How to harvest perfect pumpkin
HARVEST RIPE PUMPKINS
I didn’t intend to grow any pumpkins – it just happened. One of those compost-heap accidents. Mine still have some growing and orange spray-tanning to do before they’ll be ready to harvest, so, to prevent them from rotting in the wet, I’ve bundled a layer of mulch under them.
A pumpkin is ready to harvest when you’re unable to pierce the skin with your thumbnail. The foliage will be dying off around the pumpkin and the wick (stem) will be dry because it’s no longer sending moisture into the plant.
If you want to sweeten up your pumpkin (or you’re hoping a fairy godmother turns one into a new coach), leave them for at least three weeks after picking them. This allows time for the complex starches to break down into simple sugars. Wipe them clean, keep them off the ground and ventilated (a slatted shelf is ideal) and store them in a single layer but not touching.
Now it’s time to say goodbye to annual culinary herbs like basil (which dies when temperatures drop below 4°C). Go out with a bang and make a big batch of pesto. Simply combine handfuls of basil leaves with olive oil, garlic, Parmesan, lemon juice, pepper and salt and sunflower seeds or pine nuts and blend. Or use rocket or other summer herbs instead of basil if you prefer.
Other summer herbs that are on their last legs now are fennel, chervil and coriander. Collect the seed to sow next spring. Let the seedheads dry as much as possible on the plant before you harvest them. Lay on sheets of newspaper in a warm spot indoors to fully dry before sorting the seed from the debris. Fennel and coriander seed is edible too. Use excess seed in cooking.
Give perennial herbs like rosemary, sage and oregano and thyme a spruce up. Rosemary can be pruned back lightly. Cut sage back as well, but be careful not to cut it back too hard as it can die back.
If your thyme and oregano are looking a bit tired and woody, they’ll benefit from a haircut as well.
I’m going to sow coriander this weekend. My spring coriander bolted to seed before I’d blinked, so I’m hoping the cooler autumn days will curb its fly-by-night tendencies. Try ‘Slow Bolt’ from Kings Seeds. Always sow coriander direct as it has a major hissy fit when it’s transplanted, refusing to grow or bolting to seed. Other herbs that can be direct sown now include parsley, rosemary (under a cold frame), borage and fennel. Check out the range of herbs at Kings Seeds.
OUTSLITHER SLUGS & SNAILS
We came home to find six slimy tiger slugs slithering their way all over our front steps the other night. These gastropods will gorge on young leaves in wet autumn weather. Pest control using egg shells, beer traps and coffee grounds all sound good in theory, but trials by the late Get Growing columnist and garden writer Virgil Evetts debunked these methods.
Instead, trap marauding molluscs in upturned plant pots or lay bait. Tui Quash is a nontoxic bait that is safe to use around pets and children, being rated less toxic than table salt, plus the first year of results from a two-year Royal Horticultural Society study identifying the most effective ways of controlling slugs and snails, has shown organic pellets to be almost as effective as their non-organic equivalent. Interestingly, laying down mulch, one of the control measures being trialled in the study, has been shown to increase slug damage. Scientists believe this may be because mulch provides a warm, moist habitat for them to hunker down in.
Pellets aside, go on a night patrol, armed with a torch and
This column is adapted from the weekly e-zine, get growing, from New Zealand Gardener magazine. For gardening advice delivered to your inbox every Friday, sign up for Get Growing at: getgrowing.co.nz
bucket and maybe have a snail or slug race or two before you dispose of them.