If things were controlled by sky pixies, I’d say that they had it in for me today. A combination of things kept me from doing what I’d planned to do, which was to spend much of my day on the allotment, doing things. The things weren’t set in stone: there are several places I could choose to start, but because the shed has been so well scrubbed down and left so beautifully clean for me there isn’t the urgency of beating the onset of cooler weather as much as there was, so it doesn’t really matter.
Given that I was home-based, I turned my attention to the other bit of nature in my life and took some time to properly look at the garden to see what needed to be done. (Something always needs to be done, that’s something else I’ve learned.) The obvious thing to note is that the grass has recovered very quickly with the removal of the trees in the neighbouring gardens which were hogging all the light. So that needs mowing (hopefully) one last time before the winter.
I say “one last time” as if I’ve actually mown the grass regularly through the year, although I haven’t. It’s such a boring job and my lawn is a haven for frogs from next door’s pond. Although I try and stomp about and make as much noise on the ground as possible to tell everything to go somewhere else, there’s always the danger of hurting one, which isn’t what I want. I haven’t done that yet, as far as I know, but I have scared frogs on several occasions to the point where they felt compelled to scream at me – actually scream. That’s not something they chose to add to my only source of frog-related knowledge to date: the story of the Princess and the Frog. Fair enough if you kiss it and nothing happens: you’ll just feel a bit of a weirdo, but screaming? That seems a little harsh.
Anyway, I haven’t done it since June, which has probably done it good anyway, since it’s now free of leaves and is actually looking like grass, although it’ll never be a lawn. It’s now getting to the time of year where the grass doesn’t properly dry out, though, so I’m probably going to strim it and rake the clippings for the compost bin, rather than mow it and clog up the blades with wet grass. There are a few weeds which I’ll take out by hand, rather than spraying, and let the grass fill in the gaps itself. Not today though.
While I still wasn’t mowing the lawn, I picked any tomatoes that looked ripe or nearly so, as well as a couple of green ones that can ripen in the house from a snapped branch. The tomatoes are past their peak now – I only planted 5 plants and grew them all at the same time, so they’re collectively looking a bit droopy and worn out. You need to get tomatoes in before the first frosts, this much I know. What I’ve learned this year is how well stuff will ripen when you bring it indoors, though, so I’m not concerned about the plants dying off before the final tomatoes are ripe – I’ll just cut them and bring them in on bits of vine. They come on perfectly well in the kitchen, although the RHS suggests a warm dark place, so I may try the airing cupboard if I have a load of green ones at the end and see if it’s faster. Whole plants can be pulled up and hung up as well, so if the weather suddenly turns freezing, I can stick them in the polytunnel or shed to finish off.
I cut away any of the leaves which had gone yellow and any bits which were obviously dead/dying or didn’t have any tomatoes left. The idea here is to allow the plant to put the energy it has left into the fruits and not into growing new leaves etc.. It also allows more light to get to any green tomatoes, and it makes it easier to spot them, too. Obviously you have to be a bit restrained – the plant needs to be able to feed and it needs leaves for that – so I didn’t cut too much away. They look rather better for it and I’ll keep an eye on them to see if the leaves perk up or whether it’s just an unstoppable process towards the end of the season. I don’t feel they owe me anything – I’ve kept the whole family supplied with plenty of tomatoes from those plants this summer, as well as the ones that didn’t make it to the veg boxes on account of how I might have eaten the cherry tomatoes like sweets.
Continuing to ignore the lawn, I checked on the golden courgettes to see how they were doing. They’ve sprawled out of the raised bed and onto the grass now, so I’ve lifted them off the ground with upturned flower pots, just to stop them sitting in the damp constantly or being eaten by slugs before they can develop. There weren’t any that were quite big enough to cut yet, although I scored my second stealth marrow of the season, hiding right in the middle of a golden courgette, hidden by all the leaves. I now have 2 marrows that need to be used so may have to look at some sort of chutney recipe later. I don’t like it enough to want to eat it fresh, really, except in small amounts. It amused me that even though I’m not a massive fan (I’m growing 2 plants that I was given by friends) I am still ridiculously pleased when I find that something has grown to the point where it’s ready to harvest. In any case, someone will like it: my mum got quite excited when I presented her with one a while back. It’s not something she’d had in years and she wanted to eat some really for nostalgia purposes.
Courgettes, marrows and squashes all have fairly similar leaves, as well they might because they’re from the same family: the cucurbits (yes, cucumbers are also part of that family). I don’t think I’ve ever grown courgettes and not have the leaves get sort of white stuff on them towards the end of the season. (Today I found out that this is a common thing called powdery mildew, although it’s not serious and all the courgettes I saw on the allotment had some of it.) In the past I’ve grown most of my courgettes in tubs, so when things get a bit crowded you just drag them a bit further apart. I can’t do that in the raised bed, though, so wanted to clear some space and cut away the worst diseased leaves to give healthier ones a better chance.
I’ve seen advice that says never cut the leaves of cucurbits because it allows infection into the plant. I’ve also seen advice that says it’s fine and I know people who do it as a matter of course to keep things under control so the broad leaves and slightly prickly stems don’t take over. I just cut the stems I want to get rid of and leave a small nick through the bottom so the hollow bit that’s left doesn’t fill up with water and gunk that could make it rot, or provide a home to mosquito larvae. I haven’t managed to kill one yet, so I’ll stick with it unless someone can give me a really compelling reason why it’s wrong.
Removing some of the leaves revealed an ant nest in the raised bed, so I need to read up on how to deal with that, since they’re not staying if I have anything to do with it. I don’t dislike ants but I don’t want them in there, causing havoc with roots etc.. They can have the lawn: I promise not to mow it…
Once that was all done, I gathered up a load of stuff that I want to take to the allotment to store there rather than at home. It’s going to give me a lot more space for actually growing stuff in my tiny growhouse at home when the time comes – it’d rather become a storage unit for containers and things that didn’t need to be in there but did need keeping dry. I’ve bagged that all up and it’s ready to go in the back of the car as soon as I can get out. I have also bagged up the various plastic bottles I’ve been keeping to use as ways of making things easier to water and as home-made drip-watering systems.
I got all my laundry hung out and dried (appreciating that I was able to do that this year, on account of keeping the garden rather more tamed) and whilst I clocked the odd small weed coming up between the patio stones, I didn’t particularly feel inclined to sort them out today. I am aware of their presence and will get rid of them before too much longer, probably.
The hanging baskets and flowers in tubs are largely past it now and the sweet peas are going to seed, so I haven’t bothered doing anything with them. It’s too late for more dead-heading really and the leaves are beginning to turn yellow. I’ll see what seeds I can collect and then will store them and see if anything can be grown from them next year.
So, not the day I expected but I got a lot done. The allotment will still be there tomorrow.