Storing it all up
Right, so you've grown the veg, you've harvested it, but now how are you going to store it? If you've a wee little plot like Chris's balcony, the answer is probably "in your stomach", but some of you, I'm sure, are wondering what to do with your mounds of tomatoes, squashes and beetroot.
I love storing veg. Seeing it all mounting up gives me a feeling of warm well-being - probably because the caveman bit of my brain thinks "Ug! Will survive hard winter with big pile food!" Whatever the reason, I find it really enjoyable and will happily potter around boiling, plaiting and preserving things for hours.
So, what can you do with the Dig In veg?
With lettuce - nothing. But there's a good few recipes, techniques and tricks you can use for the others.
Squash will keep easily until midwinter, and maybe beyond, stored in a cool place so that air circulates all round them. Try hanging them up in nets - torn fishnets tights will do nicely - or laying them on a bed of those polystyrene packing squiggles. You can freeze them, but it's generally believed cooking them by roasting or boiling first is a good idea. Try making a big batch of Butternut Squash soup and freezing the leftovers. If there are any.
You can actually leave carrots in the ground all winter, digging them up as needed. The only problem is that they can be a bit hard to dig up if it's very frosty, so if you have got a carrot crop Bugs Bunny would be proud of, you could try a traditional storage method. Pull up your carrots in late October, give them a brushing off (don't get them wet) and snip off the tops about 1 cm from the root, then pack in a box filled with slightly damp sand. As long as they don't touch each other, you can put several layers in the box. (There's a good picture at Simon's Allotment blog). Put the box in a cool dry place - it needs to be somewhere that the temperature is steady or they'll start resprouting - and they should last three months or so. I was looking forward to doing this, but I'm afraid my carrots would only fill a matchbox.
Beetroot can stand through the winter - I've harvested it in April while working on an organic farm, but the usual advice is to get your beets up by October to stop 'em going woody. Once they're up, pickling is the traditional way of keeping them. If, like me, you can't stand it, all pink and flabby and vinegary like that, you can store fresh ones in boxes just the same as carrots. Make sure you twist rather than cut off leaves otherwise they'll leak pink juice.
You can just about get away with freezing tomatoes uncooked, if you just plunge them in boiling water for a second or so to loosen the skins beforehand, peeling, then packing into bags or boxes. But once you've done that you can only use them to cook with, so I don't see why you wouldn't go the whole way and just make sauces to freeze or even bottle (confusingly, that's what it's called when you preserve something in a jar). Passata is a particularly good choice for this - it'll look great in jars and speed up your spag bol-making no end. Or, how about this recipe for Tomato and Chilli Jam? My allotment neighbour has been raving about it, so I gave it a go. Verdict: highly recommended!
Anyone got any other storage tips or recipes? Put them in a comment!
Next week will be my last Dig In blog - so if there's any subject anyone would like me to post about, let me know in a comment and I'll do my best!