As Summer moves gently into Autumn we still find ourselves in times of uncertainty, however the garden, plants and the seasons are oblivious to this and continue their ritual of preparing for their winter break. Trees are laden with fruit and seed, the blackbirds having already feasted on hedgerow fruit, such as blackberries and sloe’s, and now turn their attention to hawthorn and rowan. As deciduous trees start to shut down, leaves turn to incredible shades of rich golden, red and yellow, providing a blast of warm tones before forecasts of icy winds and dare I say it snow start to appear on the weather reports. As the hectic activity of maintaining the garden reduces our attention is now directed towards prolonging the availability of our crops and undertaking garden projects.
Growing your own fruit and vegetables is quite rewarding but unless you plan carefully it is easy to find yourself with a surplus. Although we tend to give away surplus to friends and neighbours, this year we decided to have a go at preserving. Following a glut of strawberries Sue had a go at making Strawberry jam. I remember my Mum making it many years ago, the flavour, along with big chunks of strawberries make breakfast toast divine. Close on the heels of the jam came ice cream, and Strawberry Gin, the ice cream was as delicious as the jam but we await a few more weeks for the outcome of the Gin. Black Currants followed, with batches of jam, and ice cream, then Raspberries, amazing fresh, but also freeze very well.
Spurred on by our success with fruit, I mentioned to Sue that our Walnut tree was laden, and that I remembered my Mum having a liking for pickled walnuts. So with no further to do, we harvested the young (green) walnuts and set about pickling. A fairly lengthy process, initially steeping in brine (salt water) followed by a couple of days in the sunshine before placing in jars of white wine vinegar we now have to wait two months for them to mature, watch this space.
Our success with strawberries was amazing, the weather perfect, warm with occasional showers, meant that the fruit set well and had plenty of water for the fruit to swell. Perhaps the most important thing about soft fruit is to make sure they are well watered as the fruit develops. Although we planted an area three metres by six metres, strawberries do well in containers and are even grown in hanging baskets. The taste of strawberries ripened on the plant and served with a large scoop of vanilla ice cream is amazing, sadly the fruit don’t freeze well and are best consumed immediately.
If you are planning to grow strawberries or renovate an existing bed, then now is the ideal time to start. Strawberries ideally need replacing every three to four years as the plants tend to become overcrowded and weak. You can save runners and replant, providing they are healthy or purchase new cultivars from a nursery or garden centre.
Prepare the site by digging in well rotted organic matter (well rotted garden compost or, manure). Plants should be spaced 30cm ( 12 inches) apart in rows 45cm (18 inches) between the rows. This allows plenty of room to walk between the rows to harvest the fruit. Plants should be watered after planting but leave feeding until spring.
There is still time to plant spring flowering bulbs, especially Tulips and Hyacinths that prefer to be planted when the soil is slightly cooler, October/November. The majority of bulbs require a well drained soil and whilst our soil is well drained I do like to sprinkle a hand-full of potting grit into the planting holes which ensures that the business end, where the roots emerge from will remain free from water-logging. If you have lilies in your garden borders its a good idea to lift and replant every three or four years, and October is a good time to do this, if you find small corms growing alongside the larger ones these can be potted up and kept in a cold frame to help them build up strong plants for future displays. Lilies hate drying out and if you are buying bulbs from a garden centre or nursery choose those with firm fleshy roots. It is also a good idea to soak them in a bucket overnight prior to planting.
Next Month, (Planting a new hedge, Whats in flower this month? and processing prunings).