Summer! Where has it gone? Did we even have one? Oh hang on, was it that one baking hot week in July? Well, to be fair, it hasn’t been too bad this far, August is shaping up quite nicely. Perfect for the summer holidays.
The British summers are so unpredictable these days, you never know what the weather is going to do. The big question first thing in the morning during mid-summer: what do I put on each morning? Do I drag out my shorts with glee and a shudder of excitement? Do I need to hunt in the bathroom cupboard to find the sun screen lurking in the darkest corner hoping to see the light of day? Or will it be *sigh* a jeans and jumper day?
The seasons are not what they were. Nothing seems gradual anymore. Springs, which are enormously anticipated after a long cold,wet winter, seem to be short-lived. They can be wet and cool with the odd really hot spell of a day or two, then its back to cooler weather. Summers are lets face it, are four seasons in one day. And the winters are long, extremely wet and mild. No wonder gardens and allotments get confused. Although, I do love the autumn: changing of the colours, the slow, golden, slanting light streaming through the trees and countryside giving us that fleeting feeling that summer is coming to an end and the farmers and allotment holders getting in their seasons harvest. I do ask myself, I wonder if the seasons are changing, are they getting later?
Yeah we’ve had another year of topsy turvy weather. We had lots of rain early in the season – which filled up my water butts nicely – followed by three or four days of glorious warm and in some cases baking hot sunshine then followed by down pours, thunderstorms and a few more days of it being overcast with showers (and topped up my butts again after being drained from the recent heat wave) and feeling slightly cooler.
He, he don’t we love talking about the weather 😉
But with all of his changeable weather my crops at the allotment have grown like crazy along with the weeds after a very slow start. Mind you I didn’t start sowing to May as no point sowing any earlier as seeds just don’t germinate they end up rotting away or end up as the local nightlife’s meal. Slugs and snails have been loving the warm and wet too. After feasting overnight, they leave slime trails all over everything and munch their way through my young seedlings and flowers which are already struggling through the elements.
With the weather looking like it is a bit more settled and the vege and fruit are coming along nicely and starting to put on some good growth and the allotment is looking great, we go on our annual holiday up to Scotland for two weeks. Not really the best time to go… Upon my eager return to my allotment, I am always greeted by an unruly, overgrown jungle of couch grass and horsetail and other weeds along with giant marrows which are courgettes in disguise, humongous beetroot, bolted lettuce and spinach.
However, this year, I was plesantly surprised! It looks as though it had been fairly dry – my water butts were still empty and I didn’t come back to a jungle. I didn’t have to spend hours hacking my way through the weeds, troding on the slugs and snails hiding the coolness of the damp over growth. Not to many marrows or football sized beetroots either. My seedlings that started to germinate before leaving were still alive albeit not growing all that quickly, they were desperate for a good drink. The flowers – sweet peas, rudbeckias, cosmos, marigolds and calendula were looking spectacular. It was all good. It meant I could enjoy growing rather than firefighting the weeds! The drier weather does have its perks in the growing season.
August and September is the time of the year most of us allotment holders have an abundance of fruit and veg. Pumpkins and butternut squash are swelling nicely, cobs on the sweetcorn are forming, late sowings of beetroot, runner beans and courgettes still growing strongly. Sometimes we wonder what to do with our gluts apart from making jams and jellies, chutneys, soups and freezing. This year I am going to give making vinegars and pickles a go. I have found a couple of recipes: a fruit vinegar and a pickle, below, which I will give a go this year. I came across these receipes in my latest Gardeners’ World.
Sweet Strawberry and Basil Vinegar
12 large, fresh basil leaves
600ml Cider Vinegar
350g granulated sugar
- Hull the strawberries and wash them in cold water, drain and allow to dry on some paper towels, then add to a large container with a lid. Tear the basil leaves over the strawberries.
- Pour over the cider vinegar making sure that the strawberries are completely covered. Allow to steep for 7-10 days, covered in the fridge turning the fruit each day until the juices are drawn out.
- Strain the mixture through muslin sitting in a sieve or a jelly bag, reserving the liquid. Add the liquid to a saucepan with the sugar and bring to the boil. Boil for 5-6 minutes stiring the sugar until dissolved. If any froth appears, remove it with a slotted spoon.
- Using a funnel, transfer to steralised bottles with a rubber seal.
The vinegar will keep for up to six months in a cool place or the fridge. Keep out of direct sunlight to prevent the rich red colour from fading.
Goes well with game dishes, salads as a dressing, summer cocktails and poured over pancakes or pavlova!
1 large fresh and crisp cucumber (to withstand the pickling process)
3 tablespoons of sea salt for sprinkling
300ml white wine vinegar (I use Aspalls)
2 teaspoons pickling sauce
1/4 teaspoon tumeric
1 red onion, peeled and sliced
- Wash the cucumber well, then cut into thin slices. Layer the cucumber in a colander and sprinkle with the sea salt. Allow to stand for 2-2.5 hours or until the cucumber no long releases any juices.
- Place the vinegar, sugar and spices in heavy based saucepan and bring to the boil Add the sliced red onion and a handful of chopped dill. Simmer for 3-4 minutes.
- Squeeze the salted cucumber slices gently and then drain and rinse under plenty of cold running water. Keep turning them over with your hands to make sure the cucumber at the bottom of the sieve is rinsed as well.
- Pack the cucumber into preserving jars. Pour the vinegar over the cucumbers making sure you get plenty of the spices (might not need all of the vinegar). Fill to the brim with liquid, then seal tightly. Place in the fridge and allow to mature for about four weeks before opening. Unopened they will keep for 3-4 months. Once opened the cucumber will keep for three months providing it is covered with the pickling liquid.
Serve with smoked fish, potato salad or roast pork.
Recipes Courtesey of Gardeners’ Word