Harvest Time!

Young woman peeling back husks from harvested Sweetcorn - © GAP Photos

Young woman peeling back husks from harvested Sweetcorn – © GAP Photos

Sweetcorn is delicious eaten straight from the cob, and the fresher the cob, the sweeter the taste. So, if you have the room, it is a worthwhile candidate in a vegetable garden. Late summer to early autumn is prime harvest time for sweetcorn.

If you have not harvested fresh sweetcorn before, it may be a little confusing at first. With the cobs wrapped up and hidden from view in their papery husks, the tall statuesque plants, with their arching leaves and upright tassels can look a bit spindly and alien. Here are a few tips for harvesting sweetcorn.

1. Know when to harvest

Woman harvesting Sweetcorn 'Minipop' F1 Hybrid - Zea mays var. rugosa - © GAP Photos

Woman harvesting Sweetcorn ‘Minipop’ F1 Hybrid – Zea mays var. rugosa – © GAP Photos

When a cob is ready to be harvested, the silk at the top of the husks will have dried and turned brown. You should also be able to feel the full bulk of the cob inside the husk.
2. To be extra sure the cob is ripe, pull back the leaves a little way to expose the kernels below.

Testing sweetcorn for ripeness by piercing kernel with fingernail - © GAP Photos/Sarah Cuttle

Testing sweetcorn for ripeness by piercing kernel with fingernail – © GAP Photos/Sarah Cuttle

If you pierce the kernels with a fingernail, is the sap that comes off it milky or watery? If it is milky, the cob is ripe and ready for harvest. If it is watery, the cob needs some more time, so just wrap the cob back up and leave it for a few more days before you harvest.

2. Removing the cob from the plant

Woman harvesting Sweetcorn 'Minipop' F1 Hybrid - Zea mays var. rugosa - GAP Photos

Woman harvesting Sweetcorn ‘Minipop’ F1 Hybrid – Zea mays var. rugosa – GAP Photos

If the cob is ripe and ready, remove it from the plant by pulling the cob down towards the ground and away from the stem. The cob should break off at the base. Try to do this firmly and gently so you don’t damage the stem as you may have other corn cobs still ripening on the same plant.

3. Get cooking!

Peeling back husk of Sweetcorn 'Minipop' F1 Hybrid - Zea mays var. rugosa, revealing rows of kernels - © GAP Photos

Peeling back husk of Sweetcorn ‘Minipop’ F1 Hybrid – Zea mays var. rugosa, revealing rows of kernels – © GAP Photos

The sooner the sweetcorn is eaten after harvesting, the sweeter it will be. If you are growing sweetcorn in your garden rather than an allotment, then harvest them as soon as you are ready to eat them. In fact, if possible, get the water bubbling as you rip away the leaves so they can be popped straight in!

Bon Appétit

5 Plants to Deadhead During the Summer Months for More Blooms

Deadheaded dahlias in a wooden trug - © GAP Photos/Jason Ingram

Deadheaded dahlias in a wooden trug – © GAP Photos/Jason Ingram

The summer seems to be flying by, and with all the flowers, fruits and vegetables arriving in abundance, it can be tempting to simply harvest the crops, smell the flowers, sit back and take it all in. However, with just a little continued pruning and deadheading, you can keep the blooms coming, as so many summer-flowering shrubs and perennials will keep flowering up until the first frosts. Here are five flowering plants that are worth deadheading and cutting back over the summer for later blooms in the early autumn.

Dahlia

Woman deadheading dahlias - © GAP Photos/Robert Mabic

Woman deadheading dahlias – © GAP Photos/Robert Mabic

Dahlias are the quintessential autumnal plant – with many flowering well into September and even October, as long as the first frosts keep away. It is very important to deadhead dahlias regularly, as they will continue to produce many flowers from summer to autumn, as long as this method is kept up. Deadheading stops the plant from putting unnecessary energy into producing seeds and seedpods, therefore discouraging the plant to shut up shop for the year. Removing spent blooms before this happens will redirect the plant’s energy into further growth and bud formation before the weather turns.

Helenium – Sneezeweed

Woman deadheading Helenium in late Summer - © GAP Photos/Sharon Pearson

Woman deadheading Helenium in late Summer – © GAP Photos/Sharon Pearson

Heleniums tend to be mid-to late summer bloomers, and keep going into the autumn. For the vibrant colours they produce as summer gives way to the fiery tones of autumn, it is worth removing faded flowers, so the plant keeps going as long as possible. Keep in mind though that the seed heads look particularly ornamental when caught in a frost, so refrain from deadheading from mid-September onwards.

