Saturday, 19 September 2009
Preparing for autumn
This past weekend was amazingly sunny and pleasant for this time of year, but we are approaching the official end of summer, time to harvest the year’s abundance.
Most gardeners will be flush with certain crops right now, you probably want to preserve them as much as possible. Can, freeze or dry your tomatoes, ferment or pickle your cucumbers, Freeze or dry your courgettes and marrow (zucchini to Americans). Beans and peas can be dried, salted or frozen for food during the winter. All over the hedgerows here the brambles are erupting with blackberries, which can be made into jam to provide Vitamin C during the winter months.
Some plants can be left in the ground all winter – parsnips, for example, can merely be left in and collected as they are needed. Cruciferous vegetables like kale or mangold can be left all winter, its outermost leaves collected a few at a time.
Most gardeners dig up their potatoes for winter, but they can be kept in root cellars. Farmers used to pile up potatoes and cover the pile with earth and straw, with only a short, wide tube poking through at the top to allow the potatoes to breathe. You can keep most root vegetables in boxes of sand in the basement – carrots, beetroot, turnips – and they will usually keep all winter, longer than they would in the refrigerator.
This is also a good time of year to stock up for emergencies or lean times. You can fill shelves in your basement with dried pasta, beans, peas, lentils and other staples, as well as non-edible things like toilet paper. Calculate how much you and the others in your family might eat in a day -- using the trinity of starch (pasta, rice, bread), protein (beans, peas, lentils) and vegetables -- and then plan your meals accordingly.
Finally, if you don’t already cook, this is the best time to learn, to know what to do with all that surplus. You don’t need to do what the celebrity chefs do on television – just know how to assemble starch, protein and vegetables into a meal everyone will eat.