blackberries in September

Late Summer

path next to arable field in late summer

Late summer is beguiling and wistful. The days are sunny (mostly) and reasonably long but the high summer heat and dust of harvest are over. The landscape has a fabulously wild and unkempt air as parched grasses and weeds grow knee high, seeds scattering in the wind and the stubble fields are roughly tickled, no longer a swathe of regimented wheat plants. Slowly, the first signs of autumn are tentatively creeping in as the berries in the hedgerows belatedly turn colour and the first tiny conkers fall to the ground.

log that looks like a crocodile floating in a pond

And crocodiles broken branches float in the pond.

skeins of naturally dyed wool

Over the summer, I’ve been dyeing with plants and now it’s time to start planning what to knit with all the yarn. A few years ago, I became very frustrated with natural dyeing as everything seemed to be a different shade of beige, which is not my favourite colour. This year, I’ve managed to get a few more colours using nettles, walnut husks, blackthorn twigs, knapweed, rhurbarb leaves, oak galls, avocado stones and alchemilla mollis as well as some solar dyeing with hollyhock flowers (beautiful greens but I’m not sure the colour will last). I have vague thoughts of knitting a fair isle jumper or tank top – heavily influenced by stumbling upon an episode of All Creatures Great and Small in which half the cast seemed to be wearing such items. If I start now, then maybe it will be finished in time for cold winter days. Though possibly not this winter.

blackberries in September

Every year, late summer brings a desire to lay down supplies for autumn and winter. I usually find it ridiculous that I have this hard-wired drive to stock the pantry and freezer when abundant supplies are a click or short distance away. But then last year happened and in lockdown, a well-stocked pantry suddenly seemed rather appealing. So, there will be a few jars of Raspberry Jam and Apple Chutney. Maybe some Blackberry & Apple compote in the freezer and some Hedgerow Gin. Not too much, because (finally) my brain has absorbed the fact that there are only two of us in the house now but enough to make me think I’m well prepared. Just in case. Even though jam and chutney could hardly be termed Essential. I think we can agree that Gin has a place on the Essentials list.


Was that Summer?

Apart from a few glorious weeks in June, summer 2017 was a bit damp and despite my hopes for an Indian summer, autumn is creeping in at speed. The hedgerows are splashed with the red of rosehips and hawthorn berries and soon the leaves on the trees will change colour and fall to the ground.

conkers lying on the ground under horse chestnut tree

At night, I lay in bed and listen to conkers bouncing on the tin roof of the garage as they fall from the horse chestnut trees. This year there seem more conkers than ever and they litter the ground in profusion. We’ve already had the seasonal ritual of the first family conker fight, which I lost when the string pulled through my conker. I also discovered my aim is pretty useless compared to Bill, but apparently men tend to have a better understanding of trajectory because they pee standing up and so have applied the laws of physics from an early age! That’s my excuse.

apple, beetroot, carrot and mint juice

The juicer has been retrieved from the cupboard in an effort to assuage my guilt at the number of apples lying on the ground in the orchard. In a nod to 5-a-day or 50-a-day or whatever arbitrary number health gurus are currently advocating, I’ve also started to throw in some beetroot, carrot and mint from the garden. It tastes surprisingly good, though not my preferred breakfast juice. Perhaps with a dash of vodka it would make an interesting pre-dinner cocktail.

Lino reduction print

Most of the flowers in the garden and field verges have formed seed heads or withered away but the mayweed flowers are still looking fresh. Ruth tried to teach me how to make “Suicide Lino Prints” though I see she’s listed it on her course schedule as the rather less dramatic “Reduction Lino Printing”. It involves printing a multi-coloured image using only one block of lino, which is gradually cut away as progressively darker colours are printed. It needed a great deal more concentration than my usual jelly printing, but it proved good fun. If you’d like to see more of the process, you can read more here.

Autumn officially starts on Friday and while part of me can’t wait (because it’s my favourite time of year), there’s a certain wistfulness that we’ve reached the end of summer.

courgettes

Though I won’t be sad when I pick the last of the courgettes.


