The leaves this autumn are spectacular. I don’t know about any of you, but I have a tendency to get a bit down towards the end of September. The nights drawing in, everything coming to an end in the garden and the thought of a long, cold, damp winter fills me with dread, gloom and doom.
But once the leaves have turned I force myself out of my sorry state of mind and there is nothing more cheery than a good walk in the local woods. I am lucky enough to live close to Hembury Woods, which skirt the River Dart and is full of many ancient trees. It is predominantly a western oak woodland with a wet alder wood in the valley. There are plenty of silver birch, beech, holly and hazel. The colours alone are so uplifting that the experience of walking amongst these trees really gets me into the spirit of autumn and winter, hot fires and chestnuts, big scarves, thick socks, woolly hats and all those sorts of things.
My point is there are lots of leaves falling off the trees at this time of year. Raking them up is a good idea and why not make some leaf mould which makes a great soil conditioner when left to rot over the winter and ready for the summer.
You don’t want to put leaves onto your compost heap as they are slow to rot down. If you have space, make a separate heap for leaves alone or otherwise a put them in a black plastic sack with holes punched in the bottom.
Some folk rake all the leaves onto the lawn first and then mow them up, which chops them up a bit. You can mix them with some lawn cuttings too to help speed up the rotting process a little. Either way is fine.
Put the leaves in heavy duty black bags. Once filled, pierce the bottom of the sacks and put them in a corner out of the way and by next summer you should have some good leaf mould. This is a great low nutrient soil conditioner and can be spread onto your flower or vegetable beds or added to pots and tubs. It will improve the structure of your soil.
Next gardening blog
I am going to give you tips on putting your gardens to bed for the winter and what you can do in your kitchen gardens to prepare for next year. I will also make suggestions on things to plant now for a spring display.
I love autumn; after a hectic summer it is a relief to settle back into a more routine existence; plus there is so much great stuff to eat. With the equinox passed and the days rapidly drawing in, a contented melancholy settles over the farm as we finish the last of the summer crops and start bringing in the roots, squash and pumpkins.
Despite a drought followed by a miserable August, it has been a pretty good growing year. Planting conditions were good in the spring and most summer crops have done well. We are now harvesting some wonderful autumn crops of broccoli and leeks. The winter crops, planted in June and July, also enjoyed the wet end to the summer, so there will be plenty of those staple leeks, cauliflower, cabbage, sprouts and kale for the boxes. In the tunnels we are picking the last tomatoes, cucumbers, basil, peppers and chillies, before replanting with winter salads (rocket, mizuna, baby spinach and baby chard) which are more tolerant of lower light levels. We could hang on for a few more tomatoes, but the flavour declines rapidly and my brother makes a great chutney from any that have not ripened (available on our extras list).
Most of the potatoes are now in store. The early summer drought reduced yields in some fields but we are confident that there are plenty for your boxes through the winter. Dry weather tends to bring on potato ‘scab’ (a cankerous growth on the skin). Unsightly as it may be, it is just a cosmetic imperfection and some believe it even improves the flavour. So we will use all but the ugliest, in the hope that you are happy to peel it off and enjoy the spud below. Elsewhere, beetroot germinated unevenly during the drought. Those that did emerge unhindered by their brethren had to be harvested early to stop them growing into footballs. The next big job will be harvesting carrots while the tops are still strong enough for the lifter’s belts to grip and pull them from the ground. Last year a wet October and November meant that ten acres got left in the ground, so we have bought a super-fast new machine to help us make the most of the dry days.
Autumn newsletters seldom escape some reference to mists and mellow fruitfulness. In two hundred years no one has evoked a grower’s September satisfaction better than Keats in the first verse of ‘To Autumn’. As a philistine farmer I never get beyond the first line, but such is the diversity of our workforce that one particularly beautiful autumn morning while harvesting a particularly bountiful crop of squash, we were treated to a perfect rendition of all three verses from an otherwise subdued field worker. It was many years ago and I can’t remember his name but I can remember exactly where I was in that field on top of a hill looking down on the clearing mist in the valley, the satisfying weight of the gourds and a feeling of overwhelming harmony and wellbeing.
Like many growers I love autumn; when we reap the rewards of summer’s work, when dews last longer, the sun is gentle and things slow down, affording a chance to savour. After a miserable July and August the dry, sunny weather we have enjoyed recently is particularly welcome. The bounty is spectacular, almost worrying: leeks, corn, cabbages, broccoli, carrots, potatoes, beans, spinach and chard are rolling in by the trailer load; to the extent that for the first time ever we are planning to export some surplus to a box scheme in Denmark. Mercifully, as the days shorten and night temperatures drop, growth is slowing down so I am pretty confident it will all find space on a plate somewhere.