SARAH THE GARDENER

New Season – New Friends

Winter made a dramatic entrance today, but was all puff and no substance.  It was all fog, but not really cold – not in the standard winter scheme of things.  Once the fog lifted it was a lovely sunny, mild day.  The kind of day you would expect from a gentle autumn.   I hope this is an indication of how things will continue for the next three months, but it probably won’t be.

old chickens and new chickens

One day soon we’ll be able to remove the fence between them and they can all be together – happy as Larry.

Not trying to moan too much about the last season, but we encountered a bit of a problem.  The chickens really didn’t give us many eggs at all.  Time has whizzed by so quickly that it never really dawned on us the chickens were getting a bit elderly at 8 and 9 years old.  That is about the equivalent of 80 – 90 year olds so no wonder they didn’t want to enter into a breeding program for us to refresh our flock.  Old Chicken the Rooster is probably firing blanks anyway.

The retirement village

The retirement village has everything an elderly chicken could possibly want – superfluous nesting boxes and swings should they want to recapture their youth.

So instead of being accused of being freeloading good for nothings – they have been allowed to take it easy and enjoy a life of leisure with no expectations placed upon on them.  If they want to lay an egg then all good and well but if not that’s ok too.  The coop became a retirement village.

Caged Chicken meets free rooster

‘Hello, I’m Chicken and I’ll be your rooster. I’m really sweet and gentle. You’ll love me’

This didn’t help with our egg situation and we had to resort to purchasing eggs.  They just weren’t the same.  The yoke wasn’t as nice and rich but we didn’t need to crack it into a bowl first to avoid a potential nasty surprize that is always a risk when you have a rooster and the kids collect the eggs.

Buying eggs was a bit of an eye opener after not buying eggs for the better part of a decade.  There are different varieties depending on your social consciousness.  There are organic, free range, eco, colony, barn, uncaged, caged and one that doesn’t say for those who don’t want to know.  Of course, the prices also varied greatly.  Organic were the most expensive and the poor caged eggs have very little value.

Caged chicken

This chicken is in average condition. Some have more feathers and some have less. It isn’t right that some of God’s precious creatures are treated in this way. This is where caged eggs come from.

Fortunately, we have had the opportunity to increase our flock with a youthful vigour, and in doing so saving 6 poor wee souls from a life in cages.   Our new chickens have been adopted from a group of 1600 chickens  that were rescued from a caged chicken farm.   Having seen these poor bedraggled birds, it upsets me that they have spent the first eighteen months of their lives living in such an unnatural way.

fresh leaves and chicken

‘This is silver beet and rainbow chard – you can eat it’ They still hadn’t figured it out by the end of the day. The leaves on the other side of the fence got gobbled up in no time by the old dears.

But they are with us now and things are about to get a whole lot better for them.   I’ve set them up for now in the lamb’s quarters with their own roost, nesting boxes and outside area.  It is right next to the actual coop separated by a fence so they get used to their soon to be geriatric roomies.

It has been interesting to watch them explore their new world.  At first, they were reluctant to come outside, but Chicken the Rooster, sensing they were there, called gently to them and they came over to the fence and they cooed back and forth.  He is such a sweet natured rooster and we love him for it.  Although the bravest of the 6 did stand up for the group to start with and in an act of dominance tried to take him on.  He is too old for all of that and quickly defused the situation.  But I am pleased there is a fence between them.   He hovered there all day trying to connect with them, and the old ladies wandered over from time to time to say hi and see what all the fuss what about.

Sunbathing rescue chicken

This chicken quickly discovered the pleasure of basking in the sun with her legs and wings extended.

The new girls were kind of funny.   Walking on the earth was strange to them and they kept lifting their feet in a way that looked like they were going ‘ewwwh…. Something is making my feet ikky.’  Two of them preferred to avoid the experience all together and pretty much stayed indoors.  One girl with barely any feathers discovered the joy of lying in the sun and popped herself in a sunny corner and pretty much stayed there all day.   They all laid an egg, however due to the worming treatment they received upon rescue we can’t eat them so I left them in the nesting boxes for now so they know where to lay next time.

cat meets chickens

Fennel the Cat is curious about our new friends.

