The first weekend of October was a gift of sunshine and blue skies.
We made the most of it, toiling in the sun in short sleeves for most of the weekend. King of the Hill spent long hours heaving, splitting and stacking firewood to top up our winter supplies, while I took the opportunity to catch up on some jobs around the garden.
My first tasks were in preparation for the potential frosts in the coming weeks: I dismantled the hanging baskets, potting up any plants that will hopefully overwinter in the greenhouse, and brought the agapanthus under cover beside them. Time also to harvest the winter squash, and bring them under glass to cure their skins for a few weeks.
The moment of truth, then; time to find out how our squashes have done this year, after avoiding a ‘head count’ all summer. (Kate, you may want to look away now!) Glimpses of orange and deep smooth green from among the large leaves of the pumpkin patch had given some reassurance that we would at least be harvesting something, and these two Crown Prince squashes growing from the compost heap, where we optimistically planted a couple of excess seedlings, reluctant to waste them, were a welcome addition to the count.
Ten minutes of rummaging beneath the canopy, and snipping off the fruits that had reached a reasonable size and made a hollow noise when tapped, resulted in a tally of eight pretty decent squashes: three grey-skinned Crown Prince, two dark green Marina di Chioggia, two small shiny-skinned Musquee de Provence and one orange Rouge Vif d’Etampes.
Not every plant was productive, and countless fruits had set and then rotted off, but given what is generally regarded to have been a poor year up and down the country, we are really pleased with our haul.
Although we don’t talk about the butternut squash plants…
Another crop that we had all but given up hope for this year was our French beans. After our first sowings were eaten by slugs, the survivors from a later sowing of dwarf French beans have finally begun to produce a modest harvest.
This plump handful provided a decent side dish for the two of us, with at least another meal or two still to come. Not much to show for the number of plants we raised, and the climbing French beans never overcame the slugs or weather to get going, but a welcome crop nonetheless.
I weeded and tidied, sorted out containers, planted dozens of daffodil bulbs, which arrived during the week, and some young hardy geraniums, and picked over our cabbages for caterpillars.
With fewer Cabbage Whites fluttering around the garden as the season draws to an end, I removed the lids of our cages and put them away, as the Cavolo Nero was beginning to push against the mesh lids.
Our cages are fairly heavily planted with a mixture of savoy cabbages, cauliflowers, brussels sprouts, the black Tuscan kale and young leeks, and while some of the cabbages look rather ravaged by caterpillars where butterflies slipped through tears in the net, and small snails seem to favour the leaves of the sprouts, all in all these winter crops are looking pretty good.
I took rather late cuttings of the lemon verbena and several salvias about the garden, hoping that some of these will take before winter sets in. Last year I overwintered the lemon verbena in a pot in the greenhouse, but I planted it into the garden this spring, and now I am pondering whether to dig it up to overwinter it beneath glass again, or to let it take its chances against the frosts to come. I am leaning towards lifting it this year, until I have replacements on standby in the event that it perishes.
Sunday’s more fleeting sun slipped beneath the horizon after a satisfying weekend’s work. There are still dozens of bulbs and corms to be planted soon, although the tulips will wait for cooler weather, and I must order some garlic, but the grass has had its last cut, the tender plants are mostly potted up and under cover, and there are no urgent tasks demanding my attention as the air turns cooler and the nights draw in.