Annual garden salvage operation is under way

Repeat flowering of delphinium is attracting bees once more. Picture by Tom Pattinson.
Repeat flowering of delphinium is attracting bees once more. Picture by Tom Pattinson.

Repeat flowering of border delphiniums and geraniums, cut back earlier and now attracting bees again, can’t disguise the fact that our annual garden salvage operation is under way and will run over several weeks.

It began with the September harvesting of vegetables and fruit, continues through opportunities for propagation and seed-saving, until the last-minute act of rescuing tender plants as winter takes hold.

The vegetable garden has provided so much green plant material for the composting facility these past two weeks.

Courgette plants that were prolific in cropping throughout summer were beginning to show the effect of cooler, damp conditions. Some fruits started rotting as flowers faded at the tip, and this spreads rather like blossom-end rot on tomatoes.

Sound courgettes were saved for immediate kitchen use, and the big marrows stored for later treats.

The plant remnants are ideal material for the composting process.

We’d left the runner bean wigwam in place until those pods left to dry for seed saving turned brown and wrinkled. Once collected, dismantling followed.

All plants were cut to ground level, green material went to composting, canes to storage, and the roots remained. Examine one and you find they are covered in nodules, as are peas and broad beans. These are inhabited by nitrogen-fixing bacteria and are good for soil conditioning.

Perpetual spinach leaves were the final vegetable garden contribution for composting, but the plants are far from over.

We started picking the leaves in April and continued throughout summer, but time had come to rejuvenate the crop. Hedge-clippers were used to reduce all growth to five centimetres. We’ll be picking succulent young leaves again before Christmas.

Apple cultivars don’t all ripen at once, and this can be a problem when later maturing types are chosen. We run the gauntlet of birds, wasps and weather. This makes the daily inspection so important.

Two of each culinary and dessert varieties remain on our trees. Howgate Wonder and Lord Derby do last well in storage so it’s worth giving them a little longer outdoors. Redlove and Braeburn (dessert) similarly need more time.

A Conference pear was planted five years ago and this is just the second modest crop we’ve had. But leaving these relatively large, rock-hard fruits to ripen on the tree is not the best option. It’s time to pick them and store in a drawer to speed up the process.