There is something mesmerising about watching them discover life at our place.   We’ll probably leave them in the lamb’s quarters for as long as they need to, so they can join the flock with little fuss, all going well.  But for now, they are just featherless, bewildered nervous wrecks and are being spoilt rotten by us.

Come again soon – winter is here and I am going to make the most of the quiet time.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Loofing Luffas

Not only did the last frost cause the demise of my peppers, but the luffas took a hit as well.   They are a little slow to get started but once they get going they really get going.  All of their bed companions have long since been composted.  They are left hanging on a season weary trellis, daring the frost to come and finish them off.

Bedraggled Luffa plant

Once the frost hit the plant there was no recovery. The best thing was to remove the plant as it had become a bit of an eyesore.

And so it was –  the final summer crop was removed from the garden, its stalks and stems composted and its fruit harvested.   It is always a fun crop to grow, not to eat – although you can eat the young luffas, but it has a surprising use.

Luffas

This was the haul from just one plant. It is almost a shame the frost came when it did as there are some lovely straight ones among the green ones.

Most people think the luffa sponges that find their way into bathrooms everywhere come from the sea.  Or little thought is given to their origin as they are scraped up and down dried skin to restore a soft smoothness.    However, it isn’t anything as fancy as an exotic sea creature, but a humble vine that can be grown easily in most gardens.

Green luffa

I tried to loof the green luffa but it was a disaster. The flesh was still too soggy and the fibre was just to soft to be of any use. It was more like a stringy zucchini.

Exposing the wonderful exfoliating fibre from the plant is a simple process:

Dried Luffa

The best luffa to loof is one that has dried on the plant and still intact with the bottom ‘bung’ still attached.

Dried Luffa

Remove the ‘bung’ at the bottom – it should pop off easily.

Dried Luffa

Shake out all of the seeds. They look like each one has been carefully wrapped in tissue paper for safe keeping.

Peeling Luffas

Radiating out from the luffa stalk are fibres that run the length of the fruit. If you peel them away like you would taking the string out of a string bean, it makes it much easier to remove the dried skin

peeling luffas

The skin should easily come away and reveal the fibre below. You may need to do a bit of chipping way at it, but nothing too difficult.

Luffa

And there you have it – loofed luffa ready to scrub the rough gardeners skin.

Told you it was easy.  If you haven’t grown luffas before then give it a go – they are such fun and will make wonderful gifts – if you don’t keep them all for yourself, because they are really cool.

Come again soon – its winter tomorrow.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

The best time to plant a tree is now.

Arbor Day is a long held tradition in this country.  People have been planting trees to mark the occasion since 1890!  There was even a time when people were given the day off school and work to go off and plant trees.   These days it often slips by unnoticed except by a few intrepid gardeners determined to restore habitats and biodiversity.   Arbor Day on June 5th is a thing and we should all embrace it.   Plants and trees are the lungs of our planet and hold things together in more ways than one.  We need the trees so we should plant them.  It is quite simple.

As a child my favourite place to be was in a tree and we had many in our sprawling backyard.  Some I enjoyed for the lofty heights it offered me.  I could see forever and felt like the king of the castle.  Other trees where bushy and full of leaves where I could sit and hide and get away from the pressures and stresses my eight year old life held.   Sometimes now I long to find a good tree to just sit in.  It is such a tranquil thing to do.

Children belong in trees

Children belong in trees

But my favourite trees were the fruit trees.  We had so many of all different kinds and all summer long they were filled with the chatter of greedy children gobbling down as many sweet ripe fruit and some not so ripe before we were called in for dinner.  Just the taste of a juice, red delicious plum can pull back the years and take me to a carefree place where the summers lasted forever.

Kids don’t seem to climb trees these days.  But they should.   Falling from a tree was just what kids used to do, and almost an essential part of obtaining the biggest, ripest fruit in the highest branches.  In order for kids these days to climb trees, they need to have trees to climb.  There is an old wise saying “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” – Chinese Proverb, and with Abor day approaching now is certainly a good time.

