September tips


It’s my favourite month of the year, when everything seems to be ripening at once and every sunny day feels like a sneaky bonus. Summer crops are on their last and glorious hurrah, with runner beans scrambling up the walls, chillis turning scarlet and fat, purple bunches of grapes hanging down from the pergola. This is the traditional time for donning your imaginary headscarf and preserving your vast gluts of fruit and vegetables. If, like me, you can walk the length of your garden in five seconds, you’re unlikely to be reaching for the Kelner jars, but at least you’ll have lunch. And supper. Today, a sandwich with cucumber and Costiluto Fiorentino beefsteak tomato. Tonight, roast Black Krim tomato pasta sauce, can’t complain.


Great news, my lazy instant winter garden arrived from Rocket, a moment of great excitement that soon turned to apprehension when I realised quite how many plants there were.


I’ve popped them into what tiny gaps there are inbetween the marauding Sunburst squash, nasturtiums and globe artichoke plants and am letting them take their chances against the slugs. So far, there have been a worrying number of casualties, though I notice the slugs have left the mustard and endive – as, indeed, would I – preferring to lay waste to the Lollo Rossa lettuces and tatsoi. Damn them.

September is time to…

Plant (or sow if early in the month in v. sheltered ground): cabbages, broccoli, winter lettuces, tatsoi, corn salad, endive, mustards, kale, Winter purslane, land cress, chard. And keep an eye out for slugs and snails, the little sods.

Harvest: pretty much everything you can imagine, from fiery chillis to tomatoes, runner beans to grapes, blueberries to apples, courgettes to autumn raspberries. It’s not called harvest festival time for nothing.



If your tomatoes haven’t turned red yet, make sure you’ve nipped out the growing tip of the plant, taking it right down to a leaf above a truss of tomatoes that are a decent size. Any tiny tomatoes or trusses that are still just flowers should be removed. Also take off any lower yellowing leaves that could be shading the fruit. If the tomatoes are still not red by the end of the month, you might need to find a decent recipe for green tomato chutney. Or you could try putting green tomatoes in a paper bag with a ripe banana. It releases ethylene which speeds up the ripening process.

My borlotti bean harvest – all 50g of it, grown up a teeny obelisk – would struggle to make bean soup for an Italian family of four, BUT how beautiful are these beans?


Once I’d stopped staring at them I reckoned I’d better eat them but had about as much idea of how to cook them as I would of landing an aeroplane on the River Hudson. Skye Gyngell at Petersham Nurseries Cafe has a wonderful, fresh cooking style. I tried this recipe of hers I found on the web and it was gorgeous – all the more so since I got to use my own sage, garlic and tomatoes too.

Don’t ignore my aubergine tortoise

Damn, I have missed the deadline to the Emsworth Online Village Show This is a terrible thing because I never enter competitions and this time I actually had something worth entering. Namely this aubergine that is a dead ringer for a tortoise with very tiny shell and elephantitis.  I hope the venerable committee of judges will look on this small offering as a latecomer to the Most Misshapen Vegetable Category where it might perhaps jostle for position with a carrot that looks like Omar from The Wire. Or similar. Or not.

Take two garlics into the shower?

Just when everything was going so well in my perennial quest for Marie Antoinette -style self-sufficiency… I’m not exactly shampooing cattle, but there is something about the sight of a rustic wigwam draped with just-dug garlic that warms the soul. And yet, no sooner had I dug up my Solent Wight and hung it out to ‘cure’ when the English July did its usual thing and started raining. If garlic doesn’t dry properly, it won’t keep and what’s the point of buying the longest-lasting garlic variety if you’re chopping spongey, rotten bulbs come autumn?


This man seems to know what he’s talking about when it comes to harvesting garlic, though it does all sound a bit complicated. Usually I just hang it up on the pergola for a week or so and then move it into the kitchen where I hang it up in a loose bunch (never could plait) where everyone hits their head on it when they bend down for a bottle of wine.

Heading out of town for the weekend, with more rain forecast and no convenient barn with drying racks to immediate hand, I dump my precious bulbs in the shower where they look less like a charming Mediterranean scene and more like something you’d see crawling out of your plughole had you gone to bed after eating a large Stilton.


Much as I love garlic, the smell of 40 or so heads of the stuff mingling with Tresemme quickly loses its novelty value. They have now been stuffed into the few inches of greenhouse not currently colonised by the triffid Costuluto Fiorentina tomatoes where they will remain until these unpredictable showers stop. This is yet another reason why I should be living in Provence, or at the very least a show farm in Versailles.

Bolted lettuce? Don’t panic, make soup. Just not this one…


It seems to happen overnight… one day the lettuce is growing outwards in the happy hope of turning into something big and round, the next it’s shooting to the heavens in a tower reminiscent of a Japanese pagoda. These ones hadn’t so much as bolted as moved country and changed their names by deed poll.

Bolting, the formation of a flowering stalk, can either happen in lettuces when they are left too long and are beginning their natural seed-forming process, or when they have had a shock in their little lives. I think I left these – a green oakleaf – in their plug cells a bit too long where they probably got thirsty. Anyway, whatever the reason, the things have gone skyward before going sufficiently outward and we all know raw bolted lettuce is a horrible thing – a bitter-tasting beast not worthy of a decent salad, however deceptively pretty the leaves might look in a salad spinner.


So what to do? Make soup of course. I chose the first one I came across on Google, which was a bit of a mistake, since the end result was an innocuous poor man’s version of leek and potato soup made with a disconcerting quantity of milk.

Diana Henry’s looks far more appetising, as does this and this Hugh F-W one

I’m now willing the rest of my lettuces to bolt so I can try them out…