End of Summer but not end of Gardening Year

by Ailbhe on September 8, 2017

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Another summer has zipped by in the garden. I cannot believe how fast it went. The last 7 weeks have been a blur, mainly because of a work project for us which meant I had little time (or energy) to focus on anything other than a design project for a new client. But I have managed to potter out into the garden every few days and pick some of the tomatoes which did just fine this year. So fine I was giving some away to neighbours along with the prolific french and runner beans which seemed to manage with my neglect. And with the changeable weather. For a while it looked as if it was going to be sunny all summer but you don’t get away without rain even in the sunny South East and boy did we get some downfalls. That did have an impact on tomatoes some of which had a tendency to split but on the whole my tomatoes did well. One variety, Matt’s Cherry Tomatoes produced teeny toms, sweet and just perfect for popping into your mouth as you picked but personally I felt they were too small (plus many split as I picked them) however if you had children they would be perfect tomatoes for them to pick and eat at will. Like healthy sweets! My now regular Jens Tangerine Tomato, a yellow variety, was as solid as ever producing sweet medium-sized tomatoes and they’re still ripening away on the vine. But my new variety, the tomato grown from seeds we brought back from Santorini last year was a lovely surprise. To be honest I thought that tomato would not like the colder, wetter UK climate but the Santorini Tomatoes were first to germinate, the seedlings grew quickly and vigorously and the tomatoes produced are tasty and juicy. I’ve made a lot of tomato sauce from them (we have so many I have had to start planning how to use them up) and am happily freezing batches to draw upon during the greyer winter months. There are still tomatoes ripening on the vine with enough green tomatoes for me to pickle (yayyyy!).

This year I’ve saved seeds as I always do. It’s the best way to get a tomato that loves your growing conditions and you get seed for free! And it is so easy to do, all you need is a jar and some kitchen roll.

  1. Pick your tomatoes and choose the ripest, happiest looking tomatoes to save the seeds from but remember to keep the tomatoes in their separate varieties so you can mark which ones are which!
  2. Cut a tomato in halve and squeeze out its seeds into a clean jar. Discard the rest of the pulp (OBVIOUSLY don’t ‘discard’ discard, ‘use-it-in-something-else-like-a-salad’ discard, knowwha’Imean?).
  3. Put the lid on, label the jar with the variety name and place it on a window sill. You now have to wait a few days for the gloopy gel coating around the seeds to break down.
  4. A few days later you’ll see some mould appear on the surface of the seedy liquid. DO NOT THROW THE SEEDS OUT. Apologies for shouting there but this mould is fine. It means the gel has broken down and that any┬ásoil-borne pathogens are destroyed and you’re ready to finish the seed saving.
  5. Add a teeny squirt of washing liquid, a dash of water, put the lid back on and shake. You’ll see when you stop that most seeds have become separated and sink to the bottom (any on top can be discarded). Gently tip out the scummy frothy liquid and plop the seeds out to dry off. I use a sheet of kitchen roll, I spread the seeds out making sure there are no clumps, I write the name of the variety on the sheet and leave somewhere (not in the direct sun) to dry. Some people don’t like to use kitchen roll or paper as the seeds can stick to it and use a plate but if the seeds do stick to the paper I just fold it all up and put the whole lot into an envelope. Easy. Come next spring the seeds will mostly have loosened and a gentle scrape with the blunt side of a knife dislodges them. Store all seeds in a dry place and come next year you can spend your money on some bubbly as opposed to seeds to celebrate your thriftiness (that is how it works, right?).

This year I’ll also need to save some of my beans for seed. That involves leaving beans on the plant till they dry. Then bringing the dry pods in, leaving them to completely dry out (the beans will rattle in the pod) and then label and store them. I so love collecting seeds and if you start with a strong, heritage non-hybrid plant you can gather seeds every year (the hybrid F1 varieties don’t produce true seeds which is a good reason to use heritage, open pollination plants). When you’re not saving seeds take some time to dry some herbs by tying them in bunches and hanging them upside down in a cool, well ventilated space until they become dry enough to store in airtight containers. This year I’m experimenting with drying some of my Shiso (Perilla) leaves – a japanese leaf used in salads, to wrap up tasty morsels or to make tea with – I’ll let you know how it goes.

September may be the start of the end of summer but it’s definitely not the end of the Gardening Year. No sir-ee. You still have a window to sow something to get you through the winter but hurry. I’ve just sown some Cavelo Nero, Cima di Rapa, Winter Purslane (fantastic as a salad leaf and lasts all winter), some winter salad leaves, a few oriental greens which are winter hardy; Tsoi Sim, Mustards, Mizuna, Pak Choi as well as Perpetual Spinach (my spring sowing of that had bolted in the very dry spell we had earlier), some Parsley (I have so little success with growing parsley!) and Salad Burnett (which lasts most of the winter) and Corn Salad whose seeds I have but I can’t for the life of me remember where I got them or what it tastes like (the packet was used I can see) but I read it’s a succulent winter salad leaf which is good enough for me. Later in September I’ll do another sowing of Cima di Rapa and in October some broad beans that’ll produce early next spring. In fact I’ll probably use Field (Fava) Beans again, a variety called Wizard that produced well and is winter hardy so I should get early beans. Yum!

Don’t forget to collect and store any flower seeds. I collected lots of wild flower seed heads last year that I had grown (good gardener) but forgot to label them (silly gardener) so today admitted defeat and stored all in an envelope marked ‘Wild Flowers’ and will just have to enjoy the pot luck of it all next year.

Lastly, make a note of what worked in your garden this summer and do the same over the winter as you (hopefully) enjoy winter salads and veg. This gardening year isn’t over but next year’s planning is not so far away!

 

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