Where I am, in lovely summery days, gardeners are starting to prepare for winter. For me, winter is not a welcome thought but deep in my bones there is an urge to save some summer to enjoy in winter. So this week I have two garden jobs that make the most of summer days and prepare for winter.
Collect and store the flavour of herbs for winter meals
There are different techniques for this. For each one, the day before has been warm and sunny, the herbs have flowered, and, when the leaves are dry, three or four clean and healthy stems covered in leaves are cut off. Next, rinse the stems in cold water to remove insects or soil, and shake the water off.
Either: air dry. Tie and hang the stems in bunches in a warm, dark and dry place until they are dry (at least a week), or hang them inside paper bags in the sunshine (bring them indoors in damp weather and at night).
Or: oven dry. Spread the herbs on a wire tray over a baking tray in a cool (barely warm) oven for an hour or so.
Or: microwave dry. Spread the herbs on two sheets of kitchen towel, with another sheet over them, and microwave on high for no more than a minute. Move them around and microwave for another minute, and so on (you shouldn’t need more than five minutes) until they are dry.
Once dry, remove the stems and any twiggy bits and crumble the leaves into sealed and labelled jars. Each time you need a herb, open up and enjoy the aroma and flavour.
Or: freeze. Finely chop the leaves and pack them into ice cube trays. Top up each cube with clean water and freeze. Once frozen, empty the cubes into labelled bags. Each time you need some herbs, pull out a cube.
Or: flavour oils. Put a clean dry stem of your chosen herb in a bottle of oil, seal and store in a cool dark place for a month or more.
TOP TIP: flavoured oils in pretty bottles make a lovely Christmas gift. (We gardeners always plan ahead!).
Prune summer fruits to encourage a good crop next year
My Dad did this, but some gardening books don’t talk about it. I do! Summer pruning helps keep a bush or tree in ‘shape’ and encourages fruit buds. Here is what I am pruning this week.
Summer fruiting raspberries: with sharp secateurs, remove the stems (called canes) that have carried fruit this year. Cut them about 2.5cm (1 inch) above the level of the soil. Don’t put the canes in your garden compost bin as they might carry disease: burn, or bin them in your green bin. As ever, the RHS provides great advice to help you.
TOP TIP: don’t prune autumn fruiting raspberries – sounds obvious but just check you are cutting canes that have fruited. They look dry and brown, and will have remnants of fruit cases on them.
Gooseberries and redcurrants: cut about 1/3 off each side shoot and cut off any shoots growing from the very bottom of the central stem of the bush.
Blackcurrants: cut two or three of the older stems close to the ground.
Compact and trained apple trees: we mentioned this in an earier blog, so this is a reminder and encouragement. Remove any vigorous shoots that are growing straight up. Reduce the length of any long (more than 20cm or 8 inches) straight shoots that grew over the summer. And prune shoots from the sides of the tree (‘lateral’ shoots) like this:
– cut back new shoots growing from the main body of the tree to the third leaf from the base of their stem
– cut back new shoots growing from side shoots on the tree to one leaf from where they join the side shoot.
In damp areas it is good practice to treat pruning cuts on apple trees with a fungicide (such as MEDO) to prevent apple canker which can seriously damage or kill a young tree.
And after those jobs – enjoy the summer!