Shifting seasons

Well: the year has shifted again and here we are past the festival of Mabon, the autumnal equinox, and into a new season. A shift in what we’re growing, harvesting and eating: squashes finally curing in the last of the sun under glass, the final courgettes being eaten or chutneyed (are you resolving to have a more reasonable number of plants next year?), probably the last runner beans blown down in the gales and your drying beans safely stored away for winter stews. Some apple varieties will still be on the trees, not yet ready for picking and laying down over winter, but pears will all be harvested and safely stored in a cool dry place. Leeks, kales, spinach beet and chards are coming into their own now as the summer greens go over.

If you’ve got a cold frame, a light windowsill or greenhouse, there’s still just about time to sow some winter salads and greens: the spicy mustardy ones do really well over winter and can be cut or picked leaf by leaf to keep them producing. Or look carefully for self sown rocket, land cress and lamb’s lettuce that you can transplant to a prepared bed, or under glass.

As ever, it’s time to look ahead – as well as relax and enjoy reflecting on your successes of the last season. It’s easy to save seeds from many of your crops, so it’s worth leaving a few to ripen and collect – put a paper bag over the seed head so they dry out well and don’t just get blown away. Tomato, squash  and capsicum seeds can be dried and stored away for next year. Flower and herb seeds can also be dried and stored (don’t forget to label the bags, even if you think you’ll remember for sure!): feverfew, calendula, hollyhocks, knapweed, yarrow, foxgloves and more.

And it’s a great time of year to think of extending the variety of fruit you’re growing. Apple Day is coming up this month and many community orchards in the city, as well as big nurseries and RHS gardens, will offer events where you can taste samples of all kinds of top fruit. Lots of folk choose an apple tree for their plot – and lots of the trees end up poorly pruned and not very productive. Not so many people choose a pear or a plum, gage or damson though, and adding those to your plot will give you future trading potential with neighbours and friends, as well as fruit to store for the winter time. None need take up a lot of room (on your own plot – or overhanging your neighbour’s plot!): you can learn how to espalier or cordon the tree so that it has a neat narrow profile well suited to providing a divider on your plot or as an edge. Think of choosing fruit for your plot like getting a pet! You’ve got to know how to care for it, look after its health (prune, mulch), and lovingly appreciate its needs, giving it space and light and air.  There are many wonderful varieties to choose from so have some cosy evenings reading up on them and choose one you know you like, or that sounds delicious, or that will keep a good long while if you are aiming for greater self sufficiency in your food stores.