The summer harvest

If you don’t like looking at loving close-up photos of vegetables, you should probably look away now, because that’s what this post is mostly going to be. It’s the middle of the summer harvest season, and all those little seedlings are coming good. We’re eating something from the garden with every meal. We’re by no means self-sufficient – I have clever, hard-working, patient friends who have allotments and they can get closer to that option – but at this time of year there’s always something to add to a meal for two.

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In fact, some of the harvest is already over. The cut-and-come-again lettuces gave us lots of lovely salads but bolted in the heatwave. And this is the last of the broad beans. They’ve turned up in noodles, quiches and as a tapa with ham and mint. They were spring-sown rather than autumn-sown, which I think is the best use of space for a small plot.

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Two revelations: sugar snap peas and radishes. The former have been delicious for several weeks and are still fruiting. We’ve been eating them in stir-fries, soups, raw in salads and with dips, and very briefly steamed as a side vegetable.

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The radishes seem to grow while you’re looking at them. I haven’t grown radishes since I was a child – radishes and lettuces were my very first garden experiments, as they probably were for most gardeners. Now I’m on my third sowing this year. They’ve also featured in stir-fries and lunchbox rice bowls as well as salads. But they’ve been best of all just dipped in salt. Childhood memories…

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Spring onions and parsley turn up in most meals. I learnt my lesson from the parsley glut last year and grew fewer plants this year. There’s still plenty to pick every day.

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I could grow more spring onions though. They’re touted as a quick-maturing plant that you can use as a catch crop, but mine always take months rather than weeks to mature. These were sown in February – a 5 month gestation period. I could grow a baby goat in that time. (Mmmm goat’s cheese and curry goat. I might try it…)

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Other things are not quite there yet. The French beans have produced a handful of pods but are yet to really get going, and the runners are just starting to flower. The flowers are so beautiful – almost as good as sweet peas but without the scent. Once these are really going, I’ll be harvesting every day, and most of them will go in the freezer.

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The sweetcorn is fruiting really well this year – each stem has at least one cob swelling. Even though they take up so much room for so long, and only produce one or two cobs per stem, sweetcorn’s still one of my favourite things to grow and eat. A fresh cob, taken straight off the plant and into a pot of boiling water, is an absolute revelation. None of the sugar has turned to starch. It’s like nothing you’ve ever eaten before. I just have to keep the pigeons and squirrels off them…

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Some real slow-burners are the globe artichokes I grew from seed this year. They might produce some heads this year, but the advice is to wait until they’re two years old before picking them. At the moment the plants are pretty but also pretty manageable. I was a bit taken aback to see them growing at Greys Court recently, taller than me. Hmmm.

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Two surprises to end: the tomato plants sown by my four-year-old granddaughter have turned out to be Garden Pearl, which grows as a bush not a cordon. No wonder they didn’t want to be trained up a cane. One plant has succumbed to the blight but the rest are healthy, covered in flowers and plenty of fruit already. So I have high hopes of a decent crop with this year’s good sunshine.

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Not so optimistic about the courgettes though. Three lots of sowing eventually produced two plants which are still pretty weedy despite us hurling water, Growmore and well-rotted manure at them. At the back of my mind every time I look at them is Husband’s well-documented hatred of courgettes. Could it be…? Surely not.

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So, having cleared away the bolted lettuces and spent broad beans, I’ve just started the next lot: salad leaves and radishes for catch crops, fennel, rocket, turnips and rainbow chard. More inter-cropping, and some for autumn and over-wintering. Eat your heart out, Monty Don…

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