Summer is now officially behind us, but fortunately the garden has missed the notice and is continuing to indulge us with a magnificent harvest. The sun is still shining, it is still warm, and you would hardly know it is autumn, aside from the date on the calendar and the slightly earthy aroma that is beginning to pervade the morning air.
After a season of hot, hot sun and a few storms, the garden is beginning to look a little jaded and at this stage of the gardening cycle, keeping up with the watering, feeding and pest watch is even more critical if the harvest is to extend into an Indian summer, should one arise.
It’s time to shift the focus from the garden to the kitchen. In the height of production, most summer plants are quite prolific and there is only so much you can eat fresh. Preserving the crop becomes obligatory as it wouldn’t do to waste a single morsel. From simply freezing sweetcorn, pickling beetroot, dehydrating tomatoes, making relish from cucumbers, making searingly hot chilli sauce, bottling peaches or steeping plums in gin, seeing the larder and the freezer fill with goodies for cooler days ahead is almost reward enough.
The key to the best use of the harvest is to deal with it as soon as you can, ideally as soon as it is harvested. Produce left to languish soon converts its sugars to starch, becomes soft where it was once crisp and the benefits of growing your own becomes lost. The home gardener is privy to taste sensations that many will never experience, so if you can’t process straight away, check your harvest thoroughly for pests and damage and pop it in the fridge until you can. It should still be good for about a week depending on what crop it is, but at the end of the day fresh is best.
These are one of the most prolific crops in the garden right now and if treated well can continue to produce tomatoes up until the first frost. However, tomatoes are susceptible to a range of problems at this time of year. The humidity often associated with our summers can allow a range of fungal diseases to strike and though most only really slow the plant down and are easily treated, the dreaded Late Blight is to be feared.
This can call an early end to your tomato season and all you can do is remove all trace of tomato from your garden. The relatively recent psyllid can also be a game-stopper. This tiny bug can ruin your tomatoes, turning the plants a sickly yellow green and producing fern-like leaves and twisted branches. This too can be game over.
Daily inspections of all plants in the garden can really help to head problems off before they become too hard to fix.
This can be a widespread problem throughout the garden, particularly in cucumber, zucchini, pumpkins and melons and looks like someone has been free and easy with the talcum powder. It isn’t a game-stopper and won’t kill plants, it will just slow things down considerably.
However, slowing down the harvest is counterproductive — unless you need a break from your zucchini glut — and besides it is quite unsightly. There are many natural and proprietary remedies available to deal with this. If you see a little yellow and black ladybird, let him be, he’s eating the powdery mildew spores and is one of the good guys.
Getting ready for the cooler season
As much as we would love summer to go on forever, the heat-loving crops will draw to an inevitable end. In order to keep the garden alive and flourishing, even in the cold of winter, now is the time to sow seeds for the chillier days ahead. Crops like brassicas — cabbage, broccoli, romanesco, kohlrabi and kale can be started now — however take precautions to protect the cabbage from white butterfly as their caterpillars can reduce tender seedlings to stalks in no time. Carrots, leeks, beetroot, turnips and peas can also be started now.
It’s a busy time of year. Not only are you tending plants, but harvesting, processing and starting new crops. Enjoy it because soon enough the gardening activities will slow right down leaving you with plenty of time to dream about next season.
Autumn garden: What to plant, what to harvest
Sarah O’Neil, hubby the Un-Gardener and their two boys have planted a large garden as part of their journey to discover “the good life”. Visit Sarah’s website sarahthegardener.co.nz.