Making your crops last longer
With the winter months on the way, enjoy your produce for months to come by taking a few measures to make them go further.
Brassicas and Winter Leaves Many brassicas such as cabbages, broccoli and sprouts spend a long time in the ground and are a precious source of fresh produce over the winter. So after all the effort of nurturing them don’t let hungry birds feed on them instead of you. Cover them with a strong barrier of netting or net curtains. Tall brassicas also need stout stakes as the weight of the developing plants, snow and wind can cause the stems to snap, wasting a good crop. Overwintering salads
such as lettuce, corn salad and oriental leaves as well as chard and perpetual spinach can have their harvest prolonged by covering with a tunnel made of horticultural fleece to keep off the worst of the weather as well as birds. As the leaves grow so much slower in cold conditions harvest individual leaves from the outside of the plants and let the inner leaves grow on.
Three Crops from One Plant Brussel sprouts are a fantastic source of nutrition and one plant produces three different harvests at different stages. Once the main sprouts are picked, any sprouts which are left and starting to open
can still be picked and cooked; their main leaves can then be harvested and used like cabbage. When the weather warms up towards spring, eat the tender, delicious, new shoots and flower buds.
Herbs In the autumn freeze basil, mint, parsley and coriander leaves. Sage and
oregano can be cut and hung upside down in a warm place. When the leaves are dry take them off and store in air
tight containers. Dig up part of a mint
plant and put it in a pot – keep it on a sunny
windowsill to give you fresh mint leaves over the winter.
Carrots, swede, turnips, winter radishes and celeriac aren’t completely frost hardy and can all be lifted by November and stored in boxes layered with sand or very dry compost in a cool frost-free building – a garage is ideal. If you don’t have a cool frost-free building, leave them in the ground. Mulch the tops by covering with a few inches of soil, bracken, straw or old sweet corn stems. This will allow the air to circulate but will keep frost and snow from destroying the tops. Carrots are best lifted but if you don’t have the space cover them with plastic
cloches or a very thick layer of dry soil or a cloche. Carrots left in the ground are vulnerable to slug attacks so keep them as dry as possible. When you harvest your beans leave
the roots in the soil as this is the part of the plant which adds nitrogen to the soil. Potatoes need to come out of the
ground before a frost as this converts the starch into sugar, making them inedible. Once the potatoes are dug up, leave them in the sun for a few hours to dry and then store in paper bags or cardboard boxes in a dark, cool place. Check your potatoes regularly and if small sprouts start to develop rub them off them off the potato and use these first.
Freezing Blanch your vegetables by boiling them for a few minutes, then plunge them into ice cold water to cool them down as quickly as possible before freezing. This will help destroy harmful bacteria and preserve the nutritional value of the crop as well as the flavour and colour. There are a lot of crops suitable for
freezing such as potatoes, carrots, swede, pumpkin, beans and leeks. You can also freeze courgettes; try grating them then squeezing out excess liquid through a tea towel before freezing and then add to soups and stews towards the end of cooking. Perpetual spinach and chard can also be frozen then cooked for five minutes. Fruit also freezes well. Freeze it directly or stew it first.
See the Harvest website for courses, recipes and more on making the most of your crops.
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