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What's in store for your harvest?
7:00am Saturday 22nd September 2012 in AdXtra
Tips on storage solutions which will enable fruit and vegetable gardeners reaping their harvests to enjoy the fruits of their labour in the months ahead - plus, find out what else needs doing in the garden this week.
By Hannah Stephenson
It's been a difficult year for fruit and veg, with the cold weather in spring, incessant summer rain and subsequent deluge of slugs, snails, blight and other nuisances.
But for those of us who haven't suffered from poor pollination of fruit crops, tomato and potato blight and slug-infested greens, now's the time to think about how you are going to store what you have.
Temperatures are dropping and tender veg need to be encouraged to ripen before the first frosts. Anyone with unripe tomatoes shouldn't delay in removing leaves from the bases of plants to let in more sunlight to the fruits.
They will need harvesting before the first frosts and should continue to ripen indoors if you pick them now. Cut whole trusses of green tomatoes and hang them in an airy place such as a garage or spare bedroom.
Long-keeper varieties such as the Spanish 'De Colgar' ripen slowly after harvesting if kept in a cool, frost-free place and can take three months to reach maturity, so they'll be ready for eating in winter.
Maincrop potatoes should be harvested on warm, sunny days and left to dry out in the sun, after which they can be stored in thick paper sacks (only half-fill them as this makes it easier to check for bad potatoes) and kept in the dark in a frost-free place. First early and second early varieties generally don't store well, so use these as quickly as you can. Maincrops, however, should store until after Christmas and possibly into March.
Bend the leaves of onions and shallots over at the neck and once they turn brown, pull the plants up but leave the bulbs on the ground to continue to dry off. After about a week, lay them in trays or put them into nets to hang up in the shed. Alternatively, you can make French onion strings (and do the same with shallots and garlic) by keeping as much of the straw-like foliage on them as possible and plaiting it together, reinforcing the strands with hessian twine to make it stronger.
Varieties of early apples generally don't keep so they need to be eaten shortly after picking, but later varieties will keep in the salad compartment in your fridge for between four to six weeks. Alternatively, they can be placed in wooden boxes lined with newspaper, in a cool, airy shed, where the mice won't get them. You can wrap stored apples individually in newspaper to ensure they never touch each other and so prevent one bad apple infecting the whole crop. Apples and pears kept in this way should last for six weeks or more and maybe even until Christmas.
Be warned, though, that pears don't store as well as apples. If they are fully ripe, keep them in the bottom of the fridge in polythene bags for up to six weeks. If storing for longer, pick the pears before they are fully ripe and keep them as cold as possible, laying them out on wooden trays in an airy place.
Root veg including beetroot, maincrop carrots and turnips can be stored in boxes, but leave parsnips that you don't want to eat now in the ground as frost improves the taste. You can also leave hardy varieties of leeks where they are and you should still be digging them up until late February.
Winter salads such as radicchio also keep well in the shed in boxes lined with plastic, but should be checked regularly for mouldy leaves, which need removing immediately.
Squashes need to ripen and dry, so when you cut them, leave them outside so the skins dry in the sun. Then bring them into a warm, dry place so that the skins harden. They should keep until Christmas in a frost-free shed, although they store better in a covered porch or in a cool room indoors.
There are certain crops which don't store well, such as sweetcorn and French beans. You'll need to blanch and freeze the surplus for further use.
And then there's all those chutneys and jams you could be making for Christmas...
Best of the bunch - Autumn cyclamen (C. hederifolium)
This pint-sized specimen looks so delicate, with its flowers in shades of white, pink, cerise and magenta appearing in early autumn before the ivy-shaped leaves with heavy marbling.
The later blooms appear above the deep green leaves and look amazing when the plants are massed together.
This cyclamen prefers a slightly shaded position and thrives in moist but not waterlogged soil, doing well under mature shrubs or at the base of a shady wall.
Cyclamen, which are members of the primula family, develop corms which help them cope with summer drought. They don't like being overfed but if left undisturbed they will multiply, brightening up autumn and spring every year.
Good enough to eat - Helping summer crops ripen
If you still have green tomatoes at the end of the season, stick them in a paper bag with a banana and that should help them along. In the greenhouse, stop feeding the tomato plants and cut back on watering, which should quicken the ripening time.
Take the tops off cucumber plants and nip off the tips of the sideshoots a few weeks before you want to remove the plants from the greenhouse, to coax them into swelling. Remove any leaves that look dusty, as this could be the start of powdery mildew.
Peppers and aubergines are also sensitive to temperature at night and are unlikely to develop further fruits at this stage, so focus on what you have by cutting down on watering and feeding and closing the ventilation earlier on in the day to trap the heat inside. Even if you end up with undersized fruits, they will be edible.
Three ways to... Have success with leafmould
1. Avoid adding evergreen leaves to the mix, as they are too leathery to rot down.
2. Only collect leaves which are a nuisance, such as those on your grass or paths. Let them rest on flower beds as they will rot down in situ.
3. Water the leaves if they are dry, before transferring them to black bags with air holes in them, to help them break down quicker.
What to do this week
:: Keep collecting seed from perennials and alpines and watch out for any tree and shrub seeds you might want to save.
:: When planting spring bulbs in pots, put plenty of drainage material in the bottom to stop them becoming waterlogged and add potting compost mixed with a handful of grit.
:: Stop feeding permanent plants in containers.
:: Watch out for the first autumn-fruiting raspberries. They should be ready for eating.
:: Divide and replant large clumps of perennial herbs
:: Raise the cutting height on your lawnmower as the growth rate of the grass slows.
:: Take pelargonium cuttings to overwinter indoors.
:: Propagate new gooseberry bushes by taking hardwood cuttings from healthy plants before their leaves drop.
:: Collect, clean and store away cane supports as plants go past their best.
:: Cut down marginal plants around pools that are dying back.
:: Net ponds to stop autumn leaves blowing in.
:: Transplant overgrown or badly positioned shrubs and conifers after preparing the new planting sites.
:: Sow hardy winter varieties of lettuce under cloches or in the borders of a greenhouse.
:: Detach the layered side shoots of carnations which have rooted and place them in a new spot.
:: Plant blocks of Dutch Iris in sunny positions, to flower in early summer.