Tuesday, 18 October 2016

October round-up

Squashes of all colours unite
October is the month of pumpkins and squashes. They've occupied just about every windowsill in the house. Squashes can last a long time if harvested ripe and undamaged and then cured (stored at room temperature) for at least a couple of weeks. The curing also makes them sweeter. But, of course, some squashes don't ripen in time and need to be eaten quickly, like courgettes, and others rot or get nibbled by the wildlife.

Hen pheasant in the front garden
The wildlife has been busy in the garden this month, judging by the pile of badger scat and the chomped-off raspberry bushes and roe deer scat. But most of all we've had pheasants. The shooting season has just started for them and both our farmer next door and the nearby estate breed pheasants for the hunt. Gangs of them can be seen roaming the farm track and our front garden, middle and bottom paddocks have been thoroughly checked out. We've already bartered pumpkins for pheasant thighs.

Shaggy Ink Cap fritters
We've also added wild mushrooms to our diet. Ever since going on an excellent mushroom foraging walk in late August and investing in a few good field guides, we've been on the lookout for mushrooms. Unfortunately, we haven't had as much time for mushroom hunts this autumn as we'd hoped, but we still managed several good meals. My favourite so far has been Shaggy Ink Cap fritters. Next autumn we'll know at least one good spot nearby already and we've got lots more woodland to explore.

The survivor
This month, the chicken flock has reached its target size: one cockerel (Feathers) and six hens. We figure six hens is a good flock size for two people. There is always at least one hen not laying (moulting, too old to lay every day, having a winter slowdown etc.) and excess eggs aren't difficult to get rid of. Feathers ended up as the new 'leader' since he seems a quiet chap with little interest in crowing or fighting (at least so far) and has been spotted breaking up fights and stepping up to defend the hens from the cats (though Domino just wants to play).

Blueberry bushes turning
We haven't got much by way of autumn colour in the garden. Most of the leaves are falling in the gales before they're changing colour, but the blueberry bushes are putting on a fine display. The other burst of colour in the garden are large glossy rosehips - it's a bumper year for them.

Big hips

Jerusalem artichokes in flower

The ocas have been earthed up and the first Jerusalem artichokes, parsnips and swedes have been harvested. Plenty of spent plants are bulking up the compost heap: sweetcorn, courgettes, squashes. Only ten tomato plants are left and the flow of tomatoes has slowed to a trickle. The baby sweetcorn actually gave us a decent crop so sweetcorn production is being continued. Next year we'll try a few in the polytunnel.

Baby corn 'Snowbaby'
Other than harvesting, it's mainly a case of clearing up at this time of year. A bit of cutting back here and there, the last mow of the season, composting annual plants that are finished. The main planting job is the big garlic sowing at the end of October. This year, we'll use our own seed garlic since we have enough to do so and the variety did really well.

This is the month when we've had the most visitors: every weekend booked and the half-term week. There are still plenty of fine sunny autumn days and on the foul days we can follow the cats' lead.

Poppy and Domino having a snooze day

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