In Season: Autumn
Autumn is traditionally known as a time of harvest and plenty. For those of us who grow even a little of our own food, we often spend this time doing a lot of baking (chocolate courgette loaf, anyone?), preserving (pickled carrots are amazing), freezing and sharing.
The wide variety of crops that people could be harvesting in Scotland just now makes it impossible to suggest storage and recipe ideas for everything but I’ll touch on some of the most common, before talking about what you could consider planting now and how to plan for winter and spring.
Carrots – So versatile! In addition to steaming, eating raw with dip, or glazing with honey, butter and thyme, try: shaving raw into a salad, boiling and mashing as a potato alternative, or pickling in vinegar with coriander seeds. They can store for a little while if kept cool and packed in sand but I prefer to just pull as I need them. If you keep any in the soil over the winter they will grow again in spring but as a “bolted” (and therefore not nice to eat) plant which produces beautiful flowers.
Courgettes – Famous for producing a glut and quickly growing into a marrow the size of a small child if left unchecked. Try: blending into a soup, “spiralising” into a gluten free spaghetti alternative, dicing and adding into stews, or grated (with extra moisture squeezed out) in a sweet loaf. It can also be added into other fruit based loaves (such as banana) for some child friendly hidden vegetable action.
Tomatoes – There are only so many you can eat straight from the plant or add into salads. I usually roast my tomatoes on a baking tray with a lip; drizzle with olive oil and add garlic cloves if you like and roast whole until browning but not dry. Remove the skins once they have cooled and then either freeze or use a stick blender to create the base of an incredible pizza or pasta sauce. Of note, you should have pinched out the growing tips of your tomato plant by now. This allows it to focus its energy on growing and ripening the tomatoes it already has instead of trying to produce new ones at the end of the season.
Kale – No need to harvest all and pull the plant, it will happily withstand the winter and give you some early spring leaves. If you do want to harvest and pull, though, I just wash, chop and freeze the leaves for adding into soups and stews through the winter.
Jobs for Autumn:
First and foremost take stock of your year of growing. What worked well, what didn’t and why? What did you enjoy eating and growing the most? Consider next year’s growing plan and remember the principles of crop rotation to replenish lost nutrients and limit the buildup of pests specific to certain crops. Green manure (crops which are grown to benefit the soil as opposed to grown for personal harvest) can be planted now. If you have space, try to leave one section of your veg patch fallow next year and grow crimson clover; this will look lovely, benefit the bees, and will add nitrogen back into the soil for future growing.
If you have a compost heap, now is a great time to use your compost to mulch around the other plants in the garden. The heap will soon fill up again as you clear and tidy the garden to ready it for winter.
Did you grow anything from seed this year and if not, would you try for next year? Do you plan to grow anything which can be planted under cover in autumn and provide an early spring crop? I find autumn planted broccoli (protected from frosts by horticultural fleece or a polytunnel) to be very successful especially as it means reduced issues from the cabbage white butterfly.
Consider saving seeds. If you grew windowsill herbs you may have found that they bolted (grew flowers). Once those flowers die back you will find their seeds. These can be collected, dried, and sown next year. Depending on the original plant your seeds may not be exactly like their parent but it’s a fun experiment to try. If you grew coriander you can even dry and use the seeds themselves in your cooking.
Most importantly: appreciate what you achieved and learned this year, and look forward to doing it again next year.
By Emily Hairstans
Get growing advice, seasonal suggestions and celebrate the joys of looking after plants.
With the aim of re-establishing Harvest as an event on the national calendar, Dandelion brought together community development, horticulture, live music, learning, sustainable thinking and innovative arts practice to support the people of Scotland to sow, grow and share together.
Dandelion culminated in in over 500 events as part of the largest-ever creative celebration of Harvest staged across Scotland.