The last grapes of the season, wonderful either squished into juice or popped out of their skins and fired into the mouth of my one-year-old son – like feeding a ravenous baby bird. But who are we kidding? Autumn, and harvest time are nearly over, though if you’re growing chillis you may still have something to do…
Chilli peppers should be traffic-stoppingly red by now. Either eat them all at once, in which case, remind me never to come round to your house for dinner, or get all crafty and impressive with thread and a needle. I’m not usually one for a craft project, ever since an unfortunate incident with a wrap-around skirt in needlework in the lower fourth (‘This is the worst day of my life,’ the teacher actually said), but try this, it’s really easy and looks fantastic.
Simply cut off all your chillis then thread a needle and pierce each chilli near the top (below the green bit though).
Keep going with all the chillis until you get a lovely string of them. Hang up in the kitchen and accept admiring comments from visitors.
But however much one wants to pretend otherwise, winter is coming, as ever bringing out my siege mentality. It’s time to batten down the hatches in the garden, cover the precious and feeble with fleece, straw and bubble wrap plastic – ie make your garden look like a recently fly-tipped layby. But the alternative could be plant casualties of a very upsetting order, especially if this winter is as Arctic as the last one. As Orange Juice nearly said, ‘Wrap it up or start again.’ But come on, it’s worth it when you could be having a bumper harvest of fragrant soft figs and globe artichokes next summer, not to mention crunchy salad over the winter months. Isn’t it?
This year I’ve gone for a rather Worzel Gummidge-style approach to protecting my two potted Brown Turkey fig trees. I’m erring on the side of caution since am fed up with seeing my figs shrivel and drop off – presumably frosted to oblivion as tiny figlets over winter. Last summer I enjoyed a grand total of one July fig (savoured while standing next to the tree with an expression of near religious ecstasy, naturally), and two October ripened ones. So this year, I’m raising my game. Not only am I draping the trees with fleece as usual, but also protecting the growing shoots where the teeny baby figlets are (squint and you’ll see them) with bunches of straw tied nice and tight.
The tree now looks like a scarecrow with multiple straw hands, seen through an eerie white gossamer of horticultural fleece. Spooky, it is. Attractive, I can safely say, it is not. But needs must. If I don’t get a decent crop next year after all that, then I shall consider figs in a British climate as just not being very worth growing at all. So the stakes are high, my friends.
It goes without saying that citrus trees must also be protected by now. Unfortunately, my orangery is being renovated so I a forced to plebbily cover my Lemon Meyer with a fleece jacket and hope for the best for its little lemon babies. If your citrus tree is light enough to move, you might want to put it in an unheated greenhouse or, even better, a cool conservatory.
Meanwhile, I’ve been blanching endive like a proper French person. It’s pretty much my only salad crop to have survived the mega slug onslaught of London SE10, presumably because not even slugs like it. But putting pots on top of it and blocking out the holes should turn the leaves white and less palate-stripping bitter – or at least that’s the idea. I’m thinking plenty of lardons and a creamy mustardy dressing…
I’ve also been wrapping my prized globe artichoke in a tiny picket fence-like sleeve and stuffing it with straw. You may think the picket fence (ok, a hastily customised bamboo screen) a bit over the top, but how else does one stop straw blowing all over the garden at the slightest breeze?
OTHER THINGS TO DO IN NOVEMBER
Put out traps for slugs – I use ramekins filled with beer pushed into the ground and dotted in among the winter salad. It’s so satisfying when you find one filled with the little horrors – just throw the bodies in an out-of-the-way place and refill.
Prune blackcurrants, cutting the darker (ie old) stems off right at the base. You can also prune red and whitecurrants around now, cutting back the main stems by about half. Sideshoots coming from these main branches should be cut back to one bud.
Protect peach trees with a polythene screen to avoid getting the dreaded peach leaf curl, a disease that has afflicted my Peregrine tree for two years running. Result: no peaches. Nil. Zilch. Niente. My response to this is very mature. Rather than get all DIY with timber battens and polythene – a prospect that renders me weak with horror – I ‘m going to pull up the tree and replace it with the new ready-trained fan one I have ordered from Blackmoor nurseries. It’s called Avalon Pride, and is apparently resistant to peach leaf curl. The proof will be in the, er, producing of peaches next year. Watch this space.