Geranium – Cranesbill

Deadheading spent Geranium flowers - © GAP Photos

Deadheading spent Geranium flowers – © GAP Photos

This can apply to the hardy perennial geraniums in your border or to the tender bedding pelargoniums generally used in summer containers. Both types benefit from regular deadheading to keep producing more blooms.

Penstemon – Beardtongue

Deadheading a perennial - Penstemon - © GAP Photos/Jonathan Buckley

Deadheading a perennial – Penstemon – © GAP Photos/Jonathan Buckley

A long-season bloomer, Penstemons produce long spikes of flowers and look quite similar to foxgloves. However, unlike foxgloves, they will keep flowering all summer and well into autumn. It is worth giving penstemons a gentle tidy up as they start to fade, removing spent blooms. However, refrain from cutting them back until fresh growth appears next spring, as often it is the old faded stems that protect the plants during our wet, cold winters.

Rosa – Rose

Woman deadheading roses. Seating area alongside bed of Rosa 'Scharlachglut' and R. multiflora - © GAP Photos/Friedrich Strauss

Woman deadheading roses. Seating area alongside bed of Rosa ‘Scharlachglut’ and R. multiflora – © GAP Photos/Friedrich Strauss

Before you deadhead a rose in late summer, check that it isn’t a variety that will produce ornamental hips in the autumn. If it is, then don’t deadhead, as you will remove the potential rosehip fruits in the process. There are many roses that do not go onto produce hips though, and if yours is one of them, you might as well try and encourage your rose shrub to produce a few more romantic blooms before the autumn sets in properly, so get deadheading!

Drying Onions

Home grown maincrop Onions ripening in wooden trays, UK, August - © GAP Photos/Gary Smith

Home grown maincrop Onions ripening in wooden trays, UK, August – © GAP Photos/Gary Smith

If you have grown onions this year, you may be happily pulling them up about now and hopefully celebrating rather lamenting their size. When onions are ready for harvest, their stems and leaves flop to one side as below:

Allium cepa - Onions ready to harvest with fallen foliage - © GAP Photos/Maxine Adcock

Allium cepa – Onions ready to harvest with fallen foliage – © GAP Photos/Maxine Adcock

However, just like garlic, there is an important step between harvest and storage, and that involves curing. Onions should be left to cure so that their outer layers of skin dry and they can be stored successfully. This can take a couple of weeks after harvest. Keep the leaves on the bulbs to dry post-harvest, as chopping them off now runs the risk of introducing bacteria to the onions, which might spoil your crop!

Freshly harvested onions laid out to dry - © GAP Photos/Robert Mabic

Freshly harvested onions laid out to dry – © GAP Photos/Robert Mabic

There are different ways to store onions while they cure. If you are guaranteed dry weather, you can leave them on the ground where you have pulled them. This is the easy option, but you run the risk of them being eaten by animals, or them rotting on one side if they get damp.

Maincrop onions lifted and drying on wire frames - © GAP Photos/Gary Smith

Maincrop onions lifted and drying on wire frames – © GAP Photos/Gary Smith

Onions are best dried in a cool, but not cold, dry area, with sufficient air circulation. You could store them outside if the weather is fine, out of direct sunlight, on makeshift racks of trellis or wire frames. This keeps them off the ground and the air flow moving. Alternatively, suspend a pole horizontally and hang bunches of onions from it. These options are cheap and relatively quick to prepare, and will not take up much space.

Drying onions in bunches on rail - © GAP Photos/Michael Howes

Drying onions in bunches on rail – © GAP Photos/Michael Howes

If you cannot guarantee that your crop will not get wet if left to cure outside, it is best to bring them undercover. Layer them over raised benches in a greenhouse or shed, or covered frame. These can prove a surprising efficient drying tool, as you can hang the onions upside down through the cracks in work benches and pallets. If you have old fashioned crates that stack on top of each other, these will also work well for drying multiple onions at a time.

Allium cepa 'Red Baron' - Harvested onions drying in a wooden rack in polytunnel - © GAP Photos/Maxine Adcock

Allium cepa ‘Red Baron’ – Harvested onions drying in a wooden rack in polytunnel – © GAP Photos/Maxine Adcock

Alternatively, if you are good with your hands, you might consider braiding the onions together in a bunch and hanging against a wall. This is a very attractive way of drying your onions, and once the curing is complete, you can easily harvest them from the braid as and when you need them.

Allium cepa 'Red Baron' - Plait of organic onions drying on shed door - © GAP Photos/Maxine Adcock

Allium cepa ‘Red Baron’ – Plait of organic onions drying on shed door – © GAP Photos/Maxine Adcock

Happy curing!