Harvesting steps up a notch at the end of September. This is the crucial time of year when the point of cutting the the crop from its life source can make or break a farmer. Obviously I don’t judge myself as a farmer, but my Uncle was and as ever I watched his movements with eagle eyes whenever we were at his farm. His was a mixed farm consisting of arable, cattle and sheep so it was a wonderful place to be as there was always something to amuse a small or bored adolescent child, I never grew tired of visiting, and in summer and autumn we took to visiting nearly every other weekend. With picnics in the summer and walks in the autumn picking blackberries, shooting pigeons and rabbits for the men. Winter it was too remote and the roads were not gritted and I suspect he was very busy in the spring. I remember him walking the fields checking the wheat every few yards, every day, sometimes twice a day in late summer, he did tell me what he was looking for, something to do with the centre of the kernel going from green to a certain colour and texture and within that he was keeping a careful eye on the weather. You really don’t want a freak thunderstorm, just as the wheat is standing tall, so much taller than todays versions, ready for harvest. Tractors are enormous compared to the ones my Uncle was using some 50 years ago, they would now do the job in a very short time, but this was then and freaky weather would adversely affect the housewives purse.
So within this I try to make sure I harvest at the right time, it is such a crucial part of the concept, but of course we grow so many varieties of fruits and vegetables and to be absolutely honest we are a master of non. Mostly it is gut instinct, my instinct is often much better than hubby’s, and with todays world we can always use google, but that really only takes you so far – sometimes you tube is better. And of course we are still weather juggling, which then throws the harvesting at the right time concept for a loop.
And we haven’t even talked about theft on allotments. Theft is a thing, a real thing, ignoring the breaking in of sheds to steal rotovators etc, theft of your cultivated for a whole season fruits and vegetables by what we assume are fellow allotmenteers happens, more often than you might imagine. Apple or pear trees can be cleared, one fellow I know had his whole strawberry crop cleared the night before he was going to pick them, a patch of pumpkins will mysteriously disappear, and even onions, probably the cheapest of all veg, will go wandering off into the night.
So, rightly so I get a little nervous just before harvest. And to say I have been a little nervous about bringing these babies home would be an understatement.
Our years work of Crown Prince, a culinary pumpkin that is absolutely delicious and have very good keeping qualities, such that they should last well into February if kept in a cool room.
The weather was turning to heavy rain for several days so we decided to crop them. I think they were cropped just at their moment of perfection, however, if it was going to stay dry, I would have given them another week. But then, we mustn’t forget the allotment thieves…
Little and large, we planted a couple of plants into raised beds, (left by the previous occupier) and if this doesn’t prove to anybody that will listen as to why I think raised beds are a bad idea, then this should should illustrate it very clearly. Pumpkin on the left, planted into soil, watered sporadically when at its hottest, the odd bit of compost was spread out so it may have got lucky, but it wasn’t watered very often by man, only by nature. Pumpkin on the right, in the raised bed. Compost was topped up this year, it was watered nearly every day that it didn’t rain. In my opinion raised beds dry out almost immediately, especially at their corners, they really are a waste of time compared to working the soil, winter digging, the addition of good well rotted manure and compost. All of the pumpkins grown in the raised beds were very small. However, thinking about it, the raised beds did do a good job of germinating the peas and growing them for a fast late summer crop, so if one carefully chose the right vegetables and puts the time into watering daily it seems it does have its place in the allotment – which is why I haven’t got rid of mine as I am still experimenting.
These have now been moved into a cool room. They need to mature for at least two weeks before eating to allow the sugars to develop in them. I’m looking forward to more than just roast pumpkin this winter. It should be an interesting culinary pumpkin winter.