The time for planting and weeding is over – August is the time for harvest!
All the fruit trees are heavily laden – so much so that one of the apple trees has actually been pulled over by the weight of fruit. The plums are not brilliant this year – and now we desperately need more sun to ripen these delicious morsels. In the greenhouse the vine is festooned with succulent purple grapes. Plenty for tasty desserts and plenty to make a good few bottles of wine.
The main fruit harvest is just beginning – even the Autumn raspberries are beginning to make an appearance. But the main harvest during August has been beans (both runner and French), basil and main crop potatoes. Lots of long summer evenings slicing runner beans, trimming the French beans and blanching great bucketfuls for the deep freeze – we must have more than 30 bags already frozen. I must admit to finding the bean slicing a good excuse to watch the dramas of Ronnie Sullivan (the Rocket) winning the World Snooker Championship! Of course the runner beans are much easier to harvest than the French beans – lots of bending over for those.
The potato crop has been a good one this year – they at least love all this rain. I think it must have been too cold for the blight so our crop is now safely stored in the dark space of the boiler house. I keep the key to the garden gate in there which means I go in every time I go into the garden – it's a good way to keep a careful eye on the storage. And if blight has got into some of the spuds then you can smell the stink and remove the blighted potatoes.
The basil harvest (in the greenhouse) has continued to be a success this year. I left the stumps of the first crop of basil in the compost and was able to take a second crop in August. A couple of hours work (adding garlic, cheese, nuts and olive oil) made another 7 jars of delicious home made pesto. Here is the recipe – it's a good one. The jars will keep for months in the fridge if you just cover the surface of the new pesto with a thin layer of olive oil before screwing on the lid.
6 fluid ounces of olive oil,
2 ounces of fresh basil leaves,
one and a half ounces of nuts (walnut, pine nuts, almonds will do), 4 cloves of garlic,
4 ounces of cheese (hard and salty if possible),
salt and pepper.
Chop the garlic, the nuts and grate the cheese – put them into your blender and slowly liquidise with a little of the olive oil. Now add more olive oil slowly until it’s all used up, add the basil leaves (slowly), salt and pepper – liquidise - and bingo you’re finished. Put the pesto into small glass jars and it will keep in the fridge almost indefinitely.
My love affair with basil continues in the greenhouse where I am growing a few pots for my grandchildren to sell on their “help yourself” staff by Low Newton beach.
The long wet summer has been a boon for the trees. It's now the 6th year since we planted our first trees – a mixture of robust “nurse crop” (larch, pine, birch) to provide shelter (and competition) for the long-term forest trees (oak, sweet chestnut, giant sequoia, beech). It never fails to amaze me how fast these trees grow. The nurse crop trees are about 6 metres tall now (birch growing quickest of all). The long-term forest trees do all they can to keep up – this year the sweet chestnut have grown several feet – as have the walnuts.
Near the pond (in the wild flower meadow) I planted some willow cuttings last winter - just short (30 cm) rods with no roots! Willow is, of course, wildly rampant – here is what it looks like after just one year's growth!
In the garden itself the young fruit trees which we are training as “espaliers” against the wall are also growing like mad things. The plum trees are maddest of all – each year their new shoots grow up 2 metres of more towards the top of the wall. The apple trees are more modest but the new peach tree has also needed constant cutting back.
And when we are talking about rates of growth we had better not forget the fastest grower of all – the energetic blackberry. Each year these extra-ordinary plants produce new shoots ~(which will flower and fruit next year) perhaps 3 metres or more in length (I have to cut them back so don't know how far they would go if given free rein).
Back in the garden the broccoli are now almost fully filling their green net cages – no butterflies or birds have spoiled the party (yet)! So we can expect a great crop next spring.
Finally the story would not be complete without a look at the vital compost bins. As you can see the right hand bin (filled last year) is gradually shrinking into itself as the green material breaks down. This will be emptied after Christmas. On the left this year's compost continues to take regular input (of weeds, grass and vegetable tops) and there is still a lot more to come before the summer finishes. We cut and compost as much as we can from the wild flower meadow at this time of year – this reduces the levels of soil nutrients and encourages the wild flowers.