This tutorial is all about growing your own food for autumn. For us, autumn is roughly from October to December, after the last of the summer veg have finished (tomatoes, peas and courgettes are good indicators of this for us, but this might be different for you).
Sowing seeds for autumn harvests
There are two parts to this:
1. stuff you sow earlier in the year but that will not ripen until Autumn
This includes leek, onion, pea, pumpkin/squash.
2. stuff you sow in summer to eat in autumn
This includes beetroot, carrot, chard, endive/radicchio, fennel, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, radish, rocket, spinach, perpetual spinach, turnip.
Timings for these vary, and the weather makes a big difference – but by and large, these are the kinds of things we sow specifically for autumn. You can see our timings in the sowing schedule (see ‘Week 1’ Veg All Year Round post). But – this is a trial and error thing. Some years, these timings don’t work out because of the weather, and if you’re in a different location from us this will take some tweaking. A second caveat is that the sowings for these things are all intended to grow outdoors and would need adjusted if you’re going to grow them in a tunnel or greenhouse. Again, your weather matters here because you don’t want them to grow too quickly. Some years, our brassicas misbehave and what we had intended as later summer or early winter ones are actually ready in autumn – so be prepared for adventure along the way.
This requires slightly longer planning, but autumn is also the time a lot of fruit trees are ready here. Apples, for example, are almost always a late-September to late-October harvest for us, and a lot of related fruit – pears, for example, or plums – are also ready sometime around then, though the plums usually come in a bit earlier than this. A lot of hedgerow fruit are ripe in September here – brambles, elderberries, rowan berries, rosehips. For the purpose of fruit our definition of ‘autumn’ very much includes September – and that’s because most of these types of fruit, while ripe slightly earlier than what I have defined as autumn, freeze well, and we’ll be processing them in autumn. The frantic period when they’re ripe is usually taken up with harvesting, cleaning, and placing them in the freezer (with the exception of apples and pears), to be turned into jams and wines and chutneys and crumbles and cake throughout the colder months. For apples, we’re looking at three distinct activities: eating fresh and storing to eat later (in a shed or, weather-dependent, in a polytunnel); turning into cider; for use in jams, chutney and baking.
Autumn and winter are two seasons that require thinking ahead, and storing some of our spring and summer harvests. For us, this is mostly done through freezing. But it really depends on your space, equipment, time and experience/knowledge, and there is no ‘right and wrong’ way about this. Things to take into consideration are:
- do you have storage space? We have more freezer space than shelf space for canned things because we make wine, beer and cider, and that takes up a lot of space (both full bottles and empties we’re saving
- do you have time and energy to deal with your harvests? Is your life outwith the garden busy or quiet at harvest time? Which way of storing your harvest fits best with your knowledge, time and energy levels?
- do you have the equipment you need already, or do you need to set up something new?
- what do you like to eat? For us, fermented foods are not something we normally eat a lot of, so we’re being cautious in how much we make – because there is no point in storing food in a way that means you’re not actually going to eat and enjoy it later.
We store harvests in several ways:
1. Freezing. This is particularly useful for things like broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, peas, beans, though we’ve had success with quite a lot of things. An important consideration is to work out whether things can be chucked straight into the freezer (like onion, for example), or whether it will need blanched/wilted first (like spinach, for example). And what you intend to do with your frozen veg – eat a whole bag/container in one go or take them out bit by bit. If you’re going to eat things bit by bit it can be helpful to freeze things in ice-cube trays or flat on baking sheets in appropriate portions, and then, once frozen, to remove them from that and place them into a bag or container. That way you can take out small portions later on. Freezing herbs in ice cube trays works really well – sometimes we do this in oil, and then they can be added straight to cooking. We used to freeze a lot of leafy greens – spinach, kale, chard – but have pretty much stopped doing this because we can grow these reliably all year round, but when we did freeze them we’d quickly wilt them in a pan until they changed colour, together with some onion and garlic – and then we’d freeze the whole thing together.
2. Storing. We store potatoes, carrots, onion, garlic, 9and other root vegetables. Sometimes we do this in the shed, and sometimes in the bottom of a dark cabinet in our larder. Some things, like beetroot and turnips, we tend to leave in the ground until we need them, though this can backfire sometimes and you have to check regularly. We almost always have to ripen pumpkins inside because they often don’t get ripe before it gets too wet in October and they become mildewy. We keep an eye on this, and when it looks like it’s going to be too wet we cut off the pumpkins with about 4 inches of stem still attached, and place them on sunny windowsills to ripen. This works well, though you have to check to make sure they have sealed and are not going mouldy. If you notice them not sealing it is best to try and eat them fresh, if they have ripened sufficiently. You can also chop up and freeze fresh pumpkins and squashes.
3. Preserving. We do not preserve as much food as we can – this is one of those things that we’re not that confident in and are only starting to experiment with. In particular, we are experimenting with fermenting some foods (such as cabbage), but we have not yet tried canning anything.
4. Processing. We process quite a lot of things, ready to be eaten throughout the year. I am thinking of things like jams, chutneys, ketchups, wine/cider, crumble/cake fillings, teas.
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