What's in season: September
The approach of autumn sees the peak of our harvest. Historically, this time of year has been central to the UK's rural calendar, and many areas still celebrate with a traditional harvest festival.
September is probably the most abundant month in the vegetable garden. Summer crops, such as salads, tomatoes, courgettes, cucumbers and runner beans are still highly productive while autumn crops such as apples, pears, squash, leeks are nearly ready for harvesting.
Whether you grow your own or visit farm shops, greengrocers and markets, you’ll find a wealth of British crops for late summer salads or cosy autumnal feasts.
Vegetables to harvest or buy
- Courgettes and summer squash
- French beans
- Lettuce and other salad leaves
- Peppers and chilies
- Runner beans
- Shallots, onion and garlic
Fruit to harvest or buy
- Plums and damsons
- Apples and pears
This month we're talking about damsons
Damsons are small, dark purple fruits with a far more intense and acidic flavour than a plum. They get their name from Damascus where they are said to have been bred and eaten enthusiastically by ancient Romans. However, they are closely related to the bullace, a small tree that grows wild in Britain. There are many different varieties of this tree, including 'merryweather', which was raised in Nottingham during the early 20th century.
Their rich sharp flavour makes damsons excellent for jams and puddings and it is thought that their deep colour was once used to make purple dye. Some varieties including 'prune damson' are also suitable for drying to make prunes.
Damson trees are very easy to grow in most soils and will tolerate slightly windy sites and light shade. Like all plums they are best left unpruned but, if you must prune them, do it in spring or summer when wounds can heal quickly.
Harvesting in the garden
Using up tomatoes
Tomatoes need using up now as days shorten and light levels drop. If yours are still green at the end of the month, pick them and bring them indoors to ripen or use them for chutney.
A daily harvest
Many apple varieties are ready this month. To check if it’s time to pick yours, gently cup a fruit and push it upwards. If the apple stalk easily breaks away from the branch, they’re ready.
Roots and tubers
Beetroot, carrots and potatoes can be lifted and used as needed. If there are any still in the ground when the cold, wet weather arrives, they’re best lifted and stored in a cool, dry place. Parsnips can stay in the ground over winter.
Freezing for freshness
If you’re still harvesting courgettes now and are sick of them, they can be chopped, dropped into boiling water, strained and frozen for winter stews. Make a note to grow less next year!
Pumpkins and squash should be well formed by now but leave them to ripen as long as the weather is good. Put a piece of tile or glass underneath each fruit to keep the skin clean and dry.
A sowing of rocket or oriental salad leaves now in a pot, windowbox or bed should germinate quickly and give you small harvests through winter and a flush of leaves in spring, especially if positioned in a sheltered, sunny spot.