October is a great month for making the most of the often clement but cooler weather. It’s a time to take stock of the year’s losses and successes and plan for next year accordingly.
Clearing parts of the allotment is a good job to do this month – turning soil over into big clumps in preparation for winter frosts that will break up the clumps further naturally.
If you’re canny you can plan for a really successful vegetable plot next year, by growing crops in certain areas. This is known as rotational cropping and we highlight the benefits below.
As the nights draw in earlier, enjoy some lovely hearty meals with your well-grown harvests. You can produce both lovely savouries and sweets using the rewarding spoils of your fruit and vegetable garden.
Jobs to do now
Now’s the ideal opportunity to plan for next year which crops are going where on your vegetable plot. If you change the spot where you grow a particular crop to another, you can really bump up their performance. Changing where you plant particular crops on a year-to-year basis is called crop rotation and has a number of advantages.
This practice prevents the build-up of crop-specific diseases. Clubroot, for instance, is more likely to take hold of cabbages that have been grown in a spot that cabbages are grown in each year. Rotating the crop is a great cultural way you can break the life-cycle of year-on-year diseases.
Grow brassicas where you grew leguminous peas or beans last season. The legume by nature turns nitrogen into an accessible form for plants to take up, so next year nitrate-hungry leafy brassicas will love this.
Grow root vegetables where you grew squashes or marrows last year. The big leaves of marrows prevent weed growth and so you have a clear weed-free patch to sow root vegetables like radishes and carrots.
Lift and store carrots
You’ll be able to tell when your carrots are ready for harvesting because you’ll be able to see the 'shoulder’ of the carrot just above the soil surface. They can be left in the ground until they reach the required size, or left to store there until needed. In light soil pull out roots carefully as they reach the required size. In heavier soil you’ll need to push a fork into the ground next to them and gently lever them out.
Carrots withstand light frost, but are damaged by heavy frost. They can be stored in the following ways:
- In the ground – This is the best method for retaining flavour, but is best in light, well-drained soil. Allow the foliage to die back, or cut back foliage from early November if it hasn’t yet died back, and cover with black polythene to keep it dark and to keep the rain off. For additional protection you can include a layer of cardboard underneath the polythene too. These can be dug up and used when required.
- Indoors – Lift the carrots before the first heavy frost. Cut the foliage off and lay them in rows in cardboard or wood boxes, each layer separated by a layer of sand. Carrots can be pulled from the box when required.
Protect outdoor salad crops
In October it’s not unknown for temperatures to drop in the evening to near freezing, if not below which can of course affect some of your salad crops if they are left unprotected. So with a bit of preparation you can extend your cut and come-again harvests of salad leaves.
Slugs and snails continue to be a problem in October, especially if it’s particularly wet or warm. There are a number of ways you can reduce their numbers. You can use one or a combination of the following methods. Use slug pellets, surround your crops with copper tapes or mats which slugs find repellent, create beer traps or apply a biological control like Nemaslug based on worm-like creatures called nematodes that attack the bodies of underground slugs.
Nematodes are active in soil that is 5-20°c, so apply a nematode solution only in a warm October, and when you can see that the soil has not been touched by frost.
Earth up leeks
October’s a good time to raise the soil level a bit around the bases of winter-cropping leeks. If you’re growing them in a row simply mound up the soil on either side. Covering the bases will cause the stems to whiten (blanching). A bi-coloured white and green leek is a sure sign of a well-grown and exhibit-worthy crop.
When it comes to preparing leeks for your Sunday roasts or your home-made soups, wash them thoroughly, getting out any soil and grit from between the leaves.
Plant Onions, Shallots and Garlic
From now to November you can plant autumn-planting onion and shallot sets pointy side up straight into the soil outdoors at 7-10cm (3-4in) intervals in a row, and space rows at 30cm (12in) apart in an open, sunny site in fertile soil that is well-draining yet moisture retentive.
