TOTAL self-sufficiency may be just a wish too many but that is not to say we can’t try and enjoy laying out seasonal fruits of our labours in the kitchen for the sense of achievement it brings.
It doesn’t have to be prize-winning produce, just tasty.
Extend the choice by adding something new to the edibles list each year and surprise yourself by discovering how easy it is to grow.
Preparation for a typical meal sees the lady of the house advising this under-gardener which vegetables to gather and in November, as in summer, we are spoiled for choice.
Last week, for example, the list comprised potatoes, red onion, parsnip, leek, tomato, spinach and chilli peppers.
Mint, parsley and rosemary were in attendance, with a choice of grape, apple or raspberry for dessert. All good heart-warming stuff.
Now that the garden-grown potato crop has been used up, we have started on the 40 litre growing bags which line the patio on a west-facing house wall.
Marshall’s of Wisbech, Cambridgshire (www.marshalls-seeds.co.uk), supplied them along with the seed potatoes, but they’re widely available.
The long-lasting bags are made from woven polypropylene and have two carry-handles.
One grow kit comprises a bag plus five potatoes for £9.95. Swift, (first early) Maris Peer (second early) and Charlotte was their choice of potatoes for a three-bags offer.
We now have a collection of nine and as each is emptied it will be washed out, dried and stored for next year, then we will decide what to grow in them.
We’re approaching the end of this year’s tomato crop, with even the smallest green fruits ripening on the greenhouse bench.
Of the 10 varieties grown this year, a handful earned the right to have their seeds saved for next time.
Sungold was most certainly the sweetest cherry type, and memorable because it turned orange when ripe.
Close behind came the ever-popular Gardeners’ Delight.
As traditional types go, Shirley still takes some beating for flavour, fruit quality and size of truss.
We also trialled two tomato plants Felicia in grafted form, alongside a pair grown from seed.
The difference of the former in vigour was remarkable with main stems double the thickness, and a uniform five quality fruits to each truss.
In the novelty section, Japanese Black added a delicious sweetener to meals even after cooking but too few fruits set to earn it a place in next year’s line-up.
Leek Musselburgh and parsnip Tender & True have been around since Adam was a lad, and have arguably been overtaken by better cultivars, so why then are they still found in the main seed catalogues?
Because gardeners such as I have come to rely on their proven hardiness and long-lasting season in the garden.
Harvesting has just started because we couldn’t resist testing them and, as the temperature plummets, they will really come into their own.
Not so the three fruits, raspberries, grapes and apples, available in abundance at present. Severe frost will impact heavily on the Joan J and Tullameen autumn raspberries, harvesting so well right now but we have back-up in the freezer.
The grapes will be over before the year’s end.
Cooler nights have brought a hint of colour-change into the vine leaves but when they fall there will still be bunches dangling from the bare rod.
In days of yore, the head gardener of a large country estate was expected to produce grapes for the house deep into winter and one solution was to fix bunches in modified bottles topped up with water.
Today, we simply leave them on the vine, remove any fruits that develop mould and enjoy the sweetness that increases as they age.
Apples, dessert and culinary, can bear the burden of fruit expectation for months yet, but that takes a little planning and expenditure on late varieties. Discovery ripened in August and James Grieve in September.
Both are at their best now, but there are several readily available cultivars that offer continuity.
Charles Ross easily fills the October to December gap, then Fiesta, Jonagold and Jupiter have a storage period that lasts from November to March. Winston can even extend that to April.
There’s no such thing as a free meal when your own produce is involved. Comments such as “this is delicious” and “what a lovely combination of ingredients” are just not enough, no matter how well meant.
In my experience, you’re expected to identify every ingredient used as you consume it.
Even with knowledge of what’s been grown in the vegetable beds, this tests the taste buds, especially when chillies and ginger have gone into the mix. Come Dine with Me eat your heart out!
Growing sweet potato Beauregard was a first for us this year, so it could have been difficult deciding what constitutes a reasonable crop, but thankfully two gardening friends Yvonne and Louise were also trialling it so we were able to compare notes.
This vegetable does best in temperatures above 10˚C so we’re really talking of growing in a greenhouse or poly-tunnel. Use fleece if there’s not enough warmth initially. This vegetable plant needs five months to give of its best so an early May planting is wise.
But what do you plant? It can either be a tuber bought at the local supermarket, which is what Yvonne did, or a young potted plant from the garden centre, à la Louise and I.
Once planted, there is a choice of encouraging it to climb up a framework with ties or allow it to trail over the soil surface.
Ours spread over the greenhouse border and this made it easier to propagate.
Simply peg down the stem with a clip or stone at a leaf joint and roots develop.
The good news is once you have tubers to save, some can be stored for the following year. Alternatively, root stem cuttings from the rampant summer growth, pot them up and keep them going over winter, then plant out next spring.
Enrich the soil with well-decayed organic matter as for potatoes and keep the area well watered to compensate for growing under cover.
Intensify watering at the height of summer and offer a plant food rich in potassium at 10 day intervals.
Sweet potatoes will grow well in a large pot or bag placed in the greenhouse, as Yvonne discovered. Louise grew hers in the poly-tunnel border on her allotment.
The cold greenhouse border sufficed for mine. I think it fair to say we enjoyed comparing notes and intend to exchange rooted cuttings for next year’s trial.
Oh yes, there’s going to be a next time.
The tasty end product spurred us on to grow more!
Footnote: Television gardener Joe Swift visited The Alnwick Garden recently to record a piece for the “Gardeners’ World” programme. This will feature the work of Belgian father & son design team, Jacques & Peter Wirtz. It will be broadcast tomorrow (Friday) evening on BBC 2 at 8pm.