Apple tree

A tree like this should be full of children enjoying the fruit

Arbor day isn’t at this time of year by accident.  Late autumn, early winter is the perfect time to plant tree as many trees aren’t actively growing and the deciduous ones are dormant.  It also allows the roots to establish before the leaves place their demands on the young plant.

Before you even go tree shopping you need to decide what you would like to grow and where you would like to grow it.   Find out as much as you can first.  How tall does it grow? how wide will the roots grow?  People often make the mistake of planting a tiny sapling too close to a house or a fence only to find it begins to damage foundations or blocks views or the sun entering windows.   Tree roots are often the cause of blocked pipes and planting away from your amenities is a good idea.  You really want to view your tree as a thing of beauty and wonder, not a pain in the backyard.

Once you have found the right place for the right tree, it is a good idea to dig the hole first.  These days the thinking is to make the planting hole square as the tree will often be found in a round pot.  If the tree has been in the pot for a while then the roots will tend to grow in a circular direction and can continue to do so in the ground and become root bound.  In a square hole the roots will find themselves confronted by the sides of the hole instead of running alongside it they will grow into it.

If you do find the roots are a little root bound when you take it out of the pot, you can tease them apart and even prune off damaged or overly bound roots.  Pruning roots can have the same effect as pruning branches – it will encourage more root growth.

Tree planted

And after a bit of digging, a tree is planted and in a few years time we will have loads of delish persimmons to eat.

Other advice for planting trees to make sure the hole is twice as wide as the root ball, but importantly – to the same depth.  You can adjust this once you have your plant beside your hole, but by digging it first your poor plant isn’t hanging about above ground longer than necessary.   If you plant it too deep you could rot the trunk and too shallow will not make a suitable anchor to support the tree and the exposed roots will dry out and die.

The advice to fill the hole with all sorts of goodies to feed the tree isn’t thought of as such a good idea these days as it can encourage the plant roots to stay in the hole instead of reaching out in the ground around so it is better to fill the hole with the same soil that came out of it.  Too much of a good thing can also harm the roots.  Also as the tree is dormant at this time of year, it doesn’t actually need a lot of extra nutrients.

So set the tree in the hole at the right height and gently backfill, tamping down the soil to exclude air pockets until it is at the right height, but not so firm that it would be difficult for the tree roots to penetrate.

persimmon

Persimmon fruit are delish – sweet yet sour, soft yet crisp and juicy. I can hardly wait.

Hammer a stake into the ground beside the tree, taking care not to go through the root ball, secure to the tree with a soft tree tie.  Don’t tie it too tight as the tree needs to be able to sway in the breeze to form a strong trunk.  But not so loose that the root ball is continually rocking in the wind.

Water well for the next few weeks while the roots establish.  A mulch can help retain moisture but don’t mulch up around the trunk as this can cause the tree to rot.

Grow well little tree

Grow well little tree

And it is that easy.  So now you know how – this Arbor Day, plant a tree so in the not too distant future a kid can climb up into its branches and feel the pleasure of indulging in fruit still warm from the sun, listening to the breeze in the leaves and looking out over their neighbourhood and feeling on top of the world.

Come again soon – winter is just around the corner.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

It’s time to call it quits

I feel like I’ve been flogging a dead horse for the last few months and this morning’s heavy frost was the final straw. We are 10 days out from winter so I’m just kidding myself.  The peppers weren’t going to give me my bumper harvest anytime soon.  They needed to come out.

Frosty garden

It was a bit of an icy start this morning and it is not even winter yet!

Due to the dreadful summer we had the peppers never did very well and so I had been limping them along.  Every time the mere suggestion of a frost was mentioned I was out there popping on the frost cloth in the hopes of receiving something worthy of a plant whose seed was sown 10 months ago.  Then whipping back out in the morning to remove the cover so they could bask in the weak sun.

Frosty peppers

A sad sight, but it had to be done.

But I came to the sad decision to pull them out. Let’s face it, they are hardly going to grow to the expected enormous proportions and develop a rose red glow in the weakening winter sun.  If left there they will more than likely grind to a halt in a state of suspended animation and slowly rot in the damp, cold conditions offered up by winter.

