Jonathan: Warm, Sunny, September! Today, we’ve been amongst the rows and roses, harvesting spuds and hips.
The unseasonal Severe Gale over this past weekend has left the haulms of our potatoes battered, broken and blackened, but the crop beneath was already suffering distress after a cold dry spring and a warm and damp summer. The sunshine and lack of rain from late March to early July was much appreciated by our self-catering guests (not least Jacalyn and Mary over from California!), but the sandy soil of the walled garden dried out to too great a depth for the potatoes to thrive, and at least half of the seed potatoes simply withered in the ground. Long gaps in the rows of potato haulms gave us early warning that we won’t have enough potatoes to last us even through the winter, let alone to next spring.
Then, in early July, Mother Nature abruptly flipped the weather-mode switch to Cloudy Warm and Wet – perfect conditions for potato blight! So, even before the storm this past weekend, we were already reconciled to the prospect of having to buy potatoes from the Co-Op! To save ourselves from that humiliation as long as possible, and taking advantage of the warm sunshine forecast for all of today, we set about digging up all the main crop potatoes – Charlotte and Sarpo Mira, spreading them out on the warm paving at the south-facing front of the house. This evening, before the dew starts to settle, we’ll transfer them to the storage boxes: that’ll not take long – I doubt we’ll need more than three of the seven boxes we filled last year!
Whilst I’m not for a moment suggesting that plentitude of rose hips can in any way compensate in any practical way for a deficiency of potatoes, there is at least a certain pleasing symmetry in the reverse of fortunes between the two. Last year there were so few hips (and even they were small and hard) that we didn’t bother picking any – we simply left them for the wild birds. This year, the dry spring encouraged an early and abundant display of flowers – and it was just as the first fruits from these flowers started to appear that the weather turned warmer and wetter – resulting in the plants bowing down with the weight of big juicy hips. The sunshine and showers of late summer and early September prompted a second flourish of colour and scent – and a final flush of the glorious red rosehips! What will we use them for? Perhaps a few bottles of syrup, but mostly for Rosehip Jelly, one of our great favourites! The syrup is clear, sweet and simple; but the jelly is made cloudy, with a flavour as rich and complex as a single-malt whisky – a perfect companion with hogget lamb, goose, turkey – or a really good mature English cheese. But first we’ve got to get the hips picked – before the birds peck away all the best of them!