Well, gathering them if you really want to get pedantic… It’s been a glorious week back in the garden. Filthy hands, knees, face – a growing collection of scrapes and bruises to be nurtured and the most perfect of weather for harvesting…My mental health can but profit !
Difficult to know where to begin with so many jobs on the to do list. But the declining temperatures have me a little concerned about frost. Desirous of un-squished squash I headed over to the experimental pumpkin patch. Experimental for several reasons and frankly not a huge success for any.
I’ve always grown a few squash on the compost heap and they’ve always done pretty well, so when faced with stocking a growing mountain of animal manure, that one step further seemed obvious. With a hard days barrowing, a large patch of hardstanding between the critters and the garden became home to eight varieties of pumkin. We planted through agri-plastic and then protected it from goaty invasion with electric fencing. First two errors….the combination of overheating under the plastic (incredibly sunny summer) and shocking (literally!) inaccessibility made for a dry, dirt dry poo pile. The plants seemed happy enough, from an electrically safe distance, so I really didn’t investigate too closely. Unfortnately the fruit suffered – in size if not in taste – and I now have about twenty potimarrons ( my personal top squash,) the size of grapefruits – oh dear, edible yes, but they wont last long ! Others did better – the pattidoux, an insanely sweet and nutty old French variety is by nature compact and was happily most prolific ; and the butternut, if terribly slow to settle did finally give me a fair few generous sized fruit.
No, the central tragedy was my bungled attempt at seed saving.
I’ve become increasingly aware of the multitude of reasons to harvest not just our produce, but also the means of continued production…their seeds. With threats to heirloom varieties from goverment backed multi-nationals, massive price elevation, radically dwindling bio-diversity and the introduction of gmo technology into our veg patches – it’s a bit of a no brainer. Only knowing ( or even remembering!) a bit about what you’re doing does have its advantages.
So here is yet another ‘learn from my cock-ups’ lesson…When growing many different varieties of a crop – in this case squash – know that cross-pollination is not only possible, but extremely likely. The most prolific and aggressive plants on my patch this year were without doubt what I thought were second generation sugar pie pumpkins – the carefully saved seeds of a variety discovered and brought back from the states a few years back. I hadn’t taken into account the buzzy fella that dipped his bottom into, I think perhaps, a yellow courgette before sampling sugar pie pollen. The result ? a small mountain of enormous, not particularly tasty and stupidly unstable ( the innards liquify as the shell hardens, yeuch!) squashy courgetty things. We’re eating the blighters, but let’s face it, we’re extremely unlikely to make much of a dent before they self destruct.
Pumpkins aren’t the only crop I grow in multi varieties, there are the tomatoes ! How proud do I get serving up my huge platters of mixed tomato salad heaven ? My friend Lynn ( gardener and seed saver extraordinaire) positively delights in the unknown/unknowable element – she finds watching the plants grow and display their varietal tendancies deeply exciting – ‘you never know what you’ll get !’ she’ll cry, eyes afire with the anticipation of it all. A bit too edgy for me. I’m afraid I prefer living the quiet life where my toms are concerned !
Wind pollinators too are tricky – I definately won’t be saving sweetcorn seed, ‘cos though I generally only grow one type, a good gust down the valley can usher pollen from industrial maize grown up to 5 kilometers away. Worrying thought if you happened to live nearby some of the gmo testing sites.
So knowing what not to bother saving will help avoid idiot sons. Now the easy stuff…
With the squash harvested and the weather still sunny and breezy, seed collection has been a top job. From the herbs….parsley, coriander, fennel, chamomile and poppy. Nasturtiums, dried to plant and green to pickle ! Lettuce – Red Sails (another american organic discovery) still holding beautifully true two generations down the line and on to those elegant dried rocket seed pods – there’s still plenty to save !
Here are some wonderful articles on the subject.
But reading is a dark time activity and the sun is still out. That means apples to pick, pears and quince and grapes. The very last of the rhubarb, rasberries and of course the chestnuts oh yum oh yum oh yum !!!
Happy harvest, it’s back to the kitchen with this little lot for me!