Clearing the pepper bed

And so the removing of the last traces of summer begins.

It wasn’t a decision made lightly.  To ensure I followed through I didn’t go out last night and put the frost cloth on for one last time, in spite of alarming headlines in the news about a dreadful polar blast racing up the country directly from the Antarctic.  The boffins were suggesting 3°C which of course you always take with a grain of salt and prepare for -3°C.  I allowed the plants to be hit by the stiffest frost we’ve had so far so I would be spurred into action first thing in the morning to remove all of the fruit languishing there.

Empty bed

A bed – a mere hour ago so full of life and now … nothing

Once there was no fruit there was no point keeping the plants as nothing new would come from them and the thought of protecting empty plants from frost throughout winter didn’t seem exciting at all.  Besides they do perfectly well when started from seed each year – provided the summer doesn’t suck!

Pepper

Not exactly and bountiful harvest but it is better than nothing.

It did feel monumentally sad.  The peppers are the first of the season to be sown and done so with great care and fanfare.  The poor old cucumbers later in the season just get plonked unceremoniously into seed raising mix as there is so much going on by the time they need to get started there isn’t a moment spare to acknowledge just how cool the cucumber is.  The peppers are special though.  They are with us for so long.  They don’t really get going until midsummer – in ideal conditions and then generally continue until the frost with a bumper harvest.  Ordinarily the first frost brings relief from an overabundance of peppers stored up in the freezer for use until the new crops kick in.

Lupin seeds

And into the future – lupin seeds take their place under trellis to stop Fennel the Cat from digging them up.

But I can’t linger over what’s old in the garden.  I need to focus on what’s new.  The next crop to go into this bed is the cucumbers and I want to make it lovely and rich for them and replace the goodness the peppers used up.  Sow I’ve sown a cover crop of lupin in the bed and before long the gorgeous foliage will fill the bed and make the winter garden seem less dreary.  It is almost a shame to have to dig it in before it flowers as lupin blooms are so pretty.

Sunny late autumn day

On a day like this you can almost forgive the frost as it is such refreshing conditions to work in. I had a marvelous day.

And just like that the time marches on in the garden in an orderly fashion.  Peppers just aren’t a winter crop.

Come again soon – I’ve got luffas to loof.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Five photo Friday

Things have been so slow in the garden this week.  Mostly because it has been raining.  I am determined not to complain or bleat about this state of weather so I have gone out into the garden today and found some bright side stuff so I can feel good about my gardenless week.

Jars of preserves

It hasn’t been an entirely unproductive season – I have all these jars to find a home for in the cupboards. There is feijoa jam, cape gooseberry jam, quince jelly and pickled eggplant. This season I am using green lids on all of my preserves and last season I used gold ones. Next season I’ll order black ones. That way everyone knows to eat the gold ones first before starting on the green ones. That way we won’t end up with manky old jar at the back of the cupboard that no one knows what it is because the label had long since come off.

Chicken

This is Apricot. She has been poorly so I have been looking after her, but now it is time to reintroduce her back to her friends in the coop. I hope she’ll be ok, chickens can be a little mean.

Pea seedlings

I’m about a month behind on my pea schedule. The plants in the garden should be giving us fresh peas by now but aren’t even flowering yet. These new Novella babies are more tolerant of the cold so hopeful it will be pea business as usual in spite of the delay.

Wheat seedlings

The wheat seedlings are doing well in spite of being under the weed mat. So much for that suppressing growth of unwanteds. The seedlings are quite green but I don’t want them to go yellow for lack of sun, but there are still a lot of seeds to germinate and I don’t want the birds in there scratching about, so I might replace the weed mat with frost cloth until the plants are established well and of no interest to the birds.

Mustard cover crop seedlings

I’m excited to see my mustard cover crop seedlings are germinating and they are such a pretty colour.

I’m sure next week will be better.  I have an exciting project to get my teeth into – more on that later, a tree to plant and general potting about the place.  I’m not even going to check the weather because the forecast is always changing so I am believing for sunny days.

Come again soon – any day in a garden is a good day.