For garlics, choose a sunny site and soil that is well drained. Incorporating bulky compost into the soil before planting will increase fertility and nutrient levels as well as improve the soil texture to make it better-draining but at the same time adequately moisture-retentive.
Garlics do not thrive in acid soils so adding lime is advisable to raise the pH and create a more alkaline soil.
Plant cloves of garlic 15cm (6in) apart about 5-7cm (2-3in) deep and if planting in more than one row 30cm (12in) between rows. Plant cloves are little shallower in clay soils, but if the soil is nicely worked and well-textured plant at 5-10cm (2-4in). Water well.
Consider planting under black polythene, which suppresses emerging weeds. Ridding weeds by hoeing later in the season may damage the bulb heads neat the surface of the soil. You can make slits where you plant for the emerging shoots to grow through.
Plant green manures
October’s still a good time to get some natural nutrients into the soil while improving the soil texture at the same time.
Green manure suppresses weeds, protects soil from erosion and improves structure as well. Legumes (beans) absorb nitrogen from the atmosphere and ‘fix' it into the soil through root nodules making it easily available for crops planted afterwards.
Sow green manure seeds whenever the ground is to be left bare for more than 6 weeks. Dig them in while they’re fresh and green and leave 2-3 weeks before planting your new crop. This allows the breakdown of plant material into humus, releasing nutrients slowly over time.
You can sow green manure crops either by scattering seeds over the vacant site (broadcasting) or sowing the seeds of green manure crops separately.
You’ll want to dig the crop into the soil when it’s relatively young. This is for ease of working it into the soil. If you are away and not able to dig the crop in until it is woodier and more established, you could trim the crop off with a string trimmer, let it break down and then dig in.
Fast-growing leafy crops like Phaceliaand rape seed will release lots of nitrogen in the soil when dug in. Effective but risky to use rape and mustard in soil that has been affected by clubroot.
Caliente mustard is a great crop to grow before planting onions or shallots. The mustard is a bio-fumigant which means it repels the pathogens that cause white rot in onion. You’ll recognise white rot from the fluffy mould that collects at the base of the bulbs along with yellowing, wilting foliage.
Legumes like peas and beansfix nitrogen in the soil using nodules on their roots. They also release nitrogen from their leaves as they break down. Check which ones would be suited to your climate as some may not thrive in cold weather. Tares tend to do OK in less than clement conditions, while fenugreek is better in warmer climates.
Flowering green manures are dual purpose – firstly they produce attractive flowers, great for attracting pollinating insects, secondly the plants can be dug in afterwards after their impressive show of flowers.
Keep an eye on sprouts
Having sown and raised Brussels sprouts throughout the summer, it’s now time to keep your eye on them and prepare for the on-coming wintry season.
As with leeks, earth up soil around the stalks. Provide stakes for varieties that produce tall stalks like ‘Titus’ and will be ready for harvest around late autumn and winter. Wind-rock can cause your Brussels sprout plants to become loose in the soil and they may collapse in windy, wintry weather.
If it’s a warm autumn, water generously in the mornings and check plants in the evening to see if they need a top-up.
Keep an eye out for pests and diseases, especially ones that affect brassicas. See our advice on club-root below and watch out for pigeons and doves.
Cut down old pea and bean plants
Instead of removing all the leaves and stems, and taking them away, chop up the plant material either in a shredder or using a spade, and incorporate it into the soil for extra levels of nitrogen.
This area of the vegetable plot is now perfect for leafy brassicas to grow in next year, on account of the high levels of nitrogen produced by the nitrogen-fixing peas and beans.
Late-October is a fantastic time to plant bare-rooted and containerised trees of top fruit like apples, pears and plums. The soil is still warm from the summer so the roots can grow and develop straight away in the favourable warm soil environment. Yet, the ambient temperature is a bit lower than in summer so the young trees don’t suffer from heat stress or loss of water.
