Sweet chard of mine
AREAL drop in temperatures brings out the best of autumn colours. Rich reds, tawny browns, umbers and ochres, lemony yellows and deep greens; you could work your way through a whole paintbox.
Against a blue sky, it's a beautiful sight for eyes that used to too much grey this summer.
Some people travel to New England to see that range of colours but if you grow rainbow chard, by October you'll have them all in your vegetable patch. From Barbie pink to racing green, there's scarcely a colour missing. But I think my favourite is still the deep glossy green Swiss chard, with its creamy white stems that look like a massive river delta, seen from above.
Chard isn't just a beauty, it is a wonderfully productive crop that is hardy too. Where spinach can suffer from bolting, and slug attack, chard is a lot more robust.
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This is very noticeable in cooking; where spinach cooks down to a small fraction of itself, chard keeps more of its volume. The stems are also tasty and good to use in cooking.
Since the baby leaves are also very pretty, and tender enough to grace the salad bowl, chard more than proves its worth as an all rounder.
Like everything else in the garden at the moment, a little tidying is necessary to remove the leaves that straggle, before they rot and become real slug fodder. A good tidy round is an excellent way to stop slugs and snails finding yet more to feast on from your vegetable plot.
It's also timely, as the first frosts can't be too far away. If you live outside the city, I'm guessing you may already have seen the first nip, which can quickly turn many plants to mush. I keep looking at my winter squash plants, and the nasturtiums, and the last of the courgettes, which have been covered with a cloche to keep them going a little bit longer.
In many ways these are the three stars of the garden this year; if anything was prolific, in the later part of the summer, they were, and I haven't the heart to remove them just yet. So, I'll wait until the frost gets them before clearing them away to the compost heap.
Speaking of which, October is just the time to be emptying out those compost systems, and getting the well rotted stuff spread onto your growing beds. It's not the easiest, or most pleasant of jobs, I admit, but that well rotted stuff is magic.
It's about the best free gift your garden could ever receive. As well as acting like a blanket through winter, a mulch of what was once clippings, peelings, leftovers and teabags, is a boost of rich nutrients, bulk and complex microorganisms that is just what every soil needs.
Emptying the system now will turn over what's left, and leave room for all those autumn clearances to fit in and begin to compost down before winter arrives.