As September slides by the damage limitation exercise that is the garden after a long summer slips into history and we can relax a little, enjoy the cooler, golden early autumn days and begin to look forward to the prospect of autumn and winter projects. It’s also the time to savour the fruits of our labours as the grapes, apples and pears ripen and are picked in the orchards. Plus there is still much to enjoy on the floral front as Dahlias and Chrysanthemums strut their stuff in the cut flower area and Colchicums and Cyclamen hederifolium bring a surprise splash of colour to the bulb borders.
Growing unfeasibly large vegetables is not a big part of what we are about but the occasional whopper is good fun and certainly generates a few comments from the visiting public. The secret lies in the seed selection. Sure you can “pump up” a normal onion with a body building regime of high inputs but to really make the big league your vegetable Arnie Schwarzneggers need to be genetically programmed to be beefy. Companies such as Robinsons and and Medwyns specialise in breeding these bruisers and with the right DNA and a little extra TLC it’s relatively easy to produce some eye popping, football sized onions or cabbage that will be the talk of the neighbourhood and might even win you a prize at the local show.
One of the great treats of September is an early morning walk through the orchard. With a light mist in the air, the spider webs like spun silver with their coating of dew and the trees heavy with red, green and golden apples it is like stepping into a real time version of Samuel Palmers visionary painting “The Magic Apple Tree”.
The visual feast can be enjoyed at any time but the gastronomic one may have to be deferred for a little longer, depending on the variety in hand. Apples and pears are not necessarily ready to eat when they appear to be and part of the skill in fruit growing is timing of picking and then post harvest treatment.
Pears are particularly demanding. Cultivars such as “Gorham” and “Williams Bon Chretien” that ripen early i.e. July-September, should never be allowed to ripen on the tree otherwise they may well become “mealy” in the centre. The best test for readiness to pick is to lift the fruit slightly and then twist it gently on the stalk; if it is ready it will come away in the hand. Early pears will ripen rapidly off the tree and need careful monitoring for ripeness, late season cultivars such as Conference, and Doyenne du Comice will still be hard at picking but will eventually ripen. Very late cultivars, “Catillac” etc, should be left on the tree until the first frosts threaten and then can all be picked at once.
Apples are slightly less fussy but similar general principles apply. Equally storage requirements for both are the same. Commercially this is a sophisticated science but for the amateur it boils down to keep ‘em cool(around 7C if possible) keep ‘em dark, keep ‘em frost free, keep the air circulating and pick over regularly to remove any bad apples because, as we all know, it only takes one to spoil the barrel!