REAP WHAT YOU SOW
Our gardening writer Charlotte Philcox explains how to make the most of your fruit and vegetable harvest.
How to make the most of harvesting your fruit and veg
Autumn is the time of harvest, not least for anyone lucky enough to have a vegetable garden. It’s surprising just how much produce can be stashed away from even the smallest of plots which, as someone with the habits of a squirrel, is for me one of the most satisfying aspects of gardening.
Nowadays, few of us have the traditional ‘root cellar’ of American pioneer history, but some do have frost-proof garages, which if unheated, can provide fairly good conditions for storing many garden crops. Just remember to keep any fruit or vegetables well away from garden and household chemicals.
Apples last well if cool and dry, but because of the ethylene gas they give off, they should be stored separately as this can make other produce ripen and spoil. It’s also a good idea to keep early, late and mid-season fruits separate, since if mixed, the ethylene will have the same effect.
Some of the best keepers include the dessert apples ‘Granny Smith’, ‘Idared’, ‘Jonagold’ and ‘Winston’, while ‘Bramley’s Seeding’ and ‘Lane’s Prince Albert’ are the best cookers.
Pears will store at slightly cooler temperatures, and if you only have a few, the salad compartment in an ordinary fridge can be a good place to keep them. Varieties such as ‘Conference’ and ‘Doyenné de Comice’ are the most suitable.
Always pick any apples or pears for storing with the fruit stem intact. Without this, they will rot very quickly. They should be free from blemishes, and just a little under-ripe. Place them in single layers without touching each other, in open sided, shallow wooden or cardboard boxes, or directly on to untreated, slatted wooden shelves.
While on the subject of fruit, earlier in the year, small plastic bags of mixed blueberries, raspberries, black and white currants found their way into my freezer - ideal for use in the depths of winter as easily defrosted toppings for porridge or muesli. Most berries seem to freeze extremely well without any preparation, although strawberries are best zapped in a blender and given the ice cube treatment (see below) for use in syrups, smoothies or fruit salads.
On the vegetable front I’ve found that broad beans and peas seem to survive the freezing process best. I’ve long given up on French and runner beans, which seem to lose any semblance of their original flavour or crispness once frozen. Excesses of these are best made into pickles or chutneys, given away, or gorged on while still fresh.
Many herbs freeze well, and you can save some parsley and mint for winter use now, before they are clobbered by natural frosts in the garden. Gather and wash the freshest leaves you can find, before packing everything into a mug, and chopping with a pair of kitchen scissors. No mess, no fuss, and they’ll be ready in a matter of minutes. You can then pack your chopped herbs into the individual compartments of an ice cube tray, cover with a small amount of water and freeze. Once frozen, the cubes can be removed from their trays, placed inside a plastic storage bag, labelled and kept in the freezer until needed. Ideal for winter sauces, soups and stews, and the
Most berries seem to freeze extremely well without any preparation.
process works really well for basil too.
Where herbs are concerned, you might also like to pop some small mint, chive, thyme, sage and parsley plants into pots, and bring them into an unheated greenhouse for winter use. I like to keep a pot of thyme on the kitchen window sill too.
Stems of fresh thyme, sage and rosemary can be cut now for drying. Do this first thing in the morning on a sunny day. They can then be tied into bunches, and hung upside down in a cool and airy room. I dry mine by spreading freshly picked stems on a sheet of greaseproof paper or drying rack placed on top of a baking tray in the airing cupboard. Once dry and crumbly, the leaves can be removed and stored in small glass jars in a cupboard or drawer.
If you have enough space to grow winter squashes for storage, these should be harvested as soon as the stems of the fruit have hardened off. Cut them with as much of this stem as possible, as it will reduce the risk of rotting, and help them to keep for longer. Stored in a cool room, I find they will last well into January. Summer squashes won’t store for any length of time, hence their name, which with both types indicates their time of use, not of cropping.
Potatoes should have had as much soil rubbed off them as possible after harvesting, before being dried or ‘cured’ in a sunny spot for a few hours to harden their skins. They are best kept in paper or hessian sacks in a dark, cool and dry place. Remember to check any stored potatoes regularly for greening or rot, and rub off any white shoots which might be forming. As the potatoes produce these, they start to lose some of their nutrients, but are still perfectly good to eat.
Garlic and onions from a July harvest keep best when dried outside for a week, before bringing inside. They should be stored in a warm, dry and airy place, as if too cold or damp, they may start to shoot or rot.
Of course there are also a good number of vegetables which can be left in the ground over the winter, which makes life a lot easier. Brussels sprouts, kale, Savoy cabbages, Jerusalem artichokes, leeks, parsnips, swede and winter salad leaves can all be left to grow ‘in situ’, and picked when needed. And that’s surely the easiest way of keeping nature’s harvest fresh and nutritious.
Winter squash ‘Buttercup’ ready for harvest.