Sarah the Gardener : o)

Sweet As

As we say here in New Zealand everything is Sweet As, which means its pretty good.  Earlier this week I made a video and the garden was in such a lovely place – the grass was low, the weeds were mostly gone and the soil was dry.  I was able to plant and sow and things were sweet as.  It was also a cheeky nod to the cool sweet peas I’ve sown.  Things felt amazing!

Blue sky day

How can you not feel hopeful on a day like this

And then we had the rain.  It didn’t rain for long – just a day and in the end not much more than 110mm.  Now today we are back to the glorious blue sky days we had before like nothing ever happened.  Except I have a layer of water shimmering in the sun below the level of the grass.

Blue sky day

The garden should dry out in no time

So I’m back to the old waiting game – waiting for things to have drained enough to be able to work in the garden without damaging the soil structure.  The good news is it seems to be draining away quicker than before and the soil is making that satisfying sucking sound.

Blue sky day

Things will be ok

So check out my video of better times…  it is amazing the difference a few days can make.

Come again soon – the garden will be sweet as again soon enough.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

 

Not again!

Cyclone Donna.  There are no words….

full rain gauge

It started raining spits and spots at lunch time yesterday – about 20 hours ago. It isn’t expected to stop until 6pm tonight – so about 8 more hours to go.

It could be worse…  sigh.

Come again soon – I was looking forward to this winter,  now I need to dig deep to find the joy of gardening again…

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Only three weeks until winter

Normally at the this time of year there is a reluctance to except the winters arrival.  With every drop in temperature I moan and complain.  As the nights draw in, long gone are the leisurely evening antics in the garden – weeding and watering in the lingering heat of the day.  Now gardening tends to wind up in the late afternoon, usually extended by torch light as I nip out to get something for dinner.

Tidy autumn garden

While not as flamboyant as a summer garden, it isn’t looking too bad for this time of year.

But this season there is something different going on.  I am excited for winter as it brings me closer to the new season – one full of hope and expectation.  Surely we can’t get two horribly horrendous growing seasons in a row.  I’ve pretty much written off in my head any expectation to cling on to the dying remains of last summer.  Except the peppers, they hardly had a chance to get going so I’m pampering them a bit in hope of some kind of harvest.

Pepper plants

I do feel for these poor pepper plants. Have just haven’t had a fair go. And yet they are still determined to push through this adverse season, so of course I’ll do what I can to help them out.

With this forward thinking for winter, rather than a reluctance, I am able to see it in a new light.  This isn’t a season to be endured but one to be cherished.  It is a time for projects, planning and dreaming.   The chaos of the growing season can be meticulously planned so it becomes organised chaos with better results.  Lessons learn over the last 12 months can be applied and new things that can help make gardening better can be constructed.  I never thought I’d say it but I’m looking forward to the winter.

Broccoli side shoots

This row of broccoli keeps giving. It has been in for months and it was such a long time ago I that I took the main head off and the side shoots have been so prolific we can hardly keep up.

Thanks to a garden visit earlier this week by an enthusiastic garden group, I was forced to pull myself out of my floody blues and whip the garden back into a shape that would be respectable enough for a public showing.   In spite of the grass being halfway to knee deep and the beds full of the dead and dying, there was the bones of something good.  My section system for the care of my garden, implemented throughout the summer and autumn in spite of the weather had left me with a garden that was easy to restore order.  There was no backbreaking digging and weeding, just a gentle tickle here and bit of a pull there.  The thing that made it a big job was the size of it all.  I’m seriously considering putting in a fence to contain my enthusiasm for new gardens!

Yellow asparagus fronds

The asparagus fronds are taking on a brilliant yellow as it dies back, taking nutrients back into the crown.

So now I’ve come up with an easy plan to manage the garden over the winter.  I remember how I normally enter the cold season with an eye roll and the presumption that it will last for EVER!  But I also remember how it is normally over in a flash and leaves me on the hop with half completed projects that need immediate attention before they get lost in the craziness of the growing season.

empty bed

This garden may be empty now, but not for long, come the shortest day it will have tiny onion seedlings beginning their journey towards the summer harvest. I always love this mid winter link to the summer to come.

