Growing Vegetables #6: Harvesting Begins
It never rains but it pours. It’s a phrase that has both literal and proverbial meanings, both of which apply to my life at the moment. After a total drought in May and just 10 days rain at start of June, the countryside was beginning to look a little parched and my vegetable beds were rock hard. Buckets of water were no longer enough – it was time to unravel my hose and do some deep watering, biceps bedamned.
I had guests coming at the end of June and was worried that our 35 degree temperatures (95 ˚ Fahrenheit) might be too much for their pale Irish skin. The night they arrived was hot, hot, hot – even in shorts after midnight we thought we would melt. The next day was slightly more forgiving with just a sprinkling of rain, then it was back to full-on heat again. I think we were all a little relived to see clouds on the third day. It was still warm, but not meltingly so. Little did I know that this was to be the beginning of a fortnight of torrential rain and booming thunderstorms.
I like to think of myself as a “glass half full” kind of girl and was actually quite happy to see the rain. It would be good for the earth and the animals, and would save me the work of watering and the expense of the water. It might also encourage a few mushrooms to grow. Win, win.
The change in the weather had both positive and negative effects on my vegetables. For the most part they flourished, as did the weeds that keep them company. At least the weather is cool enough for endless hours of weeding! The courgettes (zucchini) started to appear in great numbers. Initially I was cutting them when they were still babies, both to enjoy the delicious flowers and to stem the tide of vegetables. I have eight courgette plants and I remember from last year that they fruit well into September – that’s a lot of courgette! I’ve decided to try freezing them this year. I did a trial run and although they are slightly watery and less firm when defrosted, they still fry up nicely once they’ve been allowed to drain. They will also be perfect for soups and stews. Last year I tried marinating them but I wasn’t happy with the results and most of them went in the bin. I hate waste, particularly of a vegetable as delicious and versatile as courgette, so I’m happy to live with less-than-perfect defrosted fruit. They’re 100% organic and have zero transport miles, so to me that’s infinitely better than anything I might buy in the shops over the winter.
My fennel were not so enamoured by the change in the weather. Many bolted (started to flower), which has an impact on their bulb development. I tried cutting back the flower stems to channel the energies back into the bulb but I’m not sure it was effective. They’re still edible, although not quite as fleshy and tender as I would like. I would still recommend them as a vegetable to grow as they’re fairly hardy otherwise – bugs and diseases don’t seem to bother them. I think I will stagger their planting next year, though, so that if one lot bolts I have another one or two sets that might bulb successfully.
The redcurrants also ripened seemingly overnight and it was a race against time to get to them before the birds. Destemming redcurrants is a tedious chore that always seems to leave me with a sore neck and shoulder, but having a freezer full of delicious fresh berries is worth the effort. I freeze them on trays before I bag them so that I can take just a handful at a time for a sauce or cake topping. They are particularly good with fatty meats like duck or goose.
Speaking of geese, my neighbour recently bought a gaggle of goslings. I was fascinated to see how quickly they grew. They were kept protected for only about a week before being left out to fend for themselves. It is so lovely to watch them pottering in unison around his garden, nibbling on grass and fallen apples. I’m sure they will make for delicious eating and am hoping to buy a few when the time comes. I will miss seeing them, but I get the impression rearing geese for the table is something my neighbour plans to repeat, so hopefully there’ll be another gaggle to watch before too long.
The countryside has come alive with all the rain and warm weather. There is a chorus of crickets from dawn to dusk which seems to be getting louder as the crickets themselves get bigger. There is also a rather vocal frog in our local water hole. After a few failed attempts I finally managed to get him on camera. He’s quite small but rather beautiful.