September 2009 Newsletter

It's not too early think about autumn planting onions, shallots and garlic

Lift main crop potatoes on a dry day and leave them on the soil for several hours, this will dry and ‘set’ the skins which will help prevent any bruising as they are lifted and help keep damage to a minimum. Keep an eye open for slug damage and only store sound tubers, any that are damaged should be used first, if they are stored they may allow infection into the damaged area which will spread to your whole crop. Potatoes are best stored in hessian sacks as these allow air to circulate and prevent sweating. Store them in a cool, dark place. If you do spot any damage from slugs there is still time to treat your beds with Nemaslug, completely environmentally friendly, naturally occurring nematodes which target and destroy the slugs underground, this will help reduce the slug population overwintering in the soil.

Is something decimating your brassicas?

Use the space left from harvesting your potatoes to make a late sowing of lettuce or mixed leaves while the soil is still warm. Sowing winter lettuce, spinach, carrots, kale and spring greens under cloches or fleece now will give them a really good start to provide an earlier crop next spring.  Oriental vegetables such as Chinese cabbage, Mizuna, Mustard and Pak Choy can also be sown and grown under a bit of protection now.

There is still time to direct sow autumn and winter vegetables

Once the foliage has died back on your onions and shallots, lift them and allow to dry naturally before stringing together or storing in onion nets in a cool, dry and airy place. Use those onions with a thick neck first as they may not store as well and could develop neck rot.  Don’t forget to order your autumn planting onions, shallots and garlic in plenty of time for planting in October or November. Garlic Early Purple Wight is a superb autumn planting variety which produces big bulbs with plump cloves and is an excellent variety for growing in the UK.

The vegetable garden will be providing copious amounts of produce now

Runner beans may still be cropping, if they are keep picking them while they are young and tender, don’t allow them to get tough and stringy. Once they have finished producing compost the stems and leaves but leave the roots in the ground. Beans absorb nitrogen from the air and ‘fix’ it in nodules at their roots, these then break down slowly in the soil allowing the nitrogen to be readily accessible to following crops, providing a free and easy way to fertilise your plot!

This year has been a bumper year for soft fruit

If you don’t have the space or the inclination to grow salad crops in autumn have a try at sowing Micro Leaf veg. Micro-Leaf is harvested at a very young and tender stage in the growing process, usually at cotyledon or first true leaf stage. Full of nutrients and very attractive. Use for salads and sandwiches to top canapés or sprinkle on soups. Food garnished with the little first shoots always looks amazing! So simple to grow - use a small seed tray or any shallow recycled food container, line with double thickness of kitchen roll cut to size and moisten well. Sow fairly thickly and place on a warm bright windowsill. Keep moist and harvest by cutting the stems with scissors at the seedling stage when the first true leaves develop. Children will find them fascinating as they grow so quickly, choose from Broccoli, Mustard Red Frills, Basil Dark Opal, Red Stemmed Radish Sangria or delicious Red Chard. Ready to eat within 7 - 14 days they are packed full of beneficial vitamins and minerals. They can be grown all year round, all you need is a windowsill and because they are so young, they are incredibly tender, sweet and flavoursome.

It's not easy keeping children amused for the long summer holiday

Your parsnips may be big enough to harvest now but don’t lift them all for storage, they will be quite happy left in the ground over winter. They have a much better and sweeter flavour once they have had a frost. Keep picking courgettes, marrows, pumpkins and squashes allowing them to dry off in the sun if you are storing them. Lift and store carrots, beetroot and turnips towards the end of the month as it begins to turn cooler. Give leeks and celery a final earthing up to blanch the stems, just leave a few leaves poking up out of the trench. Harvest self-blanching varieties as they are less hardy.

Gardening Tips
Pinch out the tips of runner beans that have reached the end of their support

The cabbage white butterfly is still on the rampage! During late summer the devastation it causes to brassicas is unbelievable! The caterpillars and eggs can be picked off and destroyed as soon as they are seen, but if you don’t have time to look at your plot for a couple of days it can be decimated by the little critters! If you prefer not to use chemical sprays then an alternative is to cover with micromesh, this will prevent the butterflies getting anywhere near your crop. It is best to cover them as soon as they are transplanted - before the butterfly has a chance to lay her eggs! The brassicas I planted out and covered last month are in perfect condition. However I did noticed that there were caterpillars feeding on the Autumn Flowering Stocks that are ready and waiting for me to plant, needless to say the caterpillars were removed and squished as soon as I found them! The stocks already replanted into a larger pot are untouched.

Keep picking raspberries and gooseberries

Cut down Asparagus stems and clear away any debris to ensure no lurking Asparagus Beetle has a place to over-winter, mulch beds with well rotted manure or compost. If you are thinking about starting a new asparagus bed, dig over the area well removing any perennial weed roots. If your soil has poor drainage it will pay dividends to dig deeply and incorporate some grit to improve the drainage as asparagus hates wet soil. The flavour of freshly harvested, home grown British Asparagus is second to none! It may be short, but the British Asparagus season produces the best flavoured spears of all! No crop rotation is needed and once your bed is prepared growing asparagus couldn’t be simpler and it will crop for years – 20 years is not unusual!

Keep an eye open for blight on your potatoes

Remove fruited, damaged or weak stems from summer fruiting raspberries and ties in new canes. Leave autumn fruiting canes until late winter or early spring when they should be cut down to the ground. As the foliage dies back on strawberries cut it back leaving a few of the younger leaves to protect the crown. Remove runners to allow more vigour to the fruiting crown. Prune blackcurrants and blueberries any time between now and late winter, remove about one third of the bush each year. Cut stems back to the base to encourage new shoots from the base of plants.

Autumn is also very good time to plant soft fruit such as raspberries, blackberries and currants provided the ground is workable. Autumn planting helps roots to become established while the soil is still warm before winter sets in.

Many hardy annuals can be sown in autumn and will over-winter successfully

As you empty your beds after the harvest, if you don’t have a crop ready to plant you may consider growing Green Manures’. They will suppress weeds, protect soil from erosion and loss of nutrients and add structure. Weed and rake your cleared beds and sow, these plants grow quite quickly, some may be killed off by frost but if left in the ground will continue to give the soil some protection. Dig in before they run to seed, at least 2-3 weeks before replanting in spring. This will allow the breakdown of the plant material into humus, releasing nutrients slowly over the next growing period. When using green manures it is important to keep the varieties used within your crop rotation. For example field beans after the runner bean/pea rotation and Mustard after brassicas. Phacelia is not related to any vegetable making it safe to use in any rotation.