Winding Down The Garden

The first weekend of October was a gift of sunshine and blue skies.

October morning garden

We made the most of it, toiling Β 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.

Hawthorn berries against blue sky

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.

Crown prince squashes growing from compost heap

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!)Β  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.

Squash harvest, October 2012

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.

Winter squash harvest, October

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.

Winter squash harvest

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.

French beans from the garden

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.

Seedheads glowing in the sun

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.

Cabbages, cauliflowers, kale and leeks growing

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.

Savoy cabbage beginning to heart up

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.

Calendula glowing in October

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. Β I am leaning towards lifting it this year, until I have replacements on standby in the event that it perishes.

Teasel seedheads against sky

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.

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19 thoughts on “Winding Down The Garden

  1. Sounds like you had a great, satisfying weekend, the best kind spent in the garden! I hope there are a few more good days in October for you to enjoy. Christina

  2. A satisfying weekend indeed – well done you! And well done for having put into practice things that some of us haven’t got round to, like mesh round your brassicas and planting (OK, it wasn’t deliberate) squash on your compost heap – definite Brownie points there. We too, in the Midlands, have been fortunate with the weather this last week and have had some lovely sunny days – we have generated more power from our solar panels in both of the last 2 days than any other day since 22nd Sept (and that was a blip, so really it’s since 18th Sept) – it’s good to have this technical confirmation!

    • We were driven to make mesh frames for our cabbages after a year or two of decimation, though the cats use them as hammocks, so the mesh pulls away from the frame here and there. Ah the squash *were* deliberately planted into the compost heap, but I saw their fruits as a bonus because they weren’t in the main planting and we could have just discarded them. It’s the first year we’ve done that, but for two squashes it was certainly worthwhile.
      Glad that you have been enjoying some sunshine too, especially as you can harness it. Suspect the rain’s set in for a few days now, alas.

  3. Wow. I feel really bad now. I’ve got so much to do after our week away and the ground is so sodden that it needs a few dry days before I’ll be able to get onto it.

    I read somewhere, can’t remember where, that it is nigh on impossible to grow butternut squashes in the UK because the season isn’t long enough or warm and dry enough. The author said he thought it was wrong that seed companies sold the seeds because there was so little chance of them ever coming to anything. I’ve never tried them myself so I don’t know how true this is. Your haul looks pretty impressive and I’m definitely trying more squashes next year.

    • Ah don’t feel bad – everyone needs a break, hope yours was enjoyable. Fingers crossed there will be more dry sunny weekends to catch up outside.

      Yes, I think butternut squashes are notoriously hard to grow in the UK, we’ve managed to harvest a couple of tiny ones in the past, then not bothered with them for a few years. They are my husband’s favourite though, so we gave them another shot this year, just in case we had a long glorious summer. Some chance! Given how cool and wet it’s been I’m really pleased with our crop.

  4. What a perfect weekend, and congrats on the squash harvest, impressive given the year it has been.Now payback for raising points of interest in your post πŸ˜‰ I have two questions – firstly, how do you find weeding over the top of the sides (!) of your netting cages, or do you lift the whole thing off? We are planning something not dissimilar, but was intending to build them with permanent lids and lift the whole thing off to weed. Now I am wondering… Secondly, being new to having enough stuff to cut down that we have wood to burn, how long do we need to dry it before it is worth putting on the fire?

    • Thanks Janet, we’re pleased with the squashes.
      As for weeding our cages, we tend to take the lids off and prop them somewhere then weed with one leg inside, and then standing completely within their frame, without any problems. The sides don’t get in the way while we work then, so I’m not sure there’s much benefit in lifting everything up, and the lids alone are lighter to move…
      For firewood, if you’re talking trees, then it can take up to a year for the sap to dry enough to burn, though often less depending on the tree and the weather. The best investment you can make is in a moisture metre – once the moisture content is below 25% then it’s safe to burn. We’re hoping that the tree we ringed and chopped at the weekend will be dry enough towards the end of this winter, though it had fallen a few months’ ago. The wind speeds up the drying process pretty well so make sure the store you season wood in has good ventilation. Hope that helps!

  5. I’m exhausted after reading your post Sara πŸ™‚ You certainly crammed much into your weekend but it was glorious wasn’t it? Envious of your squash successes – mine didn’t make it though the ones I gave to allotment neighbour did. Think that I would bring the lemon verbena into the shelter of the greenhouse again – a combination of cold and wet might prove too much for it.

    • That’s what weekends are for, right? πŸ˜‰ I’m thrilled with our squash harvest, given how many seem to have failed across the country.
      I think you’re right about the lemon verbena, and I’ll probably pot it up at the weekend and move it under cover.

  6. I read some time ago on someones blog that they put evergreen branches over tender plants to over winter and it worked well even in very, very cold frost and snow,

    Sara it’s raining outside so I am spending some time catching up on some blog reading, I just want to say I’m glad I went back to early September with your blog I love faith’s cat basket x, I think crochet is easier and more relaxing than knitting and easier to pick up and put down, Frances

    • That’s a nice idea – if we had some evergreen branches!
      Glad that you’ve enjoyed my posts, I was really pleased with Faith’s basket. I agree that crochet seems a bit more manageable at times in being picked up and put down – only half as many ‘needles’ to lose too! πŸ™‚ – and the simple stitches don’t require much concentration at all. Not sure if I find it easier… but different, which is always good. Just embarked on a new bit of crochet this week.

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