Enjoying the Days of Late Summer

It’s late summer and every day is a little shorter than the previous one; a change that was almost imperceptible a month ago, is now noticeable. There seems a need to enjoy these summer days before they slip away. To notice the colours and the smells. To gather up all the fruit to preserve in sugar or vinegar. This is what late summer looks like at Slamseys this week.

 

Essex arable fields of wheat stubble and ploughed land in late summer

The dusty haze of high summer in the fields has been replaced by more earthy hues. The landscape changes field by field as the plough turns over the pale yellow wheat stubble to leave a rippled field of brown, scattered with white gulls that scavenge the furrows.  Standing on a late summer’s day breathing in the smell of freshly turned soil is a life affirming moment.

late summer artichoke
The bright colours of summer flowers are gradually being replaced by the washed-out colours of the developing seeds. In the fields, the seed heads push above the dying foliage and float away in the breeze though I don’t think these artichokes in the garden are likely to float off anywhere.

 

Crab apples growing on tree in late summer with colours picked out
The orchard is filling with colour as the fruit of each tree ripens; coral coloured crab apples on one tree and yellow on another; bright red Discovery apples contrast with the green leaves looking like a child’s naïve painting of an apple tree; Bramley apples slowly develop streaks of red, quite unlike the unripe green Bramleys in the supermarket.

 

Freshly picked late summer plums, damsons and greengages with colours picked out
In this bumper year for plums, it’s hard to keep up. The tiny yellow plums are just coming to the end and the deep violet coloured Czar plums hang forlornly as they’re ignored in favour of green orbs of deliciousness that are greengages. The damsons on the earliest tree are just ripening. How I long to be an artist who could capture the dusty blues and purples of damsons in a still life painting. Instead, I make damson jam and damson gin that might not be quite so romantic or permanent, but can be a powerful reminder of summer days in the depths of winter.

In late summer we are poised between the growing years. All the wheat is harvested though there is still barley to cut when it dries out enough. The wheat is in the co-operative store, from where it will be sent for milling into flour or used in animal feeds. The raspberries are slowly infusing the gin with their vivid pink colour and taste. Jars of jam and chutney line the pantry shelves. Courgettes in the garden are being ignored as they grow into mini zeppelins. The mobile seed cleaners have been at the farm today preparing the seed wheat for next year’s crop and before long that will be sown. And the growing cycle begins again.


late summer

groundsel

This is how late summer feels at the moment – liable to blow away at any time. We veer from warm sunny days to cold rainy days and back again. Shirt sleeves one day, raincoat and wellies the next.

guinea fowl eggs

Even the ducks and guinea fowl seem out of season. One duck has been sitting on a nest that she built higher every day (like the princess and the pea) and finally hatched out two ducklings, both of which perished within a day. The guinea hen disappeared and was eventually located sitting in a patch of thistles on a clutch of eggs that she’s since abandoned, maybe realising that it’s far too late in the year to rear any young or quite possibly just forgetting where she laid her eggs. Having watched her run backwards and forwards alongside a fence for at least five minutes before remembering that she could fly over it to get to the other side, I suspect the latter.

In the fields, the growing cycle continues. The wheat stubble has been cultivated and next year’s oilseed rape crop has been sown, seed heads abound in the margins around the fields and in forgotten corners, ready to burst open. The hedges brim with the autumn colours of hips and haws, unripe hazelnuts that haven’t yet been raided by the squirrels and almost ripe sloes. There are blackberries in every shade between bright unripe green and dull overripe  inky purple and though a lot of the flowers haven’t set this year, there should be enough blackberries around the farm for Beth to pick for her Blackberry Gin.

damson crumble

We climbed the ladder to pick the last greengages from the topmost branches of the tree and then moved seamlessly into damson picking. Perhaps even more than the changing colours of the leaves, it’s the sight of the dusky, deep coloured damsons that signal the end of summer and the beginning of autumn. We stand at the tree and gorge on sweet, juicy greengages but the damsons are too tart for that and are best cooked. Damson crumble is the first thing I make, the fruit exuding a deep purple juice that oozes up around the buttery topping and then there’ll be compotes and fools, maybe ice-cream if we get an Indian summer. The weather forecast is looking as though we may get one. Fingers crossed.