The warm summer has been perfect for growing both summer (marrows, courgettes and patty pans) and winter squash (pumpkins and butternuts). Given plenty of well-rotted organic matter under their roots and water during dry spells, a good crop has been almost guaranteed. Now, the harvesting, curing and storing of winter squash requires almost as much attention as growing them.
• Fruits sat on tiles or boards to hold them off the ground have turned colour on the withered vines and are cut just ahead of the first frost. Leave a long stem attached to help prevent rotting but lift by the fruit, not the stem.
• Set fruits in a sunny, sheltered spot for a couple of weeks to further cure or harden their skins. Cover or bring in if frost is a threat. If wet and gloomy, place in a warm kitchen for a couple of weeks.
• Knock skin with knuckles and a hollow sound means fruits are ready to store in cool, airy conditions at 7-10 C (45-50 F).
• Most keep for six months. In storage, flesh sweetens as starch is converted to sugar, a natural process to help fruits withstand frost. Butternuts are best stored for at least a month before eating.
• Don’t miss out on nutritious seeds. Those of butternuts and many others are delicious when roasted until crisp in a little seasoned soil.
• Plan next year’s squash crop and order seeds. Last season we grew delicious silvery-skinned ‘Crown Prince’, butternuts, the fabulous orangered Cinderella stage-coach shaped ‘Rouge Vif d’Etampes’ and for the first time, ridged French heirloom ‘Muscade de Provence’ plus ‘Wicked’ for lanterns.
Anyone looking for a climber or wall plant to grow against a sheltered south or west facing wall would do well to consider a couple of pear varieties trained as summer pruned cordons (straight stems) or espaliers (a tiered look). Their woody structure is soon lit by early blossom, foliage and then fruit. Although some pears are self-fertile, you’ll enjoy a better set where two compatible sorts are grown together. Choose perhaps ‘Doyenne du Comice’ and ‘Beth’ on the rootstock Quince A.
Pears don’t ripen to a good eating consistency on the tree and are picked before fully ripe. Look up their harvesting time and wait until they come away, stalk attached, without a struggle. Handle gently and place in the fridge or a cool airy place for further ripening. Bring them in to the fruit bowl a few at a time and they’ll soften quickly indoors. When a whole batch begins to soften in store, make as many pear tarts and Poire belle Hélène as you can eat and pickle the rest before they rot.