Hartley Magazine

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Autumn sowing

Lia’s ‘Ronde de Valence’ aubergines are finally ripe

My greenhouse year started late this year and i am only just starting to celebrate the arrival of the aubergines, but what aubergines. They are fat, black and shiny, and their bottoms are good and wide. This is aubergine ‘Ronde de Valence’, though ours have so far come out more triangular than round. Those fruits that we have had have been beautiful to cook with and eat: lovely firm creamy flesh and very few seeds. The only problem is with our own lateness – we were rather hoping that our ridiculous summer would continue luxuriously on into a ridiculous Indian summer – it certainly felt like it was going to and was even predicted – but that doesn’t seem to have happened and the temperature has very much dropped now. Time is running out for ripening these exotic beauties. There are a few that are already a promising size and we will still get them to just about ripen, but after that we have to admit defeat, and get cracking a bit earlier next year.

And speaking of getting ahead…although this does not feel like a natural moment in the year for seed sowing, it is a good moment for getting some plants in ahead of spring. There are some plants that will really benefit from an autumn sowing, particularly if they have got the protection of a greenhouse over winter. I don’t sow anything over winter that needs any heat – there’s enough of that faff to be had in the spring. These have to be seeds that can be sown and almost forgotten about, apart from the odd trickle of water, and that means hardy seeds. Many of these would do pretty well sown straight into the ground out doors, but this can be a bit hit and miss, a bit dependable on the the vagaries of winter – a wet one in particular can do for young seedlings struggling their way through winter. Indoors and without any heating they can still have a bit of a tough time during the really cold weather, but at least you have some level of control, particularly over watering. I find it more successful that trying to get plants through on my damp clay allotment. First among these is the broad beans, which will produce in early summer if sown now. I tend to sow into individual pots rather than into modules, just because they have a long time to go before they are going to be out into some fresh soil. One seed of a winter variety such as Aquadulce Claudia or Super Aquadulce per pot of good multipurpose compost.

This is also a good moment to sow peas for early summer crops and I am sowing ‘Douce Provence’ which is a dwarf pea that i can transfer to the polytunnel as soon as the weather starts to warm, for extra early peas. The usual advice would be to sow into rootrainers – long thin modules that suit peas’ tendency to send down deep roots – but again I worry that they done contain enough comnpost to sustain them right through to spring and so it is bigger pots for me. But in the case of peas you can sow and grow them fairly check by jowl, so I fill a big pot with compost and sow all around the edges. These can either be teased out from the rootball on planting next spring, or all planted together. While Im at it its the perfect moment to sow some peas really thickly to pick as pea shoots. An excellent winter salad that will be ready within a few weeks, as long as the weather doesn’t turn too cold too soon.