October 2013

posted 11 Oct 2013, 02:46 by Bob Brace
The blackberries have been duly gathered in and turned into jam, Mr O G style. Rosehips as well; our grandmothers used to turn them into nutritious syrup during the war, faute de mieux, so we always had the taste for them, and I still sometimes make a little, just for old times’ sake. 

Now it’s all about the firewood. This is one of our most valuable crops. We have a lot of trees, including one venerable ash tree which was old when we arrived. This tree has many huge branches, and each year Mr O G selects a promising one and fells it. He spends a considerable amount of time sawing and chopping and stacking it each autumn and then rotating the stack so that we are burning seasoned wood each winter. Mr O G is very proud of his skills as a woodman. However this year I have managed to persuade him to employ the services of the tree surgeon. He didn’t want to, but after the episode of the flying grandmother last year, I had to insist.

It happened like this. Mr O G selects his branch, and then, suitably accoutred with hard hat, ropes, a chain saw and a hand saw, climbs the tree and attaches a rope to the chosen branch. He then hurls the rope over a suitably strong higher branch to form a pulley, and throws it to me on the ground so that I can control the fall. Next he starts up the trusty chain saw and powers through the branch. As he gets to the last cut, he hollers ‘timber’ and I take the strain and allow the branch to descend slowly and carefully to the ground. Last year, with an uncharacteristic miscalculation, Mr O G chose a branch which was heavier than I was.

‘Timber’ he cries, and I, who have wound the rope tightly around my waist for extra purchase, make a couple of startled running steps before being hoisted off my feet. I would like to say that I flew gracefully but it wasn’t quite like that. The neighbour ran for her camera to record this latest eccentricity, but she had difficulty getting along because she was laughing so much. Mr O G, after the first astonished glance, laughed so much it was some moments before he could gather himself sufficiently to descend the tree and lighten the load so that I could regain my footing. This year the tree surgeon will do it, and I will go out for the day. Enough is enough!

In the flower garden I am still busily transferring the small plants of wallflower and sweet williams from their nursery bed into their final flowering positions. This is not easy because the beds are still occupied by the summer flowers which seem to have regained a new lease of life since the warm weather returned. Slowly but surely, though, they are succumbing to the longer nights.

The amaryllis bulbs I planted last month have shot up and flowered beautifully, and shrivelled and died again all in such a short time. In the winter they last much longer, but I suppose the warmth and the longer daylight hours than they normally have, speeded them up. They were lovely while they lasted but I shouldn’t think they will flower again this year.

I have tipped the lilies out of their tubs and sorted through them. The bulbs have had many babies, and a few more have shed scales. All these are gathered up and planted in boxes. They will make new lilies eventually, although I will have to bring them up in pots for several years. I have learnt not to put them in the ground to be destroyed by the lily beetles. These beetles are bright scarlet and easy to spot, but not so easy to catch. They will drop to the ground and burrow when they feel the slightest vibration – you have to creep up on them and grab suddenly! It looks quite funny to onlookers if they don’t know what you are doing. The beetles are most fond of the new shoots of the lilies, so it is a good idea to keep the pots and tubs of lilies in the greenhouse until they are of a reasonable size. Then you can bring them out and the beetles aren’t so interested.

We continue to harvest tomatoes and cucumbers, and the french beans are still going strong as well. The runner beans did not do so well and the beetroot are over. Of carrots there are a-plenty but we have never really found a successful way of keeping them for long, so this year we are going to try leaving them in the ground, and just covering them up against the frost.

It is time to sow winter lettuce, to move into the greenhouse as soon as the summer crops come out. Successional sowings of spinach can take place now, and if you are very keen to look clever, now is the time to put some potatoes into buckets or bags of compost in the greenhouse so that you can produce new potatoes for Christmas lunch.

The cabbages are ravaged by rape beetle and whitefly, but we have learnt not to despair – when it turns much colder, these pests will disappear and the cabbages will grow through. At least, so we hope. The leeks are well under way and we have started eating them, along with the butternut squashes of which we have many. They have performed better this year than they ever have before and I believe it is because they like the really hot weather.

At least we can eat freely of the cucumbers and other items which Mr O G had been hoarding in the wardrobe (cool and dark) ready to make up his entries for the horticultural society show at Cholesbury. Mr O G was very successful at the show – winning three silver cups, including the Society’s Open Challenge cup. He has been like a dog with two tails ever since. ‘Surely’ he says, gazing raptly at his trophies, ‘surely this vindicates organics’. I am inclined to agree with him.