Harvest happiness! What an amazing time of year. The trees are gradually beginning to transform during October and the colours within the vegetable garden are golden. Garden harvests are being reaped and those with the time and inclination are researching recipes for preserving.
The best crops for October include apples in all their various green and rosy colours. You’ll know when they are ripe and ready to pick because they will start to fall. Just twist gently and the fruit should simply drop into your hand. You can store apples in the fridge or wrap them individually in newspaper and store in a cool, dry place in crates. Be sure to only wrap and store perfect fruit as any major blemishes will encourage mould and this can spread to other nearby fruits. Also check your variety as some apples store better than others.
Of course, October is pumpkin season. You should leave the fruit on the plant until it ripens but be sure to protect from frosts. Once the stem cracks, it’s time to cut it off, leaving a long stalk. Then leave it out in the open air and allow the skin to harden for around 10 days. There are particular varieties that are well-suited to carving for Halloween and these include the aptly named 'Jack of all trades’. Otherwise, use the flesh for roasting, in pies and in soups.
Autumn cabbages can be harvested now, through to November. Remember to keep the nets in place as you don’t want the pesky caterpillars to eat your dinner! Simply cut each cabbage at the base, using a sharp knife. Cut as low as possible and leave the outer leaves attached to the stalk so that you might enjoy a further garden harvest of sprouts from the stem.
Brussels sprouts will give you some rewards during October too. Start harvesting these ‘fairy cabbages’ by removing some at the base of the stalks. Gradually work your way upwards as the season progresses.
And there's more
You should still have cauliflowers and carrots left to harvest, if you timed your sowing correctly. Cauliflowers will store for longer if you leave some of the outer leaves in position. You can now harvest the rest of the beetroot too.
There are several crops that need to be picked before first frosts. These include courgettes, summer squashes, tomatoes, chillies and peppers. Also runner beans, strawberries and raspberries.
It is possible to keep some root vegetables in the ground during part of the winter and these include beetroot, parsnips, swede and carrots. You might want to cover the ground with fleece or straw in order to keep them warm.
Preserving the garden harvest
Some fruit is particularly well-suited to being made into chutney and there are many other preserving techniques that suit different delights. Tomatoes fall into a pot of plenty and there are many different ways to enjoy them later.
They can be canned, frozen and fermented, but bottling is probably the easiest (and maybe the most delicious). You need to simply score a cross shape at the base of the tomatoes, then place into a bowl and pour on some boiling water. Leave for a couple of minutes, then skin them. Pop them into washed and sterilised bottles or jars and add lemon juice, sea salt and some sugar. Pack them in as tightly as possible, using sealing caps. You’ll then need to sterilise these bottles in boiling water (around 100 degrees C) for about 45 minutes, using either a saucepan or a specific fruit steriliser. Check the seals to make sure they have formed a vacuum and, if so, these tomatoes should last for up to two years.
Jams and chutney
In addition, you can preserve by making jams and chutney, pickling in vinegar, dehydrating, drying and freezing. You can also make alcohol infusions by putting fruit into sterilised canning jars, covering with alcohol such as brandy, then adding a little sugar. Just screw on the lid, shake and store in the fridge for several weeks.
Have fun experimenting with new ways of storing surplus, you’ll develop your own methods that could easily see you enjoying your home-grown produce right through the winter, well into spring.