Summer is over, nearly everything has been harvested. It won't be long before the last potatoes will rejoin the darkness in the shelter. And what will happen to the soil? If we haven't been/aren't careful, over time it has/will become bare. So we must act to protect it, to nourish the micro-organisms, to make up for the loss of nutrients taken from past growth, to avoid leaching and soil impacts from the upcoming bad weather. How can we do this over the course of harvests?
Several possible interventions:
• The waste from current plants after possible crushing, e.g. beetroot leaves, leeks, chicory (but not the bits of roots as they grow back)… anything that does not show any sign of disease. Add a few dead leaves or other shreds, exactly as you would for composting: this is called ground compost, which will form the soil for the following season.
• In the same pattern of thought, cover your soil with a mixed bed of turf and dry leaves shredded with a lawnmower, shreddings of different sizes, washed and desalinated seaweed if available…
• Plant "green manure": this name is given to a plant grown to not leave the soil bare or invaded by weeds. These species (rye, phacelia, clover, mustard…) will not be harvested but reintegrated into the soil's surface in spring, after shredding, in order to improve its structure and enrich its humus.
You can then plant vegetables greedy on organic material: courgettes, potatoes, tomatoes… Leave the vegetation in place over winter. Even if it is killed by the cold or continues to grow, it will form a protective barrier for the soil.
Bare soil becomes impoverished, other soil gets richer. Mushroom filaments that sheathe roots, called mycorrhizae, risk disappearing in winter, even though they multiply by 20-25 times the surface in contact with roots and allow certain elements to be better absorbed and reinforce plant defence systems. In nature, mature plants are strewn across the soil, leaves fall and protect it all, slowly decomposing and fertilizing it. It is nature's cycle that we reproduce.
What can be sown at the end of summer?
Green manure helps with crop rotation. You should avoid growing consecutively plants of the same botanical family: near radishes, no cabbage, or turnip, or rocket… not even mustard, or rapeseed as it is part of the same family, the Brassicas. Fabaceae (clover, vetch, pea, bean…) store nitrogen from the air in their roots and pass it onto vegetables grown after them. They therefore precede plants greedy of nitrogen. Phacelia, buckwheat, spinach, rye, oat are important as the vegetables in their family are unusual.
From the end of August to mid-September, choose from: crimson clover, lucerne, bean, rye, phacelia, mustard, oat, according to your garden plan:… for next year!
Apart from the pepo species with its zucchini, pumpkins, patisson, patidous and the amusing spaghetti squash, there are still two other species that contain treasures: the species maxima and the species moschata. They are even considered to be the the best squashes.
The species maxima
This is the best of all. It is the floret of squash maxima and there are many varieties. The maxima are easy to cultivate in the moderate climate of the Centre and North of France. You can easily distinguish them from their cousins, the moschata species thanks to their leaves that are little lobed, almost round and especially thanks to their peduncle, big, round and thick and covered with fibrillations that give them a spongy appearance. These squashes exist in all sizes in all shapes and with varied colours.
Some of the most famous varieties:
The bright red pumpkin of Etampes
It is undoubtedly the best known due to the anteriority of its cultivation in the garden. In the last century and until the 60s or 70s, it was very often cultivated. It is true, that it is a magnificent squash, with its brilliant brick red colour and of good size. However, we nowadays know that its taste doesn't match its appearance. Very largely supplanted by other varieties that appeared about thirty years ago, its soft flesh is not very tasty and is generally used in soup with milk or cream.
The blue pumpkin from Hungary
As its name suggests this pumpkin comes from the East. It is one of the favourites of squash lovers. Round in shape, a little ribbed, it is light in colour with a nice blue-green and its flesh is thick, firm and orange. Its size is not excessive which is of a great advantage when you do not have a large family. It weighs about 3 kilos on average. It is not too demanding to cultivate, provided it is fed correctly at the beginning and with a scanty but regular watering. It is not often present on market stalls, where you find more well-known varieties. However, its seeds are not hard to find.
The black squash of Eysines
This one does not go unnoticed! Not by its size, but by its brownish skin covered with corky warts. These warts are very variable in number: sometimes scattered, sometimes covering the whole squash. When you see it, you can wonder if it is really edible. Go straight for it: it is delicious with a special taste, close to the nut, which makes excellent gratins and soups. If you have some left, keep it as a decoration: it will intrigue many of your visitors.
We do not need to present it anymore. It is part of these squashes that appeared twenty years ago and it quickly imposed itself by its taste between nut and like hazelnut, its reasonable size, its flesh being well suited to many preparations like for example: puree, gratin, soufflé, soup etc. Some people also eat it raw and grated. It only has one downside you have to be well equipped to cut its very hard bark. Of Japanese origin, there are many sub-varieties: Uchuki Kuri, Red Kuri (the best) French pumpkin, bigger and pear shaped, Blue Kuri etc. It is an important source of vitamins and trace elements, which can be enjoyed in the heart of winter.
Marina di Chioggia
Of dark green colour and blistered with large warts, this is a squash that doesn't look great. It requires space, at least 2 sqm, and can reach a respectable size: 5 to 6 kg. However, when it is found in a kitchen garden, it certainly indicates the presence of a gardener, expert in squashes. For it is without any doubt the best of the maxima species. Not particularly demanding neither on the field conditions nor on the climate conditions, it requires the manure of a mature compost to help it reach maturity in October. You can try to curb its expansion by cutting it, but then you will have larger squashes. It has a dark orange flesh, thick and sweet, and can be kept without any problem in a temperate room until February – March. If you have a very large specimen, you can cut the flesh into cubes and freeze it for later use.
Once the vegetables have been harvested, we organise ourselves to find out how to cook them. Our vegetable tops (leaves) often end up with compost or garbage, but do you really know that many tops can be cooked?
The tops of radishes, beetroots, broccoli, kohlrabi, fennel, turnips or carrots will bring originality to your dishes.
The tops are rich in vitamins and antioxidants, but be aware not all can be eaten. So we avoid that the tops of an eggplant, peppers and other tomatoes because the leaves of solanaceae are highly toxic.
In order to cook the tops we have first to sort them and to remove the yellowed or damaged leaves before washing them. The same is true for branches that are too big or too hard.
With the tops you can make delicious soups, purees or omelettes, gratins, quiches or you simply can enjoy the tops in salads.
Give free rein to your imagination.
Ingredients for 4 people:
• The tops of 2 bunches of radishes from the garden (but also works with other tops)
• 1 table spoon of olive oil
• 1 onion
• 1 clove of garlic
• 1 big potato
• 1 litre of water
• Salt of Guérande
• Optional: celery salt, cream
Sort the radish tops and put the most damaged ones on the compost; wash them in cold water and drain them.
Wash and peel the potato, the onion and the garlic clove. Slice garlic and onion, cut the potato into small cubes.
Put the oil to heat in a large saucepan. Fry the chopped onion and the garlic for a few minutes. Add the tops and let them fry on high fire for 5 minutes while stirring. Add the diced potato, stir and cover with water. Add salt without hesitation, because the tops are tasteless. Personally I love to add a little celery salt, but it is no obligation.
Cover and cook for 20 minutes. Mix everything and adjust the spice. For the great gourmets you will add a spoon of fresh cream before serving the dish.