There are some fruit that we all associate with late autumn, most notably pumpkins and winter squashes, which are harvested after the last apples and pears have fallen.
We had a reasonable, if unremarkable, harvest this year. Two medium-sized Crown Prince, with their steely skins and rich orange flesh, and two rather less evenly distributed fruits of Musquee de Provence, with their shiny dark green segmented skin. The larger of the two is the most enormous squash we have ever grown ourselves; I have no idea of its weight, as it sends our kitchen scales into panic – somewhere over 5kg then. There were no warty Marina di Chioggia this year, though we did plant one, and just one tiny Turks Turban, still greeny-brown rather than its usual brilliant orange.
Another comedy duo came in the form of butternut squashes. We grew these more out of stubbornness than any real ambition, as they seem to fare particularly poorly for us, and so I did not track which variety actually gave us these fine fruits; we sowed Butterboy and one other, possibly Harrier. The larger one weighs in at 1.3kg, a very respectable fruit, while its sibling will make a small accompaniment on our plates, perhaps stuffed with spiced rice…
Not exceptional, but pleasing nonetheless. We grow all our squashes for flavour, and shouldn’t be disappointed with this haul. These have been hardening off in the greenhouse for some weeks; now with temperatures dropping towards freezing we have brought them into the house to store in a cool cupboard and enjoy through the winter.
It is such a treat, still, to be able to pick from the last ripening crops in our unheated greenhouse. A ‘Shirley’ tomato and a ‘Crystal Apple’ cucumber – the latter much smaller than its summer counterparts, but still unbelievably crisp and sweet – chopped into a soft tortilla with roast chicken and a little mayonnaise made a lovely wrap for lunch.
At the feet of the vines in the greenhouse from which we are squeezing these last treasures, the marigolds (which seem to have done a sterling job to prevent a return of the aphids we suffered last year in their absence) are still flourishing.
You could almost forget that December is just around the corner!
Outside, the alpine strawberries are also flouting the season, producing ripe red fruits that are an unexpected pleasure amid the fallen leaves.
And while the dahlias are finally faltering, the fuchsias continue to flower as though it were mid-summer.
Their vivid magenta and purple flowers make an unusual companion to the autumn colours elsewhere through the garden, such as the little butterfly acer which is still holding on to most of its leaves.
There are still one or two tender plants in containers that I must unearth and move into the greenhouse for the winter, along with the dahlias to lift or mulch; after some busy weekends away, I hope to find an opportunity soon before the frosts beat me to it.