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The Wheelbarrow Gardener - September Harvest

The Wheelbarrow Gardener - September Harvest

Although harvesting may have started earlier in the summer, September is the month for the main harvest. Here, Trevor explains how and when to gather in the fruits of your gardening efforts...

At the end of another hot summer in Poitou-Charentes, our vegetable gardens should be at their peak with everything ripening in the late summer sunshine. This is the time of year when we enjoy the benefits of our work earlier in the year; the time when we take pleasure in gathering the bounty of our main harvest. There should be lots of produce: you'll be digging up your potatoes and your onions will be ready for cropping. Salad crops such as lettuce, radish, rocket, sorrel, chicory, fennel and spinach can still be harvested - don't forget that there's still time to sow more of these quick maturing crops to eat later this year. Peas, French beans and runner beans are coming to the end of their season, but you can still pick them if you have kept sowing them through the summer. September is when the bulk of the harvest takes place and the plot begins to empty as our crops are gathered in.

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Temperature and rainfall

August is the second hottest month of the year (after July) with an average temperature of 24.6°C and it drops by just a couple of degrees to 22.0°C in September. July, with an average rainfall of 47.1mm, is the driest month, but this is now behind us and rainfall rises gradually to 49.5mm in August, then 51.6mm in September. 

Avoiding water loss

With blue skies and high temperatures, a lot of time may be spent watering. You can reduce water loss by incorporating organic matter such as compost or leaf-mould into the soil and by mulching the surface to preserve moisture. Leaf-mould, grass clippings, sheets of newspaper, straw and well-composted bark chippings all make good mulching material. Another good method of preventing water loss is to hoe regularly. This not only kills weeds, but also breaks up the soil surface, stopping water from being drawn upwards by capillary action and evaporating.

composting

Composting

Now is a good time to empty and turn your compost bins. Empty the bins and any compost that is ready can be spread on your vegetable plot. Return the remainder to the bins to carry on composting down. If the compost is dry, water it to help the action of the microbes. This turning out and watering will help you get an even breakdown.

What is ... organic matter?

To a gardener, organic matter is anything containing organic compounds that were formed by living organisms. It is decaying plant or animal material, covering a wide range of things like compost, manure, lawn clippings, leaves, stems, earthworms, algae and microbes. Organic matter improves the uptake of water and nutrients by plant roots; helps increase the number of organisms present in the soil; and improves soil structure.

Harvesting tips

Regularly pick crops, especially beans and courgettes, so that they are always tender and fresh.

When you harvest potatoes, do it fairly early in the day. Rinse them and then leave in the sun to thoroughly dry off before putting them into storage. Sort them carefully and place perfect potato tubers into hessian or paper sacks or boxes in a dark, cool, frost-free place. Damaged tubers should be eaten first before they rot and affect the rest of the sack. Check the potatoes from time to time, discarding any that are deteriorating.

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As your pea plants stop producing, cut off the stems at ground level and compost their foliage - but leave their roots in the ground as nodules on them contain nitrogen, which is released back into the soil.

Your parsnips could be of an edible size now, but they can be happily left in the ground and they taste much better if there has been a frost.

Any tomatoes that haven't ripened should be picked by the end of September. The whole truss can be cut off to allow the fruits to ripen on the vine under a cloche or on a windowsill. Green tomatoes can, of course, be used in chutneys. Don't forget to pinch out tomato sideshoots so that you get lots of tomatoes instead of lots of green foliage.

If your aubergine plants are still producing, pick them as soon the fruits have coloured and before the skins start to wrinkle.

Cut down asparagus when its foliage turns brown. Mulch well afterwards.

If you are growing celery, wrap layers of newspaper or corrugated cardboard round individual plants and raise the soil up around them. This excludes the light, helping to produce clean and blanched stems, and reduces the bitterness.

Cut herbs for drying and lay in a dry, airy and shaded place - or chop them up and place in ice cube trays in the freezer. Herbs that have flowered, such as marjoram, should be cut back to encourage a second flush. Parsley can be sown now to provide a crop during the winter months.

Continue to sow spinach, turnips and winter lettuce for over-wintering to mature next spring. Onions (salad and bulb types) can be sown now. Plant over-wintering onion sets in late September. If you sowed spring cabbages in July, they should be ready for planting out now. Shade young plants from the direct rays of the sun (with old tiles, for instance).

