A note on the harvest season from our Head Gardener Jez Taylor
As we transition from summer into autumn, the gentle drop in temperatures and ripening of seasonal crops brings in our harvest season. This is the period when the main crops in our Market Garden are harvested and put into store to last throughout the winter.
In the business of seasonal produce, it is inevitable that our crops and farming activities vary from year to year depending on the flux in temperatures. In previous years, we would lift frost-sensitive crops like celeriac, beetroot and red cabbage and store them in an outdoor clamp built in mid-November. However, with the recent milder winters, we tend to simply cover the crops in a horticultural fleece which protects them from frost during its worst period, usually from mid-January.
Typically, the sequence of crops in the harvest season has always been onions, shallots, potatoes and squash, although every harvest is different. This year I have coordinated a varietal selection which is based on the success of last year. I chose seasonal classics as well as making a few new introductions, as experimenting with the wide range of heritage varieties available is something Lady Bamford is really passionate about.
We grow several varieties of onions; the more common yellow Sturon, red Hytech and Robelja, the Long Red Florence which is a banana-come-shallot style onion with lots of character, and the Giant Stuttgart which is a flattened globe-shape yellow variety, bursting with flavour and the demeanor of a ‘show onion’.
Maincrop potatoes can be vulnerable to blight if there are significant wet periods in August, therefore we grow the Alloutette, a blight-resistant type which has a greater chance of withstanding it. Given last year’s dry summer I have been tempted to use the Ratte, a treasured maincrop salad variety; beautiful, nutty, waxy and firm, it goes perfectly in salads or stews. Growing these blight-resistant potatoes in our windy chicken fields should help reduce humidity and the blight risk.
We start selling squash in mid-September when we harvest the Red Kuir, or Potimarron, types. Altogether, we grow 20 varieties in all shapes and sizes, and my favourites over recent years have been the Acorn squash, the green skinned Tuffy and the white skinned Cream of the Crop. Not only do they look great together in a fruit bowl, but their multiple uses makes them a truly versatile vegetable. They can be roasted, used in curries or diced into seasonal stews for those first cooler evenings, and have a satisfying carby, sweet potato flavour which stands miles apart from the watery pumpkin types.
Other delicious varieties to try at this time of year include the new winter radish Red Meat which is green skinned with red flesh, and the Red Bull Brussel sprout, or the similar Flower Sprout or Kalette. All are planted at the end of May and reach the succulent harvest-ready stage as we transition into autumn.
The harvest in our Market Garden offers an abundance of colours and flavours, easing us into the cooler temperatures with comforting varieties that warm us from the inside out. Visit any of our farmshops or join us at the Farm to handpick your own selection for home.
My parting tip for the season is don’t forget to pick the apples before they are blown off the trees – or at least make cider with those that have already dropped.