Late summer is when all the sowing, planting and growing earlier in year really starts to pay dividends. Harvesting crops can be a daily event and it is best to gather little and often. If you are faced with a sudden glut, don’t worry. There are lots of nifty ways to store many popular crops so they can be used at a later date.
If I could grow just one vegetable it would have to be tomatoes. Apart from being darned tasty they are one of the most productive crops with a single plant capable of producing 4kg (9lb) of fruit. As a result, those growing a number of plants might be faced with a bumper harvest. Rather than dine solely on tomatoes for the next few weeks, consign any surplus to the freezer. There’s no need to do anything fancy like peeling or blanching fruit. Simply rinse under running water, pat them dry with a kitchen towel, slice off tops and cut in half. Scrape out the seeds, put them in a bag and pop into the freezer.
As far as I’m concerned, shallots are the upmarket cousin of onions with a superior flavour that will add a touch of class to many savoury dishes. If you planted sets (small bulbs) in late winter or early spring then get ready to harvest them when the leaves turn brown and collapse. Lift from the ground with a fork, taking care not to damage them. Remove as much soil as possible and allow them to dry off in the sun until the outer skin is papery. If the weather is wet, let them dry in a light spot indoors. They can be eaten immediately, but will last well into the following spring if stored in a cool, dry place such as a shed or garage.
Plant spring cabbages
Spring can be a lean time in the vegetable garden, so it’s worth planting hardy cabbages that will be ready for harvesting in April and May. There are lots of different varieties available that will establish themselves over winter, ready to swell quickly during warmer weather and rewarding you with tasty, fat, sweet heads. Ready grown spring cabbage seedlings are widely available in the grow your own sections of garden centres or for a greater range, try an online specialist. Among my favourites are ‘Duncan’, ‘April’ and ‘Spring Hero’. Plant them 30cm (12in) apart to ensure they have plenty of space to form decent sized heads.
I can clearly remember the first time I grew courgettes from seeds. It was in the garden of a shared house in North London back in the early noughties. The garden consisted largely of grass but I found a patch of soil where I raised a few courgettes. I was dead excited when I picked my first fruit and harvested them diligently at the outset. However, I forgot to pick them for a week or so and when I checked in on them again the fruit were almost as large as marrows. The moral of this story is…pick courgettes up to three times a week, removing with a sharp knife when they are about 10cm (4in) long.
In my copy of Dr Hessayon’s Vegetable & Herb Expert from 2000, the good doc advises readers to use garlic “sparingly or you will be put off for ever”. Well, I usually take a doctor’s advice but I’m such a big fan of this pungent edible that I add it liberally to all sorts of dishes. Those who’ve been growing garlic can lift bulbs with a fork when leaves start to yellow. Remove soil and allow them to dry in the sun for a couple of weeks – I like to place them on a wire rack from a grill pan, which lets air to circulate around them.
Dried bulbs will keep for a long time if stored correctly. The easiest way is to arrange a single layer in a slatted wooden tray, keeping them in a cool, dry, dark place.