As summer fades: gardening in September

by frankbeswick

Fall, is a paradoxical time, when gardens come to fruit, but they are also beginning to die

Here in Britain we call Fall Autumn, I do not know why, as the term Fall makes a pair with Spring, the one suggesting rising of life, the other its decline. Yet there is a rich mellowness in the garden at this period, and the sensations that accompany the weather differ from those of earlier months. The trees are rich in fruit and berries, and other plants are still working for their final fruition. Work is slower than it was in summer, and the weeds are not springing up with the urgency of earlier months. It is a time of reflection, quiet thought about how to adapt the ever changing reality of the garden, and peaceful work, often interrupted by soft rain.

The image above shows the flower bed and behind it the sweetcorn. Photo taken by Frank Beswick

Bedding down

September 1st  was rainy, and as is often the case in Britain I sat in the allotment pavilion waiting for the shower to cease, until along with another hardy soul I went home, only for the weather to dry up later on. What do you expect in North West England?  But all was not wasted, as I had done some work, laying down weed control fabric on some raised beds. Two days previously  I harvested them of potatoes, and was well satisfied with the size of the crop, a testimony to the amount of manure and compost that I had put into them. Having harvested the beds, I cleared them of the tiny weeds that have built up, and then excavated one of the compost heaps. I was quite pleased that my back held up, as turning compost a few weeks ago gave me sciatica, but don't be unduly solicitous for my well being, the doctor told me that it was not serious. Then I filled a barrow with the rich, dark soil enhancer and filled up the depleted beds. Today I covered two of them with weed control fabric. Then the rain came. 

The fruit at this time is coming piecemeal. The earliest fruiting apple tree  is rich in fruit, and I am harvesting the windfalls. These are ideally used for stewing and can be turned into crumbles and apple pies. The plum tree is rich with juicy fruit, and this year the troublesome fungus that attacks fruits is not as prevalent, but I am aware that it might yet strike, but plums can be gathered as they ripen. I took the ladder today to get at the higher fruits, but the rains interfered. Tomatoes have been a bit slow in Britain this year, as August has been cold, but they are slowly ripening. Yesterday I trimmed the excessive growth from the tomatoes to concentrate the plant's energies in the fruit, and I am still feeding them. But the first frosts will slay them. 

Some vegetables have finished, such as the strawberries, which I have dug up and composted. But the sweetcorn and the pumpkins have time to go yet, probably till late September or October; and the kale and cabbage will wait some time ere they are ready to pick. Some carrots have been picked, but the parsnips can be a long time a-growing and can go well into winter, which is why they are eaten at Christmas.  

There is a good plum crop this year
There is a good plum crop this year
Apples are rich and abundant
Apples are rich and abundant

Wind, Weather and Wildlife

Second September started clear and bright, so I went to the plot in the morning and worked on the raised beds, gardening in warm air under a blue sky fluffy with white cumulus, the sky of late Summer and early Autumn in England. As I did on the first of September,  I refilled the beds with compost and covered them with weed control fabric, but today I painted those that had been cleared. But the sky was turning darker and the rain came again, thankfully after the paint had had time to dry. As I said, rain is an ever present feature of North West English life, but generally the feel of September is special. You don't know whether to take coats and jumpers or not. If you wear a jumper you become too hot, but if you don't it can be occasionally chilly. Gone is the intense sun of the best days of July, and the air has a moist mellowness that hints that the year is in comfortable middle age. 

I enjoy the breeze.It is nature's caress.  As I have said in previous articles, I am thirty miles from the Irish Sea, and the moisture-laden winds from this turbulent expanse  travel over the South Lancashire Plain to reach me on my flat, exposed plot. At this time of the year they are gently warm and moist, ahead of their blustery successors that follow in October and the cold winds of the winter months. I enjoy them while they last. 

The wildlife is still evident and nothing yet hibernates. The butterflies still dance the last scenes in their brief tenancies of the Earth. The robin is not evident today, probably as no digging is going on, so there are no worms and grubs to be had. But there seems to be pond life. The large frog that enjoys the pond occasionally is seen when it emerges to forage, but I have also seen the occasional small frog, a  survivor of the tadpole host that frequent the pool in Spring. I hope that the frogs can benefit from the water lily that I planted. I stir the water to oxygenate it for the pond life, and a water boatman scurries away as I do so. I had not seen it, but its distinct style of motion, using surface tension to walk across the water makes it evident when it moves. 

The View through the Greenhouse

The view through the greenhouse
The view through the greenhouse

The Leisure Area

The Leisure Area
The Leisure Area

A Feline Visitor

A feline visitor
A feline visitor

Plans

I am already planning for next year and adjusting to changes in my life. This August I finally became a grandfather, a little girl called Sophie Isabel Alice. My son,Andrew, her father, is not on a good wage, few young people in this "advanced" country are, and the mother is on maternity leave, so as normal at this stage of life things are not financially easy for the couple. While Maureen is enjoying being a grandmother and helping with the baby, I am getting food from the allotment to give to the family. Boxes of potatoes and apples have already been given, along with onions and a large marrow, as every little helps the family budget. 

