Every year as we head into August the evenings get shorter and there is a nip in the air. I get a dreaded feeling of the unavoidable seasonal change: a stubborn refusal to let go of warm summer days and the long bright evenings. The bountiful harvest from the garden is a worthy consolation prize for the darkening days and dropping temperatures. But there's no avoiding it: the change of season is imminent. At Liss Ard estate we have been enjoying the harvest from Sally's Garden since early summer, but now August has arrived the bounty of crops is as varied as it is abundant. Greens (including kale and chard), salads, beetroots, potatoes, peas and beans, edible flowers, red onions and shallots are just a few of the foods I continually harvest to supply the restaurant, where the team of chefs transform them into delicious meals to delight hungry guests. Colour lights up the walled garden as the flowers reach their peak. The cut flower bed, flanked by courgette plants, is showing more colour every day, and the scent is beguiling. Regular dead-heading (the removal of spent flowers) will help prolong the flowering season. Knowing when and how to harvest vegetables is one of the best ways to get the most out of your garden, ensuring the highest yields and tastiest produce after all your hard work growing and nurturing your plants. Some vegetables take months to mature, while others, such as salads, can provide a crop in a matter of weeks. Many, like peas and beans, need constant picking in order to encourage more flowers and subsequently fruit. Once pea pods look and feel full, but not fit to burst, it's time to harvest them to enjoy them at their wonderful, sweet best. Young pea shoots are also delicious, and head chef Danny uses these tasty green morsels to garnish his delicious cured salmon dish.
Alliums, like garlic and onions, can be enjoyed straight from the ground but are suitable for storing over winter once the outer layer has dried. Drying outdoors can be a challenge here in the south of Ireland, where prolonged periods of dry weather are fleeting, so it's often necessary to dry the onions indoors, before moving to a cool, dark, dry location for long-term storage. Many vegetables such as salad leaves are best eaten fresh and do not store well. Harvesting a full head of lettuce (such as butterhead-type) can be very satisfying, but for an earlier and prolonged harvest I also grow "cut-and-come-again" salad varieties, which allow you to pick the young leaves repeatedly as they grow. For the most part minimising the time between harvesting your vegetables and serving them delivers optimum taste and a higher nutrient content. This is especially true for peas, whose sugar content starts to deplete as soon as they are picked. As summer reaches its peak Liss Ard Estate is bustling with guests from Ireland and around the world. It's always a pleasure to meet them, to share a few gardening tips and to show them the walled garden where much of the produce they enjoy in the hotel restaurant is produced. So if you're staying at Liss Ard be sure to call in to Sally's Garden to say hello. I look forward to meeting you there.
Sally Ann Lenehan