In The Garden

TIPS on how to preserve — and use — your harvest of vegetables from your garden.

OK, so your trug is now buckling under the weight of your fattening courgettes, juicy tomatoes, plums, green beans, aubergines and peppers - and the chances are some of it will end up in the bin unless you’re feeding a bunch of hungry vegetarians every night.

However, don’t despair and don’t let your courgettes turn into marrows just because you don’t know what to do with them. A few recipe books may give you inspiration to make a job lot of ratatouille or other veggie delights which you can freeze and enjoy at a later date.

As part of its Grow Yourself Healthy campaign, BBC Gardeners’ World magazine is inviting people to reap the rewards of their labour during Harvest Week from September 12-18, with a list of suggestions on how to make the most of your crops on its website www.gardenersworld.com and in the September issue of the magazine.

Suggestions include hosting your own harvest party with the help of a range of party menus on the website, which feature mouth-watering recipes to show off your home-grown crops.

If you have an allotment, organise a swap shop where allotment holders can bring their excess produce to swap for some of your harvest.

However, if you are reluctant to part with the home-grown fruits of your labour, there are many ways to preserve it so you can be enjoying it well into the winter months.

Tomatoes can be frozen to use in sauces, casseroles and other cooked dishes. Immerse them in boiling water, peel off the skins, let them cool and then store them in batches in freezer bags. Just remember, they will be soft when they are defrosted, so won’t be suitable for salads.

Alternatively, make tomato chutneys using a mixture of vinegar, salt and sugar, with added spices. Apples, garlic and onions can also be used to add flavour to chutneys.

Many vegetables can easily be frozen, by preparing and blanching them first (plunging in boiling water for a couple of minutes and then cooling them in iced water for a few minutes so they don’t continue cooking), then transferring to freezer bags. Green beans, asparagus, sweetcorn, carrots, Brussels sprouts and courgettes can all be frozen in this way.

Virtually every fruit can be frozen, but be warned that when it is defrosted it’s likely to be soggy and sitting in juice. However, its flavour will not be impaired and such fruits are ideally used in sauces, compotes, pies and tarts.

You need to de-stone stone fruits before freezing, as the stone will give off an almond taint. Apples and plums can be sliced, tossed with lemon and sugar, then frozen.

Don’t store any apples ripening before the end of September, as few of these will keep for long. You’re better off turning them into puree, juice or dried apple rings. The best keeping varieties hang on the trees through October and are only gathered when hard frost hits them.

Prepare them for storage by placing them in a cool, airy place for a couple of days to sweat out any excess moisture. Put them out on a chilly evening without frost and then put them in storage first thing in the morning before they have warmed.

Lay the apples in trays on a bed of crumpled or shredded newspaper in a frost-free, cool, dark place, such as a garage or shed. Pears can be stored in a similar environment but should not be wrapped.

Other home produce requires dry storage, including potatoes, onions, garlic, pumpkins and winter cabbages. Potatoes should be left to dry off for several hours before storing in a wooden box in a dark, frost-free shed. They should keep until spring.

Parsnips, cabbages, cauliflowers, beets and other roots keep fresh in the ground if covered in loose straw and plastic before everything freezes solid. Alternatively they can be kept in a cellar, or a dead chest-freezer in a shed, where the temperature and humidity are constant, and if the vegetables are put in when cold, they will stay fresh for months, although you would need to perforate part of the lid seal to allow ventilation.

Onions, garlic and shallots keep easily for up to six months if they are well dried in a hot, airy place and then kept cool and dry, hanging in the roof of a dry shed or garage

There’s no reason you shouldn’t enjoy the fruits of your labour well into the winter months.

Best of the bunch - Ice plant (Sedum spectabile)

This is the ideal perennial to extend seasonal interest to your borders, offering pale green succulent foliage in spring and early summer, then producing a long-lasting show of flowers in varying shades of pink to deep red well into autumn.

It is called the ice plant because if you touch the leaves on a warm day, they will be cold. The flat-headed plates of tiny flowers are also a magnet to bees and butterflies, so attracting beneficial insects to the garden.

Sedums are extremely easy to grow and are tough plants, shrugging off droughts and pests which would damage more delicate perennials. They are happy in any well-drained soil in sun or partial shade.

Create autumn interest by planting them with asters or ornamental grasses. Good varieties include S. ‘Brilliant’, which bears deep pink flowers, or ‘Autumn Joy’, whose salmon pink flowers can go on to November.

Good enough to eat - Aubergine

This year I grew an aubergine plant in a pot on my warm, sunny patio and am just now starting to harvest the rich, deep-coloured vegetables which are delicious grilled and filled - I’m particularly partial to grilled aubergine strips with a topping of feta cheese, chilli and mint.

Anyway, I found them surprisingly easy to grow, provided they are planted out late or under protection, because they won’t survive without warmth.

When planting out in early June, add a general balanced fertiliser to the soil but avoid feeding too much with nitrogen in the early stages, or you’ll have lots of leaves and not much fruit. If you are growing aubergines in a pot, just use one plant per pot, using good quality compost and ensuring the pot is no smaller than 30cm (12in).

When the first flowers appear start liquid feeding with a tomato fertiliser more regularly. Harvest the fruits once they reach around 14cm long but before the surface gloss has disappeared. Good varieties include ‘Bambino’, ‘Moneymaker’ and ‘Long Purple’.

Three ways to... deter squirrels

1. Protect fruit by growing it under a fruit cage made of wire netting.

2. Cover tubs of bulbs and corms with wire netting to stop squirrels helping themselves. They will bite through plastic.

3. Fix a conical biscuit tin to the pole below your bird table to stop squirrels climbing up it. Add petroleum jelly or another grease to the pole to deter them further.

What to do this week

Plant evergreen shrubs while the soil is still warm to enable them to establish well.

Check over strawberries and remove any new runners that may be forming.

Plant out spring cabbages.

Dig up and store potatoes, carrots and beetroot.

Plant lily bulbs in beds and borders or large pots.

Sow winter lettuces in a vacant greenhouse border.

Plant new border perennials and water in well.

Prune deciduous autumn-flowering shrubs more than three years old as they finish flowering.

Boost autumn green crops with a light dressing of general fertiliser.

Lift, divide and re-set large clumps of Lilium regale.

Fix greasebands around the stems of apple and pear trees to prevent crawling insects reaching fruit-bearing branches. Place a second band higher up the trunk.