But with my own house and my son's to feed on vegetables, I am re-appraising my crops. Strawberries are delicious, but they are not a very productive crop, so there will be fewer of them next year and more staples like potatoes, onions, leeks and carrots, along with sweet corn and pumpkins. We have another son returning to England and getting married next August, keen to start a family soon after marrying, so there may be even greater pressures on the plot. 

Some adjustments in the orchard section are needed. The raspberries have been in the same spot for some time and can only stay so long, so they may have to be taken up. The last time I left some in situ for overlong they developed a virus, not the worst virus, but one  that prevents me planting raspberries in that spot for  several years. 

I am planning to erect another greenhouse, as the existing one has been a success. It is loaded with tomatoes and chillies, along with one young, fertile and quickly growing grapevine that has been extending its tendrils across the roof and is making me ponder how to peg it in place. In the first couple of years you get no fruit, and when the tomatoes fail in the frosts and I finally clear space in the greenhouse, I am going to have to do some work on the rapidly growing vine. The question is where to find the space for a new greenhouse. I am only allowed two permanent structures, those that are attached to a base, though temporary structures are not touched by this rule. I am steadily re-visioning the design of the plot. We already have a temporary structure to erect, but I am set on a permanent one as well

Andrew works three days a week, but twelve hour shifts, so he is able to reserve some time to help on the allotment on he remaining four days, and Constancia, his wife, is keen to come and help when the baby is a bit older. He is an experienced horticulturalist and she also had experience on her mother's allotment in Portugal, whence she came, so I am expecting some experienced help in the future. I regard an allotment as a family affair, for all to share work and produce, and this Autumn with Andrew back in Manchester and settled here, my vision of a family plot is coming to fruition.  

All photographs taken by Frank Beswick 

Updated: 09/05/2015, frankbeswick
 
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frankbeswick on 09/07/2015

Yes, Veronica, my raspberries have not been outstanding this year, but until you said this I thought that they were approaching the point at which I need to dig them out. I probably will dig out the raspberries and replace with a greenhouse. What will be useful is that the council is replacing the fencing with something more secure, so I can have a greenhouse near the back of the plot without the local children being able to throw stones at it, which happened to some greenhouses in the past, like the decrepit one that I pulled down just after I took up the plot. I didn't want glass falling on my head!

frankbeswick on 09/06/2015

Thanks. My son qualifies like any citizen, but he is also a trained and experienced tree nurseryman who has worked in the horticultural industry. When the allotment committee asked him to plant an orchard for us they were so impressed that they wanted to offer him a plot, but he chose to help me, and as the father of a young family he appreciates the freedom that working with a family member brings him, as there could be times when he cannot do the allotment plot. Waiting lists for allotment plots in Britain are long and it is hard to get a plot, so sharing mine is the best option. There is also the hope that when my time to give ground comes, which I hope will not be for years yet, he will want to take over my plot.

I am a senior official of the area allotment society, not just my own allotment, and there will be times when I want his support, as any time I go to the plot there might be committee business. Some time ago Andrew did some digging for me, and I observed that as he is thirty one years younger than I am, the rate at which he works is greater than I can maintain. Having a younger helper is useful.

blackspanielgallery on 09/06/2015

Congratulations on the grandchild. I am not familiar with English allotments but would your son also qualify for one, hence doubling the yield? I do sense a great pride and satisfaction that this allotment gives you, and such things are more valuable than gold. Enjoy your gardening and your expanding family.

frankbeswick on 09/05/2015

Thanks for this, Veronica.

Veronica on 09/05/2015

PS
Fall was the original Norse name for the season but when the Normans invaded they brought the French word "automne" and as the Monarchs of England were French for hundreds of years, the French word came into usage along with Fall.

The settlers took many old English words with them and Fall was one.

As I opt to use old spellings such as gaol, faery, fayre I tend to use the Old Norse " Fall " most of the time

frankbeswick on 09/05/2015

Quite an apt comment about thirty miles not being far when there is a storm, I had not really thought of it like that.

Veronica on 09/05/2015

Very interesting. My raspberries have been quite poor this year but my rhubarb and courgettes ( zucchini ) are excellent. The cucumbers were hopeless and the butternut squash have flowers on so hopefully I will get some squashes.

30 miles from the Irish sea is not much when there is a storm.

Fall is my favourite season of the year and I chose to be married in October, the scents, the colours, the food, the crops, the burning of the leaves. I love to make Squash soups to have with bread when Autumn starts.

Sophie has a beautiful name and she is blessed to have a grandpa who supplies the family with healthy food. You may end up with more grandchildren than any of your siblings ; that's what happens when you start grandparent-hood later. I hope she is as nice and as clever as you.

Mira on 09/05/2015

This was a touching piece. I imagine this allotment will give you all lots of healthy nourishment and great joy. Good to hear you're a grandpa! The baby has three beautiful names, two of which work nicely in Portuguese as well (Isabel and Alice).

Have a great autumn over there. The change of season is perceptible here as well, even as it continues to be very warm (32 degrees in the evening).

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