GARDENING: Time to pick those ripe pumpkins

By Joyce Russell

GOOD weather now can really help to shorten the winter and it can keep plants growing strongly for much longer. This can be useful for late planted brassicas that need to put on more bulk before growth slows. It can also be useful for establishing new plants like spinach, lettuce and rows of salad greens. These can all do well through the winter if they are grown in a greenhouse, polytunnel or cold frame. They do need to get growing before cold weather hits so buy in young plants if you haven’t raised any yourself

Onions and garlic

Look for autumn planting varieties and get them into the ground as soon as you can. Young shoots will emerge in two or three weeks – onions always seem to pop through before the garlic does – and they need to get some growing in before the weather cools down. Strong young plants can stand through the winter and put on growth again next year. They will produce good bulbs around four weeks earlier than spring plantings and they may dodge problems with white rot in the process.

Onions and garlic like a rich soil with plenty of potash. I usually add compost or well-rotted manure, but a scatter of fish blood and bone meal works well if you are short of the first two things. Wood ash and seaweed are both good sources of potash and add a little lime if soil is acid.

Both of these crops need a damp root run, but they can rot if left standing in a waterlogged soil. Raise up some ridges and plant on these to cope with high levels of winter rain.

Plant sets and cloves so the tops are covered and put them no closer than 15cm apart if white rot is a problem in your soil. I always cover the rows with woven crop cover raised up on hoops. This provides some extra protection from the worst winter weather while still allowing light, rain and air through.

If you haven’t lifted the carrot crop already then do it now. Slugs can do a lot of damage if you leave the roots in the ground. You may be surprised at the variation in size when you lift them all. Some roots may be monsters while others are small. This may be down to how close together plants were growing in the row. Or it may be due to uneven distribution of nutrients if you added any feed to the soil. Or, if you watered during dry spells, maybe some got more water than others.

The main thing is to embrace and enjoy eating anything that you have grown. Big carrots are maybe less sweet than small ones, but one root might be enough to feed a family!

If you have surplus carrots, they do store well. Small amounts keep for a couple of weeks in the bottom of the refrigerator. Larger crops can be layered between barely-damp sand in a large tub and kept in a cool dry shed.

Ripe pumpkins

Pumpkins have ripened a couple of weeks earlier than usual and have achieved a lovely deep colour sitting out in the sun. There’s no need to leave them outdoors until a first frost and you may run the risk of rodents having a chew if you do.

Cut through the stem, leaving a good length attached, and wipe off any dirt. Check over each one to make sure there aren’t any soft spots. You can then store them in a cool room in the house or in a dry frost-proof shed. Be sure to check pumpkins regularly so none collapse into a wet smelly mess.

Some varieties will store for many months, others are best if used this side of Christmas. I grow a few large pumpkins for Hallowe’en, and I grow more of small varieties like Red Kuri and Small Sugar that have a good flavour and are less daunting to cut into and use than a large one.

Start to tidy

Flower beds always look better if you cut out dead stems and tidy up between plants. There may not be much colour in the beds over the coming months but if all is tidy, the beds can still be pleasing to look at. Make sure any berry-bearing bushes are shown to their best. Bright berries look lovely and so do the birds that come to feast.

I have cut out sprawling stems of Crocosmia and ferns that have started to brown. It didn’t take long and stopped me thinking ‘I must do that’ every time I walked past those parts of the garden. Any tidying you do now will last for months, so don’t postpone! Get out and do it and enjoy a fine day of looking after your garden.

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