What to Harvest

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Aubergines: pick as soon as the fruits have coloured and the skin is shiny place.

French Beans: harvest regularly to encourage further cropping and to make sure you get tender vegetables. Excess pickings can be frozen

Runner beans: harvest as soon as they are ready to ensure further cropping and to get tender vegetables. Excess crops can be frozen

Beetroot: lift when they are the size of tennis balls and store in layers of sand in seed boxes. Keep in a frost-free shed

Cabbages: lift the entire plant rather than cutting off at the base to reducethe risk of club root

Carrots: have a better flavour if harvested when still quite small. Lift main crop in September, cutting off the tops. Use split roots as soon as possible, store the rest in layers of sand in seed boxes and keep in a frost-free place

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Cauliflowers: harvest by cutting close to ground level with a sharp knife

Celery: ready for picking from August until the first frosts. Lift plants when required using a hand fork, avoiding damaging neighbouring plants

Chillies: harvest with scissors or a sharp knife. Can be picked green or left to turn red

Courgettes: regularly pick when small and tender to encourage further cropping. Carefully cut off at the base cropping. Carefully cut off at the base your hands are sensitive to their prickly leaves and stalks

Cucumbers: pick regularly to ensure more cucumbers. They also have a better flavour when quite small

Globe artichokes: pick the terminal (top) bud first when it's large and swollen, but before the scales start to open - cut off with a few centimetres open - cut off with a few centimetres size

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Kohlrabi: harvest by cutting close to ground level with a sharp knife

Lettuces: cut regularly to prevent bolting

Marrows: may be ready for harvesting now, leave in the sun to let their skins harden and dry, then store in a cool, dry and dark place. Well ripened marrows will keep over winter in a frost-free place

Onions: harvest when their necks start to die back and they bend over naturally. Avoid bending their necks this reduces storage time. After lifting, lay on the soil to dry, weather permitting. If this is not possible, dry in a well-ventilated shed or under shelter. Store in a moisture-free place. Thick-necked onions shouldn't be stored as they are prone to rot- use these first

Onions, spring: harvest from March to October

Parsley: keep cropping when needed

Peas: regular picking is essential for a truly fresh pea. Harvest from the bottom of the plant upwards

Peppers: regularly pick to prevent them over-ripening and to encourage further crops

Potatoes, second early and maincrop:  finish harvesting second early potatoes

Pumpkins: if ready, leave in the sun to let the skins harden and dry, then store in a cool, dry, dark place

Radishes: can be cropped within 4-6 weeks of sowing

Shallots: lift shallots when their necks start to turn brown and start to bend over on their own. Don't bend the necks as this reduces storage time. Lay them on the soil to dry. If the weather precludes this, dry in a well-ventilated shed or under shelter. Store in a moisture-free place

Spinach: cut leaves from the outside of the plants when needed, taking care not to damage their roots. Regular picking encourages new leaves

Squash: may be ready now. Leave in the sun for the skins to harden and dry, then store in a cool, dry, dark place

Sweetcorn: harvest as it ripens. When tassels at the end of the cob start to shrivel, peel back the husks to check that the cobs have swollen to full size. If possible, cook immediately after cutting to ensure the sweetest flavour

Tomatoes: harvest regularly to encourage further cropping

Turnips: try to eat them when they are young and tastier

What to plant and sow in September

• Spring cabbage: seeds sown in July and August should produce plants for planting out in September and October, which can be harvested from late February to early June. Ensure they are well firmed into the ground

• Winter cauliflower: plant now for over-wintering and picking in spring

• Kale: transplants can be planted until mid·August for cropping from December to early April

• Kohlrabi: for a late autumn or winter crop, sow a purple variety in August

• Lettuce, Rocket, Spinach: sow these quick maturing crops to eat later this year. You can also sow a hardy lettuce variety for winter use

• Radish: can still be sown for picking this year

• Spring onions: sow a few rows in August for eating in March to May

• Turnips: grow for their green tops

 


 

Originally published in Living Poitou-Charentes Magazine.

WORDS: Trevor Bridge PHOTOS: Jocelyn Bridge and Shutterstock

Trevor is a landscape architect who ran a busy practice in the UK for twenty years. He and his wife Jocelyn moved to an ancient fermette in Poitou-Charentes in 2004 where they garden organically and keep bees and hens.