I also remember well how wet it gets here in September and it is something I have learned to live with.  But I’ve not been very good at living with it.  I normally slowly plod towards the spring thinking I have all the time in the world to get the beds ready and then boom – it rains for weeks and I end up not ready and catching my tail with plants languishing too long in pots.  Well not this year.  The beds are in a good place now – weed free and mostly empty of crops, or nearly empty and some are even still working hard for me.

empty bed

This bed won’t see crops until the peas make their home there in the spring, so there is time to pop in a quick mustard cover crop.

So as these beds come free I’ll begin the process of enriching and preparing.  This is best done ahead of time and not in the hours before planting as it allows time for the organic materials to incorporate into the structure of the soil, so the tender roots aren’t burnt by fresh nutrients.  The microorganisms can change things to the way plants like them.  The frost can break up the clods of soil.  Cover crops sown now (albeit a tad late) will have plenty of time to break down, enriching the soil before it is needed.  Thick layers of compost and well rotted manure can be absorbed into the soil on there own with little effort on my part.   My aim is to have the beds ready before the September soggy.

Brassica bed

The brassica bed has been refilled with broccoli, romanesco and cabbage that will fill our late winter plates

To add to the winter workload, I have three construction projects I aim to achieve – one each month, but more on that later, but they will make such a great difference to my spring and I’m looking forward to creating them.

Peas

The peas, while a tad late are reaching up and will hopefully flower soon

And on the days it is raining – because it will, I shall make grand plans for the new inhabitants of the garden this spring.  There will be old favourites, but places for something new and as complex as working out the seating plan at a wedding, I shall enjoy taking the time to decide the perfect place for everyone so we have a fabulous growing season ahead.

So for the first time ever I am anticipating the winter with great excitement.  I can hardly wait.

Come again soon – there is something good to be found in the garden every day of the year.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Good morning Mrs May

The new month certainly isn’t afraid to make its mark on the first day.  May is the last autumn month before the winter and on the whole autumn is normally thought of as that kindly season that eases us gently through a period of transition.   But this year it hasn’t gone according to plan.  Autumn has been like that unruly classroom full of kids that the befuddled and poorly equipped teacher can’t control.  What started with one tentative riotous rain storm ended up becoming the norm.  April couldn’t help itself and delivered a final blow of another 46mm of rain on the final days.

Chilly night

Last night had one of those ‘its going to be cold’ feelings.

Well now we have a new month and a new teacher.  And she has written her name crisply and clearly on the blackboard of the season with a sharp white icy scratch.  She has cracked the whip and urged everyone to sit up straight and pay attention.

Frost

If you look carefully you can see the frost in the shadow of the fence palings.

The first night of May came laced with air directly from the South Pole.  This Antarctic breeze whooshed up the county delivering snow to the high peaks and ice to the low valleys.  We are more near the top than the bottom of the country and by the time it reached us, it was barely noticeable.  Ok it was colder than normal, with a sharpness in the air and I will need to wear socks today.

Marigold

The frost can’t have been too bad. Ordinarily this marigold would have melted into a brown mush by now.

But as far as a frost was concerned, I had to look hard for it.  I did find it, while wandering about outside in my pyjamas at first light before the sun had peeped over the horizon.  It wasn’t languishing on the plants and there wasn’t a sea of white as far as the eye could see.  But on some plastic left out overnight there were some clear droplets of water that were indeed frozen.  If you weren’t looking you would have missed it.

Ice

Frozen ice over a puddle of water created delightful shadows

Ice

Ok, it seem it did get rather cold in places – a pocket of water on one of Hubby the Un-Gardeners boat projects captured this rope in a frozen grip.

Late last night as the sun was setting, long after I had finished gardening for the day and put everything away, I had this nagging feeling something was in the air.  The night time temperatures were dropping fast in a clear deep sky.  So, I went back out into the garden and covered my peppers with frost cloth.    The poor wee things.  They had suffered enough and are still showing signs of having wet feet for most of April.  They were only really starting to get going with the harvest when those first fat drops fell six weeks ago.  I’m not ready to give up on them yet.

