Harvesting Oddities

As I celebrated the autumn equinox this week, I was reflecting on what a strange growing year it has been. Alternating wet and dry, most fruit has done very well and so have lettuces. The peas were okay, the climbing beans are finally getting going after a very slow start, but courgettes, sweetcorn, tomatoes sulked in the cold, and brassicas seemed to get eaten by everything. So I let the nasturtiums run wild and fill all the spaces – they look pretty and have the bonus of being edible by me as well as a favourite of caterpillars, blackfly, etc.

In a spirit of celebrating all life, no matter what form it comes in, here is my harvest of oddities I have spotted this month.

Double Victoria Plum

Double Hazelnut

Twins – most common on my raspberries, one stem threw out several early on, but something I’ve not seen before is a double plum or a double hazelnut, from a wild tree nearby. The plum had two misshapened stones, like a raspberry with two stalks, the hazelnut hasn’t been opened yet.

Confused Sweetcorn ‘Incredible’ (Click to enlarge)

Sweetcorn has male flowers at the top, and females lower down where the cobs form. This happened last year on a larger stalk but I didn’t get a picture, and now I’m seeing it again on this stunted specimen.

Fasciated Lettuce Heart

Fasciation (a flattened stem) is something I have seen occasionally in foxgloves or purple loosestrife, but this year I found it in my lettuces. They look normal before being picked, but the stem is oval instead of circular and while leaves at the edges (the curved sections) are normal, the many central leaves (on the flattened sections) are narrow with no side branches.

Lupin Leaf-flower tower

And finally, a lupin stem that has forgotten to flower and instead created a pyramid of leaves.

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Celebrating the Harvest

It was the Autumn Equinox last Sunday, a time of harvest celebrations. But what a strange year this has been! A late winter with snow in April, then drought in May, June and July, before a wet and chilly August.

The apples loved it. The extra cold helped them create more flower buds, they survived the drought, losing excess fruit without me having to thin them out, and then the rain came just in time to help the fruit swell. The first fruits were ready at the start of August, two weeks early even for our early trees, and carried on into September with larger fruit. I spent the days before we went on holiday (late August) madly making apple sauce to freeze, as this early fruit doesn’t keep and we were overflowing with apples on every counter.

Plums came at their normal time, but suffered from being eaten more than normal. The apples also had lots of wasps early on which I’ve never seen before, I assume there just wasn’t much else for them in the drought.

Blackberries came a month early – but with the cold weather finished early as well. Yet my strawberries have had a second crop and been a really delicious treat – they are still going. The raspberries cropped well in the drought but didn’t make new canes, so the autumn crop and also next summer’s are greatly reduced, even though there is plenty of rain now.

In the vegetable garden, the sweetcorn drank all the water offered so underplantings (mainly nasturtiums) all died. I had a crazy plant with a cob growing around a male flower, but it proved edible and we managed a small crop of good cobs as well. The climbing French beans were so prolific that eventually the wind blew them over. The edging and supports will all need replacing over the winter. Similarly the tomatoes grew so well in the heat I actually had to stop them at the top of their six foot stakes!

Finally, one crop I harvested but didn’t grow was barley. I promised myself last year that I would as so many Lughnasadh rituals are based around wheat – which I am allergic to, but barley is fine for me. Unfortunately I never found any small quantities of seed for sale. However, I did keep an eye on the fields around here, and spotted barley growing along a lane I sometimes cycle, with a footpath going conveniently along the edge of the field. With the drought it was harvested in mid-July, earlier than I have seen previously. So I parked up my bike, climbed the style which luckily wasn’t completely overgrown with nettles and brambles thanks to the drought, and walked along the field edge to see what had been left behind. Enough barley, and also some wheat for the rest of the family, to make a display and grind some into bread. A token amount – it takes a lot of grain for a loaf and barley I discovered is much harder to separate from the chaff than wheat, but somehow the inclusion of even a few grains of my own picked and winnowed barley seems worth it and makes the bread special. I have managed to be part of the wheel of the year and the turning of the seasons, not just an observer.

Planting out

Every year I fill the windowsills with pots of seedlings, which then need to be planted out in the garden when the weather is suitable. And at this point, it gets tricky!

The best advice is to ‘harden plants off’ gradually over a few days, so that they can adjust to the change of conditions, from potentially hot, dry windowsills to cold, frosty, windy, rainy outdoors. The light levels are also vastly different outside, especially in the ultraviolet spectrum. Unfortunately time and space will not allow me to do any of this. Instead, each year I try to first time the planting of my seeds so that the resulting plants will be just the right size to plant out successfully when the weather is also likely to be right, second I try to look for ‘weather windows’ when a few days are promised that are mild, overcast, and calm, and finally I give them what protection I can muster for the first few days – but this relies on their size being suitable!

Bottle Garden (for sweetcorn)

Bottle Garden (for sweetcorn)


Here is my ‘bottle garden’, the bottles now over ten years old but I have come to consider them vital for the successful establishment of sweetcorn. The grass mulch also helps to keep the moisture in. Experience tells me it takes four weeks from sowing seed to planting out – and around here ‘May is out’ (i.e. the Hawthorn is in flower) so I’m hoping they will do okay now!

My courgettes I was much more concerned about, as they are hard to protect. I always loose some plants to weather or slugs, so usually grow some extra and plant close, 18” intervals instead of the recommended 2′. This year, however, I asked for help on when to plant them. I was very surprised that the message came at around 8pm one evening, that it was the time to plant them out. However the forecast was for a mild night, and calm for the next few days, and the soil was nicely moist, so I thought I would give it a try. I also put copper rings around them to give a small bit of protection at ground level and from slugs – these were made from an ex-hot water tank. And the result? A few days on all five are growing strongly and looking really healthy, so much so that I would not know they had been moved had I not just planted them myself. If only the sweetcorn was doing as well!

Recently planted courgette plants

Recently planted courgette plants


I am reminded again how, when we accept that we do not and cannot know everything and so ask for help, and when we stay open to the answers in whatever form they come, they are sometimes unexpected. Nature knows best!