Home & Shop Companion #0134
letter from a small corner of far away
Dear Lynn, dear Everyone,
In the garden now, the work is mostly picking – beetroot, beans, more beans, cabbage, tomatoes, carrots, lettuce, cucumber, plums and apples. The weather is also distinctly cooler, so there is less watering to do, and it is a pleasant change after the heat of early August which knocked back the zucchini, shrivelling the outer leaves, but the inner leaves are still green so we might get some more fruit in a week or two.
In the field, the potato tops are starting to die back, as are the onions, so a couple of days ago I pulled them over and laid them out to dry. In doing so, I noticed just how many newly germinated thistles there were in between the onions and amongst the oversown green manure, so I have hoed them out with a hand hoe. I expect they might reappear, but as long as I have set them back enough, and if I can prevent them from seeding, I don’t mind too much. In the potatoes there are thistles too, particularly at one end, and they are bigger, some having reached the flowering stage since I last went through with the cultivator and a few are going to seed, so I spent a good half hour pulling them out by the roots and moving them out of the way. Other than the thistles, the vegetable area is looking pretty good. Given the heat of the last month, I am pleased that the new green manure has survived, as has the same mix which I sowed under the peas and beans in the garden, so as soon as they are finished, the peas in a week or two, the beans in a couple of months, I hope I will have a green covering of grasses and clover, which can remain in the ground until April, before I plant out next year’s brassicas.
The green manure which was sown in the field this time last year is just past its best, the clover flowers fading and the stalks woody, so the horses have been grazing a small patch each day, and they certainly seem to like it, cropping it down to the ground. I was a bit worried about whether the clover would regrow, but after a year of fixing nitrogen, the grass should take up any spare nitrogen as the clover decays. However, ten days since the first part was grazed, there are some clover plants putting out leaves, but it will be interesting to see whether it is just white clover, or whether the vigorous ones regrow too.
Because of the lushness of the grass amongst the nutrient rich clover I have been giving the horses some hay each day, which they are eating. I still find it a little surprising that they will go for dried out hay or even straw when there is plenty of nice green grass to eat, but I realise that is a juvenile view, an over-simplified idea of what animals eat. Like us, they need a variety; those huge middles are there to handle roughage, and if they don’t get it from their feed, they will grab course stuff from the roadside or ‘eat their bed’ of straw, always classified as a ‘vice’ in the riding horse manuals, along with other troublesome behaviours driven by boredom or a restricted environment.
Besides harvesting food, I have also been harvesting seed. For the last decade I have been using my own parsnip seed saved in 2011, which has been viable up to now, but some fresh seed seemed like a good idea so last spring I transplanted three parsnips which shot up their seed heads three feet high. There will probably be quite a few self-sown parsnips there next year from the shed seed, as I waited until the seed heads were very dry before collecting them, and now the new seeds are in the freezer to keep for future springs. The other varieties of seed saved are spinach which you can hardly avoid going to seed when it gets hot, and purple sprouting broccoli which I just left in the ground when the flowers came, for the insects, and then I forgot about it, and by the time I remembered, I thought I might as well save some seed.
The other thing I tend to forget at this time of year is to sow seeds for late autumn and winter harvesting. This year I do have some tiny lettuces, but in the next few days I really must get some other quick growing vegetables sown, every day at this time of year being valuable; perhaps I should do it today!
William Castle is a violin maker, farmer & SFJ contributor who lives in Shropshire, England.