disorders, suggesting ways for tackling them both organically or chemically. 
So, back to the Powdery Mildew….
One of the problems of growing different fruit and vegetables undercover is that they require different growing conditions. Red spider mite doesn’t like moist, humid conditions so it’s often advised to hose down the floors and staging of greenhouses etc to create humid atmospheres… 
…. but then powdery mildew thrives where there’s humid or damp air around the top growth of leaves. This can be very confusing to any of us starting out growing our own! So what do you do???
Mildews and moulds tend to build up where there’s lack of good airflow so keep windows and doors open. Yes, spray the floors and decking if you have to, but try and avoid the water splashing the leaves of your plants.
Ensure there is adequate space around your plants, again to help with air flow and do try to keep on top of the weeding. Lastly, and I can’t emphasis it enough, be vigilant and don’t ignore something if you don’t know what it is hoping that it will go away! (Yep, I’ve done that too…) – it won’t.
Once we’d identified the Powdery Mildew we immediately removed all the badly infected leaves and bagged them up (these weren’t destined for the compost heap). Unfortunately most of the leaves on the two plants had  been affected and we couldn’t remove all of the leaves without killing the plants, so we just removed the very worst. 
An old remedy for Powdery Mildew is to spray the plants with a milk solution (300ml milk, 700ml water mixed together in a clean spray bottle). The enzymes of fresh milk will attack mildew and a stronger solution will result in a foul smell as the milk goes rancid. 
Another is to mix 5g baking soda with 1lt of water.
We didn’t have baking soda to hand but as community gardeners who enjoy the odd cup of tea and slice of tart, we could provide the milk.
Hopefully the milk will do the trick but if it doesn’t, I don’t think any of the gardeners will be too devastated…. even the most avid courgette eaters are secretly looking forward to the day they don’t have to take one home with them again ;).
Vegetable Garden

Grow Something Different in the Vegetable Garden

July 24, 2011

squash in the polytunnelIt’s good to grow something different.

You can see how plants grow and experience new flavours.

Whether it’s an unusual vegetable or just another variety we always try to add to the list of tried and tested here in the Greenside Up garden. This year we’re trying a few new ones, starting with a yet unnamed variety of squash.

We saved the seeds from a squash that was bought from a local farm gate last autumn. Searching through the seed catalogues has us thinking that they might be of the ‘Blue Ballet’ variety but until the plants mature we’ll  just have to wait and see (and if they were F1 seeds they’re unlikely to develop true to type anyway). The two plants sown are romping away in the tunnel, so much so that I cleared away the Phacelia this morning that I’d sown in front of them to attract the pollinating bees in.

florence fennelNext up is Florence Fennel. This is the bulb plant and not the wispy herb. It was touch and go whether any would survive as the tiny seedlings resembled the weeds growing close by and many were inadvertently pulled up. A few have survived however, and we’re looking forward to cooking the aniseed flavoured veg when it matures.

Grow Your Own Kale

Grow Your Own Kale

We’ve grown a couple of different varieties of kale over the years, and always try to sow the hardy curly kale for some winter veg. This year we’ve added red kale to add some variety to our dinner plates and some Black Russian just because it’s a different shape.

kohl rabiI’ve been looking forward to sowing some wacky looking Kohl Rabi so this spring added them to the beds too. They’re still pretty small and we lost some due to the rampaging cattle that visited recently but I love them for their individuality and colour…

Last year we grew a tall variety of French beans in the polytunnel. They grew so rapidly we could have climbed up them to meet the giants. They were also full of strange-looking spiders and it was left to our 10-year-old daughter and a friend (invited around for tea lots that month) to pick them.

Looking After and Planting a Polytunnel in Winter

Three Sisters Planting in August

This year I’ve chosen a dwarf variety so that I can pick them myself.

Lastly we’ve added to the companion plants with the introduction of Poached Egg Plant sown directly into the bed in front of the broad beans, which have always suffered with the little pest black bean aphid. This pretty little annual attracts hoverflies whose larvae eat aphids so fingers crossed they’ll arrive in time!