Last month’s post was all about getting out into our gardens and making the most of the nice weather, harvesting the wonderous fruits that we have laboured over all summer. This month in our garden there have been the tomatoes, sweetcorn and peas (the purple sprouting broccoli is still there, just not quite flowering yet). The blackberries from the prickly stems invading our privet hedge, and the hawthorn berries making a terrific backdrop to Autumn in all her golden glory. But this really does beg the question, what on earth does one do with a mountainous glut of mostly-ripe tomatoes? The answer… when life hands you tomatoes, make chutney (or soup, or bolognaise, the list is endless)! Which is what I have set about doing twice this year. This was my first ever chutney-making session, and it went very well. Chutney is incredibly easy to make, there are lots of recipes to suit many tastes. The only labourious task is chopping up the fruit and vegetables and keeping an eye on it over the 3-odd hours it takes to simmer! It looks like I might get the chance to make some more chutney, too, as there are still many green tomatoes on the vine outside. They are best brought in now, as any frost could damage them. To ripen, either leave next to a banana, or in a brown paper bag in a room-temperature setting and keep checking on them.
Preserving vegetables in some sort of liquid (usually vinegar) is a great way to deal with a glut of almost any home-grown veg. But there are also many other ways of keeping fruit and veg well into winter and sometimes longer without resorting to vinegar. Depending on the fruit/veg at hand, there are many ways to do this. People who knew well about food preservation were the Shakers, who grew wonderous fruit and vegetables, but also lived in the days before fridges and freezers. Root vegetables are particularly easy to keep over winter if there is a glut. Carrots, for instance, can be stored in between layers of sand, potatoes can be wrapped in layers of newspaper and stored in a dark, cool, dry place (such as a dry garage or cellar) until required. The same can be said for apples and pears, although if you have many apples, especially cookers, I recommend making as many apple pies, studels, jams and chutneys as is humanly possible just for the sheer enjoyment of such a beautiful fruit. Onions are easy to keep, once pulled from the ground, they should be left somewhere (preferrably in the sun) to dry, where they can then be gathered and their stalks tied together to form those gorgeous onion ‘strings’ commonly seen in quaint old French marketplaces. So you needn’t feel that you and your family must eat nothing but potatoes and runner beans forever more. Stored well, these vegetables will keep you fed through the worst of the winter – and help you to cut down on your grocery bills, too!
Don’t forget that jams, chutneys, and preserved fruit and veg make wonderful xmas pressies too! It makes a gift all the more yummy if a friend has grown and made the ingredients herself. Apricots or cherries in brandy, stored in a Kilner-type jar, with some xmassy fabric on top, tied with a bow – how splendid. I know a good few of my friends and relatives will be getting some of our divine chutney for xmas (but with enough kept back for us, of course)!
In the garden this month:
- Help your soil: Dig it over well, pulling up any weeds, especially grass, as these will take hold over the winter months. Give it a good organic feed, and let it rest. The digging will expose any wickies and let the frosts kill them completely organically.
- Mow the lawn for the last time, depending on the weather that we have. Set the cutting height on your machine to give it a low-ish cut, but don’t go too low! If, from then on, the weather remains cold, leave it at that. If we have a warm spell, it may need cutting again. Don’t forget to fertilise it, but don’t use pesticides, as the acid in them kills our beloved garden helper – the worm. A little chalk lime can do wonders.
- Now is a great time to attend to your compost heap for the last time this year. If it is looking dry, you’ll need to water it, and perhaps add some Garotta (not too much) which is an organic way to speed up the rotting process – cover with a piece of old carpet and leave. Don’t cover it too well, as hedgehogs, field mice and Limax Maximus’ (a good slug) all rely on the warmth of the compost heap to survive the cold winter months.