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Harvesting root crops

Root crops are often left in the ground to the last minute as many reach peak aroma or sweetness as frosts approach. You may be plucking or prizing up as you go – and that’s kind of a requirement for potatoes and the underground tubers – but the later crops should yield the most flavour. The best indicator of a ready root crop is mathematical: either a set count of days after planting or flowering, or a measurement of the diameter of its crown. Not as complicated as it seems. I like carrots and beetroots at any size but some traditional growers would say a carrot is best taken at 2.5- 3cm and a beetroot at 3-5cm. All growers agree parsnips yield their best flavour after a frost; they also keep longer in the ground than on a shelf or in a basket. All roots are best gently prized up with a fork – preferably on a still dry day as their flavour molecules will not waft on the air and alert their natural pests and predators to their location. Turnips and swedes come in all sizes and seasons so best to follow the packet instructions and consult your calendar as to when you planted – in general early types can come up after about five weeks while main crop are best harvested after six to 10 weeks. Garlic and onions tell you they are ready by browning their foliage. The standard guide is to lift when 75 per cent of the foliage is brown and leave to dry (‘cure’) for a few days to a week. There are overwintering varieties that remain in the ground until spring. Leeks are improved with frost and many grow them as an overwintering crop to harvest when the chilly day calls for some potato and leek soup.

Harvesting fruit

By autumn, soft fruit will already have been harvested but hard fruit such as apples and pears are just coming into their own right now. Apples are not plucked from apple trees rather they are cupped in the palm of your hand and lifted with a gentle twist off of their fruiting spur. Different varieties mature at different times of the year, many will self-shed or ‘windfall’. If it happens in June consider it a removal of excess fruit to allow the remainder to bulk up, if it happens in September reach for the ladder before the whole crop is on the ground. A sure fire way to know if your apple crop is ready for the picking is to slice one and if the seeds are light coloured it has time yet but if the seeds are dark brown it’s time to take them down. Pears are often picked in advance of 1 0 8 / S E L F B U I L D / AU T U M N 2 0 1 8


Storing fruit and veg A harvest larder can consist of a garden shed or part thereof, of a freestanding shelving unit in the spare room or it could be a purpose-built storage unit in the kitchen or utility room. In one way it may just depend on the quantities you are growing and harvesting and on the other hand it’s simply down to personal preference. Whatever the location, success lies in the right conditions. The key is vigilance, firstly in choosing unblemished specimens to store – bruised or damaged ones are already commencing to rot, they are best consumed within the coming days, divested of the damage and if still sufficient and edible, frozen or preserved. Otherwise discard in the compost heap. You should be checking your stock regularly and remove any specimen showing signs of damage or decomposition: one bad apple does spoil the barrel. Next is the aspect of the storage space. It is essential that it be dry and wellventilated as most disease or spoiling occurs when the air is moist and stuffy. The colder it is the slower the food will take to dry out,

and the longer it will take to shrivel up or decline in its qualities. It can be as simple as turning the radiator off in the spare room and leaving the window ajar or it may mean selecting the cupboard to stand in the utility room to be against the cooler wall that backs to the outside of your home. With hard fruit such as apples, pears and quinces, I like to lay them in flat single layers with space between each, you can wrap each fruit in newspaper to preserve longer. Berries and currants are best dried, made into jam or frozen. With tomatoes they are best stored at room temperature, refrigeration

full ripeness – matured but still hard – and allowed to soften and ripen indoors. They don’t last very long when ripe. Most pears slightly lighten in colour before optimum harvest but if you don’t notice the change then those that easily come away with a lift and slight twist are perfect. When it comes to pumpkins and squashes we don’t always have the weather for their curing requirements which are best delivered by 24 to 27 degC for 10 to 12 days so a spell inside in a dry, well-ventilated area will do the trick.

causes a decline in both flavour and texture. Leafy crops such as spinach and kale and also lettuce and other salad leaves do not store well and are best eaten within a few days of harvesting, or frozen. Cabbages will store well enough if the heads are firm and singly spaced. Courgettes and marrows tend to go over quickly and often have but a two to three week lifespan if refrigerated. Pickling, preserving (chutneys, etc.) and freezing are options. Peas and beans can either be dried for storage, or blanched in hot water and frozen.

Selfbuild Autumn 2018  
Selfbuild Autumn 2018