Early autumn arrival provokes panicked pickings

A warm summer means that there's lots to harvest in the garden, from humble spuds to hops and chillies

Weather-wise, it is fair to say this summer has been a pretty decent one for vegetable gardening. Here at Hyde Hall we have had hot sunny days all the way through June and July, with only parts of August being slightly more overcast. This has had the effect of bringing a lot of crops to fruition early and as a result The Vegetable Garden, sponsored by Witan Investment Trust, is beginning to empty out slightly sooner than usual.

Examining the hops prior to harvestingOne crop I have been particularly impressed with this year is the hops. Four ‘First Gold’ hops were planted this spring and 3 bines (stems) were trained up vertical wires to a height of 10ft. It is fairly common not to get a harvest in the first year as the plants concentrate on putting root downs but by early August the first signs of the flowers, or cones as they are known, were starting to appear.

With hops it is important to get the timing of picking just right as too soon and the glands that produce the oils and resin that flavour the beer will not have developed and a day or two late and they will be ruined. For me this meant picking last Monday and two hours later I came away 3.7kg of hops! Some of these have been taken by the Brentwood Brewing Company who are hoping to use them in one of their beers. The plan is to be serving a Hyde Hall beer at our Chilli Weekend on the 27th/28th September so fingers crossed and watch this space.

Potatoes 'Bonnie' and 'Highland Red'Elsewhere the potato crop is also ready for harvesting. I grow nearly all of our spuds in bags due to our limited ground space and over the years have experimented quite a lot to try and perfect the technique. This year I grew mostly Second Early and Maincrop varieties such as ‘Kestrel’, ‘Gemson’, ‘Highland Burgundy Red’ and ‘Blue Danube’.

I would normally expect the plants to be finishing in September but this year they were done and dusted by the end of August. One I have been particularly impressed with was ‘Bonnie’, a Second Early that produces tubers of baking size. We have a lot of trouble with scab affecting our spuds at Hyde Hall but this one has produced a cleaner crop than many of the others.

The pumpkin and gourd pergola at Hyde HallAs expected, the gourd pergola is coming into its own now and we have some fantastic ‘Snake’, ‘Russian Doll’ and ‘Crown of Thorns’ hanging around visitors' heads as they walk through.

The pumpkins have produced all the fruit they are going to now and the plants are slowly succumbing to powdery mildew as they age but this will not affect harvest and does have the added bonus of making the fruits more visible to our visitors!

One crop that is in its prime, rather than beginning to finish, is the patches of green manure I sowed a few weeks back. This mix of Phacelia, Trifolium incanautum (crimson clover), grazing rye and buckwheat is just beginning to flower, with the purple/pink flowers of the Phacelia being particularly attractive to the bees.

Green manure growing and flowering apaceOnce they have finished flowering they will be cut down and dug into the soil, improving the structure and nutrient content as they break down. Not all crops have to edible to be useful!


Useful links


Growing green manures

See a video from the RHS on using green manures in your garden

RHS advice - growing potatoes

Hyde Hall Chilli Weekend

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