The autumn garden
Sarah O’Neil says farewell summer, it’s been lovely.
After a long, hot summer reminiscent of those carefree days of my childhood, autumn is lining up to take its place. I am going to miss summer and eating fresh food straight from the garden. It’s still providing a prolific harvest of tomatoes, beans, corn, okra, capsicum, carrots, zucchini (marrow) and peas, just to name a few. I’m busy processing vegetables for my freezer and making pickles and preserves to line my pantry shelves to bring a taste of summer to gloomy winter months.
Looking ahead, autumn provides perfect conditions for getting the cool season garden going so those tender seedlings can soak in the lingering warmth and buildup the energy required to get through the cold winter months ahead.
This crop brings out the patience in me. They make me wait. They are the first seeds I sow for the new season. It has almost become a ritual to start them off on August 1 each year. And slowly and steady they grow to a good size. And while some of the other faster plants come and go, like the speedy cucumber that only needs to be sown three weeks before planting in the garden and then is devastated as quickly by powdery mildew in late summer, the chillies are plodding along and flower by Christmas and by the end of January the milder green fruit can be picked.
But if it is the fire you are looking for, then the autumn harvest is certainly going to more than make up for the loss of heat during the day. I grow loads of chillies of varying degrees, from mild yellow bananas to scorching habaneros. I’m not really sure how hot they all are because I make poor, unsuspecting Hubby the Un- Gardener do all my taste-testing. I gauge how much chilli to put into a meal based on how strongly he reacts to the small piece I offer to him. He never learns…
See below for chilli recipes.
This is another crop that makes me wait, but I do love a good baba ghanoush and a delicious moussaka, so I am prepared to be patient. These plants are in their element in the autumn and will produce loads of shiny black orbs until the first frost takes them out.
Take care when harvesting as they have some pretty nasty spikes on them around the top of the fruit. They should be slightly soft and be lovely and glossy when they are ready. If you leave them too long they will become a little bit bitter.
See below for eggplant recipes.
I find myself taking for granted the bright blue sky days we have been having. The summer garden is filled with such bold colours — rosy red tomatoes and peppers, yellow zucchini flowers and the orange of the ripening pumpkins. It is such a vibrant time and it seems impossible to think of this ever changing. But one by one the fair weather crops finish and are pulled from the garden and the blue sky days become few and far between. So any opportunity to add a pop of colour to a gloomy day is gratefully welcome. And in my garden this can be found in the form of rainbow chard
Its almost luminescent neon colour gives the winter months something extraordinary. The pink, red, orange and yellow stems seem to glow with a bright cheerful disposition and can’t help but lift your mood. I sow loads of these seeds so I can be sure I get all of the colours from the mixed packet, and then I can spread some colour to my nearest and dearest by giving away the leftovers. This is such a magnificent crop, and a winter must-have.
Now is the last chance to plant parsnips. Their unique flavour can add excitement to a winter table in more ways than one. My favourite way to eat them is roasted, but they also make a great soup, superb chips and a wonderful mash, especially when combined with carrots like my grandmother used to do.
To avoid disappointment, make sure you use fresh seeds as they are a bit fickle and don’t like their seeds to hang around — and they almost make you look forward to that first frost as it will sweeten them up and make them taste so much better.
Summer's end shouldn’t bring too much sorrow as autumn is such a fabulous season with so much going for it. I am looking forward to the cosiness that begins to embrace us as autumn takes a hold.
Sarah O’Neil, Hubby the Un-Gardener and their two boys have planted a large garden as part of their journey to discover “the good life”. Visit Sarah’s website sarahthegardener.co.nz.