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Cool October clear up

Posted: Monday 10th October 2016 by My-Wild-Garden

The weather is cooling and the great clear up begins as September gives way to October on Sue Bradley’s allotment.

IT’S beginning to look a lot like autumn, with tractors ploughing the fields, harvest festival services taking place in churches and schools and trees adding splashes of red, yellow and orange to the countryside.

On the allotment there’s still plenty to harvest, with the runner beans, autumn raspberries, blackberries, beetroots, courgettes and even the odd potato or two providing plenty of ingredients for meals.

The courgettes are particularly good this year: some have grown to huge proportions after cunningly hiding themselves behind their foliage.

Nevertheless they’re tiny compared with the monster marrows on display at the Malvern Autumn Show, the heaviest of which was grown by F&M Baggs of Wareham and weighed in at 68.8kg.

In the next week or so I hope to use some of my courgettes to make a tasty pickle that’s great for burgers – see below for the recipe.

Sometime soon I’ll be bringing in my pumpkins, which seem to be enjoying the late autumn warmth.

The sight of ploughs in action has inspired me to make the most of the dry weather and start getting the soil ready for next year’s growing season: every hour I manage to spend digging this side of Christmas will pay huge dividends next spring.

My main aim is to break up the soil and remove any nasty perennial weeds – with couch grass, bindweed, nettles and creeping buttercup among my main targets.

While doing this I’m especially careful not to injure earthworms going about their valuable business. Every forkful seems to contain one or two of these hard-working fellas, which is great news as they’ll be pulling organic matter into the soil.

In some parts of the allotment I’m incorporating green manures back into the soil. I’ve started off with the buckwheat and rocket I sowed in August but I’m leaving the phacelia until later because its purple flowers look beautiful and are beloved of bees.

After digging the soil I’m scattering the surface with year-old leaf mould made from the leaves collected from the playground of our local primary school. This serves the dual purpose of protecting the ground from the elements and providing organic matter for earth worms to drag into the soil.

Work has already started on refilling the tonne bag that serves as my leaf mould bin and I’m now looking for a second one as a gardener can never have enough leaf mould.

Some of the leaves are being scattered between layers of manure, all of which should all gently rot down over the coming months. Come spring I’ll cover this manure and leaf ‘lasagne’ with a thick layer of soil and use it as a ‘hot bed’ for courgettes and pumpkins, as I did with a compost heap this year.

Some areas of the allotment are especially weedy, which means extra care is needed when digging just in case there are any friendly toads hiding within. Pulling away weeds before digging also exposes slug eggs – small and shiny pearls that need to be despatched so that they don’t pose a threat to tender seedlings next spring.

A word of warning too about other wild friends that may be taking shelter on the allotment or in the garden: check incinerators and bonfire heaps before starting fires as these are prime spots for hedgehogs and slow worms.

All in all it’s been a good growing year: there have been challenges, not least from the slugs, but all the produce I’ve been able to harvest makes it all worthwhile.

Next year I’m hoping to stay on top of the weeds – hence my determination to dig the soil and remove perennial weeds over the autumn – and I will remind myself to wait until the weather really warms up before planting out vegetables started off in pots.

Come this time of the year the allotment begins to look tired as it winds down to winter: the once proud sunflowers stand bowed, although I won’t be pulling them up as they may provide food for hungry birds over the winter, as will the artichokes that are still putting on a great display.

There’s a lot of tidying up to do, but on a warm autumnal day there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.


Courgette and Dill Pickle

  • 6 courgettes
  • 2 large onions
  • Coarse sea salt (enough to sprinkle over courgettes)
  • 1 pint (20 fl oz) cider vinegar
  • 1 tbsp (15 ml) sugar
  • 1 tbsp (15 ml) mustard seeds
  • Large handful dill leaves

Slice courgettes as thinly as possible – potato peelers or mandolins give good results.

Layer the courgette slices and thinly sliced onions in a bowl and sprinkle salt in between each layer.

Place a small plate on top of the courgette and onion slices and place a weight on top in order to sweat the water from the courgette. Leave overnight.

Drain off excess moisture and wash off salt.

Gently heat the vinegar, sugar and mustard until the sugar has dissolved.

Add courgettes, onions and dill and bring to the boil.

Take off heat and bottle in sterilized jars, making sure courgettes are covered with liquid. Seal jars.

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