Garden Diaries, part 3
Updated: Nov 15, 2020
These are the months of harvest. July, August and September are the time of return, when the garden finally gives something back for the months of work you've put in. It is the beginning of gluts – courgettes, broad beans, figs, green beans, tomatoes – when what happens in the kitchen seems most synchronised with what's happening outside. It's also the season when the garden looks, smells and feels at its very best: green, vibrant, fragrant, tender.
With the easing of lockdown in the UK, it's been easier to stay stocked with the materials, equipment and plants to maintain a garden, and the vegetables, fruit and flowers seem to have found their rhythm. However, the months have not been without their challenges: storms, pests, disappointing harvests. There's plenty to do in the garden, and the warmer temperatures make it hot work.
But when the rewards are this good, it's worth breaking an occasional sweat.
July felt like we were finally seeing some return from all our hard work in the previous months. We had an abundance of broad beans, the start of an early glut of courgette (beginning the weekly baking of courgette cake), as well as harvesting of the first of the tomatoes (even if there was only enough to have one grilled tomato each on a Friday morning fry-up!) Both lunches and dinners became opportunities to make use of our garden produce, like Broad Bean and Tomato Bruschetta and Broad Bean Risotto.
There have also been fewer garden tasks this month. The plants have grown at a rate of knots, though unfortunately so have the weeds and grass, so this month’s main challenge has been maintaining the garden: watering, weeding, and keeping the grass cut.
We had a very dry July, which of course meant watering the garden every evening. Without a hose, we were forced to run back and forth between the kitchen and garden with a heavy pewter pail and watering can; and yet, despite our nightly watering, the chard still bolted. We have still been able to use much of the chard, but in future years we clearly need a better watering system, and we should probably seek out a more suitable plot for the chard to protect it from the glare of the sun.
July also saw the beginning of the green bean harvest, though, oddly, many of the beans grew in the shape of boomerangs. They seemed to straighten out as they grew bigger, though this may have been aided by additional watering and a calming of the windy weather.
Towards the end of the month the chive flowers dried-up and started to give out their seeds. Throughout June we had been using the delicate lilac-coloured flowers as a welcome addition to salads, pasta sauces, and summery soups. As the flowers withered, we made sure to rescue some of the seeds, putting them aside for next year to ensure we have more areas of the garden teaming with these beautiful spherical purple flower heads.
Lastly, we were gifted three marjoram plants, which we have keep in pots to decorate the area around the cold frame. Towards the end of July, these really started to take off, leaving us scratching our heads for recipe ideas that used this rather out-of-fashion herb: a few pasta dishes and mixed into passata for a pizza. We may not have got as much use from this herb as we might have hoped, but the plants bring a quaint, cottage feel to the garden, cascading down the sides of their decorative pots.
With the broad bean season coming to a close, with only of the odd bean hiding behind the wizened leaves, we removed the old plants and began preparing the bed for our winter vegetables: kale, purple sprouting broccoli, and the first of the leeks (many were still too small to plant up). Planting and growing winter vegetables is not something we have thought much about, and we are aware this is a gap in our growing knowledge, so this year we will be left without a steady crop over the winter months: something to work on for next year.
Our figs have been a huge success. Every year we are blown away by the ferociousness with which they grow, but this year alone the tree has trebled in size and in produce. Nothing beats the taste and texture of homegrown figs: the skins are softer, the fruits sweeter and juicier. Sliced thickly, they add an exotic sweet earthiness to a Gruyère and sourdough toastie: a delicious, if rather decadent lunch on busy days working from home.
Nothing beats the taste and texture of homegrown figs: the skins are softer, the fruits sweeter and juicier.
We started to see the beginning of our carrots and potatoes. Despite our misgivings in June about our potatoes, these have actually been a relative success, and with a little extra care earlier in the year might have been a highlight. The carrots have been a joyful novelty: there has been much excitement over plucking them from the ground to find that long, orange root, like pulling Excalibur from the stone!
The disappointment of August has sadly been our elder tree. In our last Garden Diaries post, we mentioned that our elder had heavily attacked by black-fly earlier this year, which affected the flowers greatly. We were hopeful that the elder would still manage to produce berries, but it simply has not recovered sufficiently, and produced far fewer than in previous years, meaning we had to forage for the berries we needed to make our Elderberry Balsamic Vinegar.
The latter part of August saw an abrupt end to the Summer, almost overnight. Storm after storm put our humble garden through its paces, as horizontal rain and violent gusts rattled the fence panels and threatened to carry-off the barbeque. The borage, which we had sown rather late and which was just beginning to provide us with its delicate, sharp flowers, was knocked flat by the storms, and still hasn't recovered. A couple of planks that we had left leaning against the fence were blown down in the wind, snapping one of our poor purple sprouting broccoli plants, though it doesn't look like the damage has been permanent.
We tried in vain to rescue our (admittedly pretty amateur) obelisk from toppling and snapping our productive green beans, but unfortunately, despite all our efforts, our bean season has been cut short as some of the skinny stems snapped as the obelisk twisted and tilted. This has been one of the hardest gardening disappointments. Our green beans had been our greatest success, producing so many beans from three small plants that we had enough to share with family, and so it was upsetting to watch as the summer storms destroyed them.
We have had so much success with the garden this year, and these moments are truly humbling as a reminder that despite of all our hard work and efforts, we are not gods, and nature is ultimately in control.
It's time for harvest. The courgettes have given us their final bounty, and we’ve had so many potatoes that we’ve not had to purchase any from the market for the last two months. Summer squashes, a few green beans, sage, oregano, marjoram, carrots, chard and tomato after tomato after tomato – over a kilo a week. Strawberry plants put out new shoots, and even the lovage seems to have had a second wind.
We have started to think ahead to the winter, so have sowed radishes for pickling, as a tasty comfort as the evenings draw in. All the leeks are now planted, and the kale and purple sprouting broccoli have really taken off. Our injured broccoli has somehow made a full recovery, and rivals the other broccoli in size, which is both a mystery and a blessing.
Towards the end of September, general garden chores began to replaced the sowing, planting and harvesting. Seed-saving has continued: in addition to the chive seeds collected a few months ago, we now have lovage and dill.
We started clearing away the remains of spent crops, and will continue with this task into October. The obelisk of bamboo canes has been removed to make space for the snaking growth of the summer squashes, which now meander around the bottom of the garden.
Aside from harvesting our vegetables and making plans for the winter, we have also been thinking of how to inject colour and variation into our garden over the winter months. One thing this year has really taught us is the importance of having flowers among the fruit and vegetables. Not only to make the garden look beautiful, but also to attract hoverflies, butterflies, ladybirds and bees into our garden. So, with this in mind, we have started planting bulbs: narcissi, snowdrops and irises, to add colour and variety to our garden in the depths of winter.