September 2009


Updates from September 2009.

Gardening for food September 2009

Summer has been extremely variable across Britain, meaning that some of my comments may be less applicable in certain areas. For instance the high temperatures and lack of rain in south eastern counties have made it difficult to sow or plant autumn and winter salads, unless there is access to at least enough water to establish them in time for autumn rains to make them grow.

Here on the other hand I now have a fine crop of endives where all my outdoor tomatoes succumbed to blight. Weather that is bad for some plants is good for others and it pays to grow a range of vegetables so that some will always benefit.

We live in an area that is especially prone to orographic rain and storms on south westerly winds. Between July 6th and August 4th we received over ten inches of rain, as much as I have ever recorded in such a period. Whereas a hundred miles to the east, rainfall was below average. It is worth checking details like this before planting fruit trees: here I find that it is too damp for Cox and Braeburn apples, which succumb to scab and even canker. Also for Comice pears, unfortunately. Other varieties of apple and pear do well, also certain plums, cherries, apricots and so on. You can find out this sort of information by talking with neighbours and keeping your eyes open. Pears want picking when their stalk becomes loose, which you can tell by rotating them ninety degrees upwards: if the stalk breaks, they are ripe to pick although probably not fully tender and juicy – that will come with keeping them indoors, marked by a change in colour from green to pale yellow. Savour the moment!

Apples also turn more yellow when ripe, sweeter and softer, best eaten at this point before they soften further. For most varieties this normally happens October onwards but after mid September there can be some quite sweet Sunset, Fiesta, Falstaff and Scrumptious among others. This year we are later than usual on apples after the cool midsummer, so our local fruitarian rooks are biding their time.

Vegetable wise, not a lot of sowing remains to be done, but there is still planting if you have some or can find some. Spring cabbage, cauliflower and onions (see below) at month’s end are the main ones, also some rocket and mizuna by mid month. Lambs lettuce is the main seed I shall be sowing outside, until mid month. It is best sown in clean soil because of slow germination and growth, making it easily overtaken by weeds such as grass and chickweed that germinate readily in early autumn.

Keep on top of those weeds: any dry weather is excellent for hoeing, which is easier than hand weeding when many seedlings appear. Aim to catch them young, before they have more than four leaves. Any dry spell in September is an excellent time to clean up all weeds and then keep soil weed free (hence more slug free) until spring, ready for sowing and planting in March and April. Also reserve a space for October planted onions and garlic, if you want to grow them. However, bear in mind that overwintered Japanese onions do appear to harbour a lot of mildew spores which then infect spring sown or planted onions from late May. This year is the first time in eleven years that I have NOT grown any overwintering ones and I have, after many years of struggling with mildew, enjoyed an excellent, disease free crop.

If you have grown sweetcorn, I hope you have managed to deter the badgers. Here it has become impossible although luckily they do not yet dig up carrots or trash the raspberries. Sometimes it seems amazing that anything grows at all when you consider all the possible pests. This summer has been bad for gall midge, a pest which eats out the growing point of many brassicas such as cabbage, swede and kale, especially Red Russian. Brassicas are definitely the most difficult family of vegetables to grow. Honourable exceptions are rocket, kale and savoy cabbage in winter, when the pests are dormant and leaf quality is often superb.

Finally if you have a greenhouse or polytunnel – September is the best month for sowing winter salads such as Grenoble Red lettuce, spinach, coriander, chervil, parsley, pak choi, tatsoi, chards, rocket, mustards, variegated or ordinary land cress, leaf radish and mizuna. The last six can be sown as late as early October, then once they are all established under cover by late October one can look forward to their making some new leaves in any mild weather throughout the late autumn, winter and early spring.

A word on the forum – sorry that it has taken longer to set up than I realised and I hope that there will soon be a proper registration system in place, from the home page.

Charles Dowding.

Salad on sale at:
Bill the Butcher, The Organic Shop, The Olive Bowl and Churchbridge Stores all in Bruton
Oates and Musson and Lush’s both in Castle Cary

And on menus at:
The Montague Inn, Shepton Montague
The Chapel, Bruton
Oates and Musson, Castle Cary
True, Castle Cary
Pilgrims Rest, Lovington