Getting the Harvest In
25th Sep 2004
I don't know what it is about the month of September that makes me all sentimental, possibly because it"s the month I was born in or is it just that I reminisce for those long Indian Summers when I was child. September, When the weather is nice and sunny and the evenings are slowly drawing in and preparing us for Autumn, is certainly the best month of the year for me. The hedgerows are full of a variety of wild fruit and I keep promising myself that one year, I will pick the lot and make my own wine and use the sloes to compliment my Gin.
However this is the time when we should be thinking about harvesting quite a few vegetables from the garden prior to the Autumn rains spoiling them. If you still have potatoes in the ground then they must be lifted as soon as you possibly can. Pick a nice dry airy day and in the morning fork up the rows so that the potatoes are all sitting on top of the soil. Leave them there until mid afternoon so that the soil completely dries off them, only select the ones that have no damage on them for storing over the next few months. Those that have been damaged, perhaps a fork had gone through them, can be used immediately.
While you are at it, select some smaller ones as well, about the size of a hens egg, these must be inspected closely to make sure they have no damage or any sign of blight on them. These can be stored in strong cardboard or seed trays and will be your seed potatoes for next Spring. Store them with the rose end uppermost, that's the end where the eyes are located and from where the shoots will emerge next year. Keep the box in a frost free place such as your garage and, should the winter weather give us some consistently hard frost, then have some thick sacking or some old blankets to throw over them. Finally label them, it's important to note what the varieties are, particularly if you grow more than one kind and if you want to share a few amongst friends.
If you still have onions in the ground they must now be lifted before they start into secondary growth. That is the point where the prepare themselves to throw up a seed head for next year. Those onions that have commenced secondary growth never keep as well as the others. Again observe their condition and check for any pest or disease damage. It's getting late now to dry them outside so the best place is on a greenhouse bench or in the shed and have look through them once a week to make sure that they are not deteriorating. Once they have totally dried out they can be kept in a box or, a more novel way, is to place them in a ladies tights. Push them one by one down the tights and leave a small gap between each onion, each tight can then be hung up until required allowing plenty of air to circulate through them.
Onions can deteriorate in storage for a variety of reasons the main one being the neck going soft and smelly because of the disease Botrytis. Check through your onions regularly, whenever you go to get one, press firmly around the shoulder area as well as around the root plate. Any that are soft to the touch are to be used straight away. The question of whether or not to store carrots out of the soil is debatable and really depends whether or not your location is prone to hard frosts. Personally I prefer to leave them in the ground until required as they will keep better, what's more they taste better as well. Some varieties such as 'Major' have been specifically bred to keep in the ground over winter, however a mulch of straw spread over the tops will also help to keep the frost off them.
One vegetable that is definitely better if left in the ground is parsnips, they taste so much better after they have been exposed to some low temperatures. First check around the shoulders now to make sure that none have turned black which is a sure sign that they have had canker. Remove any that have the disease and use as soon as you can, earth up the remainder to cover the any exposed shoulders. Summer harvested parsnips are perfectly fine to eat, but they certainly don't have that extra sugary sweet taste that the over wintered ones possess. The reason for this is quite simple, the lower the temperatures get, so the starch within the parsnip turns to sugar, giving you that lovely extra sweetness. There is nothing I enjoy better than going out into the garden on Christmas morning to gather a few carrots and a parsnip or two and then brag about how well they taste over dinner, and why not, after all I did grow them!