Securing frost cloth

I have ping pong balls on the end of the bamboo stakes supporting my pepper plants so I don’t poke my eye out looking for my harvest deep in the foliage. I have also found they are fabulous for securing frost cloth – remove the ping pong balls from the bamboo stakes, lay the frost cloth over the top and reattach the ping pong ball. Brilliant – if I may say so myself!

There are high expectations for this new month.  At this point I am happy with the crisp chill of a frosty month, so long as it is accompanied by clear blue sky days.  I will be able to get so much done in the garden on days like these and all I’ll need is a fluffy jumper, a good beanie and some thick socks.  May, so far you are in my good books.  I was always one of the good students.

Clear blue sky

Today is going to be a good day!

Come again soon – I hope this will be a good month.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Butternutty

The sun feels so warm against my face as I work in the garden and it feels so lovely.  But the sharp breeze and the chill in the shade quickly reminds me winter isn’t all that far way.  Normally I fight this seasonal change kicking and screaming from a state of denial.  Not this year.  I just want to put this whole sorry affair behind me and spend the winter making plans and doing projects so next season is better than ever.

Butternut squash

Butternut squash ripe for the picking

But it isn’t just the weather that reminds me we are at the end of something.  There are very few crops left in the garden and every time I step into the garden it feels like I’m undoing things rather than planting and sowing and all those exciting things.   And of course the pumpkins are so much a part of this season they are an icon for all things autumn.

Harvesting butternut squash

Give a long stalk and use clean sharp secateurs when harvesting.

So with a golden glow from a weakening sun shining across my garden the butternut squash are highlighted with their own shade of golden orange in a way that begs to be harvested.   However these are a crop that wants to be stored and savoured over the winter months so you can’t just pull it out as you would pluck a ripe tomato, or twist off a plump cucumber, or hack at a zucchini with a sharp knife.

Butternut squash

A load of butternuts is such a delight

In order to ensure the storage keeping properties of these delightful squash, you need to take a bit of care.   You can tell they are ready for harvest when the skin has an even golden tone without a trace of green and the leaves will have died back to a crisp.

Dirty butternuts

But underneath lurks a dirty scene

Then, with clean, sharp secateurs you need to cut the stalk as far from the butternut as you can.  This is so the squash can seal its end like a cap on a bottle to ensure disease and rot doesn’t set in through this key entryway where nutrients have passed all summer.  If the stalk is still green, then the risk of rot at this point is much higher.

Washing pumpkins

A quick wash in a bleachy solution soon sorts them out

While the surface may gleam like treasures in a barren field, the part in direct contact with the soil isn’t so pretty.  The underside will be positively mucky with the dirt it rested on stuck to it.  This needs to be removed before storing or it will become a moist entry point for a rotten situation.  A quick wash in a mild bleach solution will remove any residual pests, disease, spores and other harmful things that see the butternut as their next meal, not yours.

Use damaged butternuts first

Use damaged butternuts first. I suspect his was a target from one of my rodent residents. Pumpkins have a remarkable ability of heal themselves

Leave to dry in a nice sunny spot for a couple of weeks.  Then turn them over and leave them for another couple of weeks.  This not only well and truly dries them out, but cures the skins so they store well and finishes any last minute ripening so the flavour will be rich and amazing.

Don't hold pumpkins by the stalk

Don’t hold pumpkins by the stalk, or drop them for that matter. They are quite fragile at this point and easily break. This butternut will need eating straight away.

After this you can store them in a cool, dark place where rodents won’t be able to eat them before you do.  Check them often to make sure they don’t come to the end of their life and rot right there on the shelf.

Sunbathing butternuts

So this is it. My total butternut harvest. Not my best year, but then it hasn’t been a good year anyway. But this is enough for 3 a month over the winter and with loads of other yummy veggies squirreled away for the winter months then it will do us just fine.

And with my butternut pumpkins tucked up safe in the greenhouse, the march of the season moves us closer to winter.

Come again soon – I’m sure there are things I can put back into the garden.

Sarah the Gardener : o)

 

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