Last Saturday we looked at mulching. We hope after a month of autumn you are beginning to realise that gardeners don't quite hang up their wellies yet. Growing can still continue undercover and outside, and those little harvests are still coming in. Only earlier this week we harvested the last of our red tomatoes and some basil. The basil will continue until the first frost in the glass house and its worth growing some crops indoors and outdoors, herbs fall into this two tiered growing system along with courgettes and tomatoes. It's true that an outdoor tomato, after a good hot summer, will often taste better than its indoor counterpart. Let's face facts though, this is the UK and though we have a temperate climate we do not have a Mediterranean one and we don't get the heat or light levels they do. So, you will always be more reliant on undercover crops of tomatoes because undercover means a less likely chance of blight (though we did try this nifty tip from Rodale, and it worked, the tomatoes did succumb to blight in the end but we got a good crop off them first).
You probably wondering how to preserve basil, sure you can use it there and then in a great tomato salad but what about winter? Well, herbs can be easily preserved in ice cubes trays. Put the herbs in oil, we use vegetable oil, and then blend them. This quick chop up means it is easy to pour and then you decant it into a ice tray - okay, ours are shaped liked Christmas trees but we are literally using what we have and we're not giving you a hint that Christmas is seven weeks away (that's right, go into freak out mode now). You simply pour in and pop in the freezer and then in the midst of winter you can pop them into stews, pastas and even a salad or two. We'll be freezing our basil harvest for the next week, getting ahead before the first frosts and we'll do the same for oregano and marjoram too. We'll save the seed from our fennel herb because they're really, really tasty, go on, try some and find out that those little harvests are punch full of taste.
Undercover we have salads, that's right, salad. We sowed these in plug trays over a month ago to grow on into...plug plants (these are small plants that can be popped straight in the ground). Remember that most greenhouses are left empty over winter but are great for bringing on salads and potatoes for Christmas (yes, it's seven weeks away, accept it). As the tomatoes die back the salads will take over and we have around sixteen plants in here - we don't need anymore because that's roughly two salads a week in the run up to Christmas and two left over for Boxing Day. Yes, we keep mentioning Christmas. For the record, this lettuce is Drunken Woman (a wartime heritage variety), and you'll see plenty of them over Christmas. Yes, Christmas.
Outside we have spring cabbages in a seed bed to plant on but we have turnips growing which will take us right up to December. We sowed these direct back in late August/early September, there's some chard too but that will need a cloche (a tiny greenhouse to cover crops, bell shaped or tunnel shaped) to keep the frosts off them. There's plenty of top growth on our turnips but no turnips yet, we'll keep you up to date with whether we get any. By simply planning ahead you will find you won't go hungry up to Christmas (we know, we keep mentioning it).
It's been a funny year and there's another large harvest to come and that is leaves. Our hedges are turning to umber and the leaves will fall, after which they can be collected, popped in a bin bag, watered, the bags pricked with a fork to let out any excess water and then left behind a shed to turn into lovely, lovely leafmould which is great for seed compost.
These little and large harvests will continue throughout autumn and with a little planning next year you will have a greenhouse that will keep on ticking throughout the cold season. If you want to try growing something from seed now, pop in some lamb's lettuce/corn lettuce and you will get a small but significant harvest. You can even try your hand at growing some potatoes in an old compost bag with some drainage holes, topping up the compost levels as they grow, keep them well watered and in the warmest part of your greenhouse.