Caterpillars ate my kale

The past week has been dominated by apples… some are frozen, some are bottled, some are in cake, many are still in boxes and even more remain on the tree. It’s very time-consuming but also very satisfying.

And abundance of small tortoiseshell butterflies (Mara Morris; Denmark Farm Conservation Centre)

And abundance of small tortoiseshell butterflies (Mara Morris; Denmark Farm Conservation Centre)

This is a funny time of year in the garden – we are always given to believe that autumn is always about harvests and the end of growing crops for the year, but this simply isn’t true. This summer was a fabulous year for butterflies in the UK, as you can see from the picture on the right taken at Denmark Farm just a couple of weeks ago. Not all butterflies are quite as welcome as these small tortoiseshells, however, and it has been an equally good year for both large and small whites… those are the ones that eat your cabbages.

Skeletonised kale leaf

Skeletonised kale leaf

And so it was in my garden… an infestation of caterpillars on my broccoli and kale reduced all the leaves to mere skeletons. But I was not fooled. This defoliation does not kill strong healthy plants, so I left them in the ground and the caterpillars have now gone away to pupate, leaving my plants to magically regenerate. Later on in the year we will be harvesting fresh greens from the kale, then in 2014 there will be white and purple sprouting broccoli to enjoy. When plants get damaged like that, it’s very tempting to just get rid of them, but sometimes it’s worth thinking twice.

Brand new growth on the broccoli

Brand new growth on the broccoli

Other plants are also thriving in the garden – I’ve recently planted red onion sets, and the oriental greens (and reds) are establishing well. In addition, the autumn raspberries are flowering and starting to set fruit. It just goes to show, the growing season can last a very long time if you plant the right crops.

A taste of summer

Here in west Wales it truly feels like winter has arrived: dark nights, dark days and cold damp walks with the dogs.

I am very thankful, therefore, for the fact that my autumn raspberries continue to supply a small taste of summer every few days. There aren’t many of them, and the flavour may not be as intense as it was a couple of months ago, but I find it a great joy to go out into the garden and harvest a small taste of sunshine to add to my breakfast… and they are all the more welcome for being fresh.

Summer in November

Bringing in the harvest

OK, I admit that there have been some fairly gloomy posts over recent months about the paucity of the harvest here, chez snail. But, some things have grown and some things are growing and some things now need storing.

One of our best harvests this year was potatoes – we’ve just collected the last of these from two containers that were in the ‘waste of space‘ area. I bought 1kg of certified seed potatoes, which are quite expensive, but we have harvested more than 20kg, which I consider a good return. I have learned that we get a better crop out of the ground than out of containers, so may dedicate a little more of the raised beds to potatoes next year. I only planted up just over a square metre this year, so I can double the area next year without the whole garden being taken over. I think that the crop was helped by the wet weather, so additional watering may be in order in dry years. Storage of potatoes is easy – cardboard boxes in the shed.

Another good harvest has been broad beans… well, actually a variety called ‘Wizard’ that was described as a field bean. These were planted (in my opinion) way too late in the season (about April) than in a normal year , but with the cold dull conditions of 2012, they have thrived. Unlike the potatoes I didn’t weigh the entire crop, but we have eaten them in many meals and today I have frozen over 1kg of them… shelled, then blanched for a minute in boiling water. It’s a simple method of preservation. Again, I only dedicated a small area to this crop – 1 square metre – so they really have delivered well.

Flashy Butter Oak – my favourite lettuce

We’ve had loads and loads of lettuce… and are still picking it. My favourite variety is ‘Flashy Butter Oak’, partly because it’s so beautiful with its mottled foliage, but also because it is remarkably reluctant to run to seed. I’m not keen on lettuce soup (or swamp soup as we know it here), so all the lettuce gets eaten fresh. I always plant the ‘cut and come again’ varieties so that we only pick what we need and never store any in the fridge… should we pick too many leaves they go straight to the chickens, who love them. I think that the key to good salad leaves is that they come straight out of the garden!

Belatedly, we are enjoying a good runner bean crop. As always with runner beans there are too many to eat fresh, so the excess is being blanched and frozen, lie the broad beans. My mother used to store runner beans by salting them. I did try this a few years back, but just couldn’t soak them enough to get rid of sufficient salt for my taste and they had a rather leathery texture… we ended up composting them (after a great deal of soaking) so it’s not a technique I plan to use again.

We are still picking a few mangetout, but they will not need preserving as we’re eating them as we go along. This is, in fact, not a crop failure… I just forgot to order any seeds this year and only had a few left over from last year, so that has limited our harvest. All the ones we have had have been grown in pots up the fence in the ‘waste of space’ area, which seems to be ideal for them – certainly an approach I will adopt again next year.

My final bit of crop preservation today, although relatively short-term, was to make strawberry ice cream! I used strawberries from a local organic farm, but I made the custard base using egg yolks from the hens in the garden, so I feel justified in thinking of this as partly my produce. The recipe for the ice cream is an Italian one – I make a custard out of milk, cream, sugar and egg yolks and add to this whatever takes my fancy, or comes out of the garden. I love it made with a very dark chocolate melted into the custard when hot, but today’s strawberries were also delicious and I make an apple or toffee apple version when we are dealing with the apple glut. I don’t have a dedicated ice cream maker, but have an attachment for my Kenwood Chef that does the job – perhaps one of my favourite purchases for the kitchen over the last couple of years

Looking round the garden I can see lots of crops still to come. Although the winter squash seem to have completely failed, we will have kale, chard, purple and white sprouting broccoli, leeks, salsify and bunching onions over the winter, plus the rhubarb seems to be having a second growth spurt and there is lots of fruit on the autumn raspberries. Oh, and I think we’re due a bumper harvest of chillies this year.

Overall, it’s been a poor summer, but variety in the garden means that some things have succeeded, perhaps a good lesson for all of us to remember when planning our planting schemes.

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: