Late September marks a period of great activity in the edible garden. There are crops to harvest, seeds to sow and weeds to pull from the ground. As veggies come to a natural end, the autumn tidy-up can begin. Don’t waste the debris. All of the old foliage, stems and even roots, can be chopped up and added to compost heaps.
Finish picking beans and peas
Hopefully you’ve all enjoyed a glut of beans and peas over the summer, but you need to get a move on and pick any remaining pods before cold and wet weather ruins the last of the crop. You can completely strip plants of pods as they’re unlikely to produce any more flowers. Borlotti beans or others that can be dried and stored, should be left on plants to dry out during dry weather. If the weather is damp, cut stems and hang them up indoors to dry. Once completely dried they can be shelled and placed in airtight containers.
Get set for onions
Onion sets (immature bulbs) are generally planted in spring but it’s possible to buy some for planting in autumn. Planting at this time results in plants that form a strong root system over winter, allowing the onions to bound into growth in spring and providing you with a good sized crop that are ready for picking far earlier than those planted in February, March or April. Sets can be grown in the ground, raised beds or even in pots – plants do need space to grow, so make sure you use really big containers to make it worthwhile.
Freshly picked sweetcorn are far superior to cobs bought in the shops as sugar in the kernels starts turning to starch the moment they’ve been picked. Therefore, the sooner you eat them, the better. Make sure you harvest cobs at the peak of ripeness for a flavour sensation – they are generally ready when the silky tassels at the ends turn brown. Check by peeling back some leaves and stabbing a kernel with a fingernail. If the juice is milky, they’re ready. Remove by twisting the cob away from the plant.
Peaches, nectarines and apricots might be seen as exotic fruit but it’s easy to raise them in the UK. Trees will thrive in a sunny, sheltered spot where flowers won’t be damaged by frost. Either plant partially trained fans against a warm wall or fence, or grow as freestanding trees in pots. Bare root trees are available from autumn to early spring, while container grown trees can be planted anytime. Among my favourites are apricot ‘Tomcot’, nectarine ‘Lord Napier’ and ‘Crimson Bonfire’, a peach with purple leaves and dark red fruit.
Asparagus spears are highly prized by gourmets, and command high prices in shops during their relatively short season, from mid April until the end of June. If you planted dormant crowns back in the spring, they will have produced towering stems clothed with ferny foliage. Over the summer these help plants build up their energy stores. Once the foliage starts to turn yellow in autumn cut everything back to just above ground level. Next spring, allow shoots to grow again and only harvest spears from the third growing year onwards.