No-Dig, by Darren Stephens

No-Dig, by Darren Stephens

September 2022

Smashing pumpkins and red hot chilli peppers

September was a beautiful month to spend in the garden. A time of golden light, long shadows and harvests...lots of harvests. It felt like the pinnacle of the year’s endeavour where I could reap the rewards of a summer of sowing and plant care. Tomatoes, peppers and lettuce were heading to the kitchen alongside kale and winter squash. After the rain finally decided to bless us and the drought now just a memory, many plants were trying to catch up for lost time. A bed of ‘Florence’ strawberries that were dormant through most of the dry spell produced fruit all September and is still in flower as I write. Sunflowers also burst into life spraying multiple stems topped with gold ringed flowers high above the garden, perfect for cut flowers, the teddy bear variety taking up most of the photos on my phone last month.

After a summer of protecting and nurturing, now is the time for the brassicas to shine. Beds of Brussel sprouts, cavolo nero, savoy cabbage and corridors of different kales create a tapestry of beautiful form and colour. I am delighted with how healthy they look, a fraction of last year's crops that were decimated by caterpillars. It's almost a shame to have to pick them, but the kitchens have just started to request them for new seasonal dish changes. I pick the larger outer kale leaves first leaving much of the top and centre to carry on photosynthesising and regrow to prolong the harvest as long as possible.

Overwinter crops such as spring onions, shallots and spring cabbages are in their final potions and have the unenviable job of sitting through all the weather our winter has to throw at them.

The types of jobs in the garden change from this point on; it's a great time to catch up on jobs that you just couldn't find time for in the summer months (of which there are plenty!). As things are being cleared from the garden, it is a good time to take mental notes about what you want to do next year and what did well whilst things are fresh in your mind. Just make sure to make a note of it..

I’m closing the polytunnel doors before I leave for the day now for the slightly less robust crops, I have inter-planted rocket and spinach underneath the tomato plants that are still ripening the last of their fruits. While dill, parsley and chervil seedlings are patiently waiting for the ‘Aji dulce’ peppers that are growing to ripen from green to a bright red. They are a small, pointed sweet pepper that loved the high heat of summer, producing a mass of fruit and weighing down many of its bush-like branches. Most of them are now at the halfway stage of turning red. Unfortunately, I think our summer is about a month too short for a proper harvest of red peppers even in a polytunnel, they are of course great to eat green. I am also growing Hungarian hot wax chillies which are a lovely large hot chilli pepper that looks the same as Aji dulce when red and is also in the same bed…this has created some issues when picking, fortunately there has been no mix up in the kitchen yet!

The chief vegetable of October is of course the pumpkin or winter squash. I grew three types of winter squash, masquee de Provence growing the biggest. A traditional variety from southern France, these gorgeous squash are shaped like a big wheel of cheese heavily lobed and ribbed. The skin is a mottled rich brown and dusty green when ripe. Squash are ready to harvest when all the leaves have died back and the stalk is shrivelled. Leave them to cure in the sun (ideally in a dry spot) for as long as possible.

These are not the same as our pumpkins which have softer skin and are more watery with less flavour; ideal for carving. Our pumpkin patch did suffer in the drought but we still have plenty of different shape size and colours.  I’m looking forward to guiding families through the garden to pick up a pumpkin ready for Halloween; watch this space for info on when the picking commences.


Until next time…

Darren Stephens

Chef-Gardener, Homewood


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