Somehow I carved out time for my first foraging expedition of the season today, after a hot, busy & chaotic summer when it feels like I achieved absolutely nothing of any lasting importance. I took myself off to the drove roads and forest tracks up behind Badbury Rings, in what might or might not be the last of the summer warmth, to hunt for crab apples from the two big trees down the side of the wood. It’s early yet, but the apples in our garden are coming down thick & fast, and we’re perilously close to running out of chutney; remedial action was required! And there were some down already, possibly enough, and clearly plenty more to come. I was also keeping an eye out for sloes, elderberries, hazelnuts & blackberries, bearing in mind that we’re forecast heavy rain – not before time! – this weekend, which will probably cause ripe berries to rot off.
There’s an early-autumnal feel to the air, the cooler mornings re-inforced by the fact that many of the trees are already turning colour & shedding leaves. But apparently this is caused by the horrendously dry summer we’ve had; they’re ditching excess leaves early because they can’t pump sap up to them. And most of the passers-by who stopped to exchange pleasantries as I was berrying were keen to tell me, “Thin pickings this year!” or “Not worth bothering with, are they? They’re tiny!” I reassured them that though generally quite small, they’re full of flavour this year – not diluted & squishy as they sometimes are after a rainy summer. And a big sigh to the grandparents who tried to tempt their Harib0-clutching grandchildren to try the abundance of the hedgerows; the inevitable squawks of “Yuck, that’s horrible!” were sadly quite predictable!
There were not many sloes up there, but I do know where there are, and they won’t rot in the rain, so there will be sloe gin this Christmas. And there were so few elderberries I didn’t bother picking any, just left them for the birds. But I did get a respectable 2½ punnets of blackberries; half are in the freezer already but the other half will be cooked up with windfall apples & bottled, or water-bath canned, as we seem to be calling the process now.
Results at the allotment have been very sporadic; I lost two complete plantings of runner beans and squash plants before realising that the well-rotted horse manure I’d carefully dug into a nice trench for them was probably contaminated with a weedkiller. The poor little plants turned pale within a day or two of planting out, and seemed “blind” in that they just didn’t seem to know which way to go; no amount of gentle encouragement helped them to go up the poles. It was only when I noticed that their leaves were curling in & turning brown that I realised what had happened. But the third plantings, although late, are finally coming into full production now, and assorted plantings of French & pole beans have kept us going in the interim. Best of all, healthy runner bean shoots appeared in two places from last year’s roots, a foot away from the manured trench, which I’d left in last autumn to help build healthy soil. They are now producing lots of lovely beans, and the very late “Painted Ladies” I chucked into a spare bed in late July are flowering prolifically too. Just as many of my fellow-allotmenteers are ripping their beans out – “It’s September, they won’t do anything worthwhile now!” as my old allotment neighbour used to say. But I’ve usually been lucky enough to carry on picking decent beans until the end of October; we’re generally very mild down here.
We won’t mention corn-on-the-cob; there’s always going to be some disappointment. But I’ve been experimenting with growing some things at home, in 30-litre tree-buckets, and have to report great success with potatoes – mind you, they’re coming up all over the allotment anyway, far more than I actually planted! – courgettes, aubergines & even a cucumber.
And my chilli crop is magnificent, but that’s largely due to our local supermarket reducing plants on their sell-by date to 50p despite the fact that they’re laden with fruit just waiting to ripen up in my garden! 3 chillis in a plastic packet for 85p, or 15 on a slightly-wilted plant with plenty more flowers for 50p…? Don’t mind if I do! I’ll try to nurse the plants through the winter in the greenhouse, too, which I did manage to do with 3 of last years, which are also producing well now.
So despite the feeling that I’ve not managed to achieve anything worthwhile yet this year, and despite the awful, relentless economic bad news and the fact that our leaders have evidently abdicated all responsibility for us mere voters, never mind the fact they’ve completely lost any shreds of common sense they ever had & are far too busy squabbling amongst themselves to help the sick, the starving and the desperately broke, there are still some reasons to be cheerful…