Martyn Cox offers his timely advice on harvesting and starting off delicious edible crops in your garden.
There are lots of crops to harvest in mid-autumn, along with some that can be started from scratch. It’s also the traditional time for a quick tidy up. Start by pulling up annual crops that have gone past their best, chop up stems and add to the compost heap. Elsewhere, dismantle wigwams of bamboo canes and other supports that are no longer needed and stash in the shed.
Give a fig about figs
A question I’m often asked is “should I leave small, developing figs on the branches of trees over winter?” Well, yes and no. Any fruit that are about the size of a 10p piece should be removed as these will not ripen before winter – they will rot on the branches and have the potential to infect shoots. However, fruit the size of peas should be left. These will swell and be ready for harvesting next summer. If you live in part of the country that tends to be hit by hard frosts, have a piece of horticultural fleece handy to drape over branches to protect these embryonic fruit.
Sow broad beans
Broad beans are often started in early spring, but I’ve long favoured sowing seeds in autumn. They’ll germinate quickly into plants that will put on a few centimetres of growth before winter. Plants will start up again when temperatures rise, providing pickings way before those sown in March or April. Perhaps the biggest benefit of sowing now is that plants should avoid the attention of black fly, a type of aphid that can infest stems, leaves, flowers and pods. Not all varieties are suitable for sowing in autumn. Among the best are ‘The Sutton’, ‘Aquadulce Claudia’ and ‘Masterpiece Green Longpod’.
Whether you started them from seeds or cut a few corners by snapping up seedlings from a garden centre, leeks are a delicious vegetable that will provide pickings from autumn to early spring. As they last in the ground for a very long time, there’s no need to pick them all at once. Simply lift as required when they reach a useable size – start when they are about the circumference of your thumb. Never try to tug them out of the ground, especially on heavy clay soil, as they will simply snap in two. Instead, carefully prize the largest upwards with a garden fork, taking care not to damage neighbouring leeks.
When the skin of pumpkins starts to crack and the skin feels tough, the chances are they are ready for picking. Fresh pumpkins will last for just a few weeks after harvesting, but can be stored for up to six months if ‘cured’ first. Harvest the fruit when ripe, leaving a 10cm (4in) stub of stem. Place the fruit in a single layer in a sunny spot, such as a bench inside a greenhouse or a light porch, for about two weeks to allow the skin to harden – this will prevent the flesh from drying out. Set the cured fruit in a cool, dry, airy and frost-free place – ideally raise them up on wire racks, cushioned with newspaper, to allow air to circulate underneath.
Garlic bulbs come in many different shapes, colours and sizes, with a flavour that ranges from mild to something that would blow the head off a vampire. To enjoy your own crop next summer, plant in a sunny spot outdoors or in pots filled with compost. Snap up bulbs from a garden centre or online specialist and carefully remove the papery outer skin. Separate cloves, keeping the largest, and rejecting any that are soft, small or mouldy. Make small holes in the soil, 20cm (8in) apart, and bury each clove so the tip is just beneath the surface – firm them down with your fingertips to prevent birds pulling them up.