Preparing the soil: The soil should be thoroughly dug and, at the same time, incorporate some bulky compost or Organic Extra Manure, and a feed of Fish, Blood & Bone. Make sure any deep rooted perennial weeds are removed with a fork, or shallow-rooted weeds which you can remove with a hoe.
Most top fruit varieties will tolerate a wide range of soil types, especially when you incorporate manure into the soil to increase its fertility and improve its texture.
Planting method: Dig a planting hole 15cm (6in) wider than the root system once it has been spread out, and to a depth whereby the soil mark from the nursery on the stem of the young tree will be just covered. This should mean that the graft union (the knobbly part at the base of the stem) is about is 12-15cm (5-6in) above soil level when you have finished planting.
Fork into the sides of the hole which will encourage the roots to penetrate the surrounding soil and establish well.
After placing the tree in the hole, spread out the roots and add layers of soil, firming down with your foot. Repeat until you’ve filled the hole with soil. The tree should be firm enough in the soil that it does not up-root when you pull the main stem and it shows resistance.
Water the area generously after planting and add a layer of warming and moisture-locking mulch around the tree, making sure that the mulch does not come into direct contact with the main stem.
Top varieties of apples
Apple ‘Scrumptious’Scrumptious was specially bred for growing conditions in the UK, this superb variety is self-fertile, frost hardy - even when in flower - and disease resistant. Image= apple Scrumptious
Apple ‘Egremont Russet’- a superior, classic variety with an RHS Award of Garden Merit.
It produces russet-skinned apples with a good balance between sweetness and sharpness, it has a delicious
nutty flavour. Harvest from November they can be eaten straight away or stored for up to three months. Image= apple
Apple ‘Spartan’ - a juicy deep crimson-red variety with crisp, white flesh and sweet flavour. Perfect for picking and eating straight from the tree and attractive when sliced. Spartan is self fertile and ready for harvesting from late September/October. Image= apple ‘Spartan’
Disease of the month- clubroot
Club root is a fungus that affects the roots of leafy crops in the Brassica family including cabbages, cauliflowers and Brussels Sprouts. It affects the growth and development of roots specifically which can lead to a disappointing harvest.
Troubleshoot this disease by trying the following;
- Keep the soil more alkaline than acidic where you are growing Brassica vegetables. You can add lime to the soil to turn it clubroot-unfriendly.
- Improve the drainage of your soil- add organic matter like manure or bulky compost when the plot is vacant which opens the soil improving air circulation around the roots and general drainage.
- Keep the area well-weeded. Clubroot co-exists in Brassica-related weeds like shepherd’s purse, so keep this annual weed hoed off when you first see it.
- Choose clubroot-resistant varieties like cabbage ‘Kilaxy’, cauliflower ‘Clapton’, Brussels sprout ‘Crispus’, Cabbage Lodero’.
Sow and Grow NOW
See, taste and buy mouth-watering produce at the RHS London Harvest Festival Show based at the RHS Lindley Halls, in central London. It’s a foodie feast celebrating the taste of autumn. The show is the perfect place to get ideas and inspiration on late summer gardening and growing fruit and vegetables. This year the show will return to the traditional harvest theme. Look out for seasonal displays, expert advice, apple-tasting and lots more.
We were really excited to be invited to exhibit in the Plant Pavilion by the National Vegetable Society stand this year. We wanted to encourage new-comers into growing vegetables - with some handy tips and advice, we were keen to get gardeners having a grow.
At Marshalls we love exhibiting at this show. It's our opportunity to meet keen show visitors; experts and novices alike- and talk with new and old customers face-to-face finding out how their vegetable plots got on this season and offering tips on what they can try next year.
We had a range of seeds for show which visitors to the show were quickly purchasing from Friday on, and sets of our popular bulb vegetables onion 'Shakespeare', shallot 'Yellow Moon' and garlic 'Provence Wight' all of which can be planted now in the summer-warmed soil for great crops in June next year.
We’re looking forward to next year’s show already.