Sunday, 28 July 2013

Harvest is upon us

OK, we've already had the rhubarb and the asparagus. And most welcome they were too.

But for the last couple of weeks harvest has been well under way. In fact, some crops have come and gone already and the freezers are starting to groan.

It all started with the soft fruits. Punnet upon punnet of strawberries, enough to share a few with the guineafowl. It's been a good year for them.
Strawberries in preparation for freezing.
They lose their texture when frozen, but still make excellent jams and sauces.

The gooseberries weren't far behind. The Red Hinnomakis were the first to ripen and the most prolific. This variety is incredibly sweet. Close your eyes and you could be eating a grape.

Meanwhile some of the veg were responding to the warm weather. Turnips swelled nicely, both outside and in the polytunnel. The courgette plant in the polytunnel - I never meant to grow one in there, the labels must have got mixed up - started throwing out its offerings, closely followed by one of the more advanced plants outside. A night of heavy rain magically transformed skinny green fingers into fat, foot long giants.
Elsewhere in the polytunnel, hidden amongst the jungle of leaves, I came upon a wealth of French beans. I am growing the climbing variety Cobra in there and it is yielding a huge quantity of beans. Unlike some others which I've grown previously, Cobra's beans don't seem to get tough and stringy if you miss them by a couple of days.
The Borlottis and Pea Beans are producing pods too, but these will be saved for the beans rather than eating the pods.
And the potatoes have finally swelled. We've made a small dent in the Earlies, Arran Pilot and Red Duke of York, as well as starting on the Charlottes.  
I pick a little from each crop and suddenly
we have enough to more than fill our plates

Peas are ready too now. I have grown Sugar Snaps, Mangetout and normal peas. Unfortunately I seem to have a problem with the Pea Moth in my garden, which means that each pea in each pod has to be checked for the tiny caterpillars which burrow into individual peas. A complete pain, and it means that the Sugar Snaps, whose pods I would usually eat whole and raw, have become a bit useless. Still, the Mangetout are still OK as long as I catch them before the peas swell.

You can't get this freshness and crispness in the shops.

The broad beans have done exceptionally well this year. I wasn't intending on freezing any, but we've hardly even made a dent in the harvest and I don't want the beans inside to get too big and leathery.


But I've saved the best till last. For on the way to the chickens I get to pluck fresh raspberries every day. The varieties have got a bit mixed up now, but the tastiest are definitely the smallest ones, the most difficult to pick and definitely not the ones you would ever find in a shop. Imagine a ruby with exquisite taste. No. Imagine hundreds of rubies, then more and more every day, for the raspberries have been very fruitful this year.

Not every crop has fared so well this year. It's been a very poor year for dwarf beans and, as I've mentioned, the Sugar Snaps will be going to the chickens. But it looks as if we'll have plenty enough to keep us extravagantly supplied in delicious fresh food. And when that runs out there'll be a freezer full of produce and a pantry full of jams and preserves. If my planning goes right, there should still be some more hardy veg coming through the winter and there'll be a store of root crops in the ground or packed in boxes in a cool, dark place. Oh, and there'll be mountains of pumpkins too.

The greatest delight about all this is that we've put all our efforts into it and now we are reaping the rewards. And what a reward! For what you can buy in the shops just falls flat on its face, both for choice and most especially for freshness. The crunch of a carrot pulled straight from the ground, the juiciness of a strawberry ripened by the sun while still on the plant, the bite of a gooseberry teased from the prickly branch, the freshness of a peapod plucked straight from the plant, the earthiness of a potato fresh from the soil.  

All these things make our harvest special.

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