‘Autumn has finally arrived and preparations for another gardening year make October a very busy month. Inevitably conditions are getting worse week by week, and the wise gardener always tries to do the autumn digging and clearing-up operations as early as possible‘. (Frances Perry)
‘October is the time to start using the spade again. As more and more crops are used up, the land has to be cleared and dug over. The sooner you can begin this the better. Go steadily at this time of year, not only because October can be a warm month, but also because this is the first really heavy work for several months.‘ (David Mabey)
With twenty-first century organic raised beds, of course, there is no need for this unnatural and heavy digging over of the living soil advised by traditional garden writers. Harvesting the beds of crops, followed by a simple forking over and weeding with a small hand-fork and trowel is all you have to do with each raised bed, and not even that if you are following the no-dig system. Traditional organic gardeners also advise that bare soil is a no-no, and that you should cover any empty veg beds with a layer of compost or leafmould that the worms can continue to pull down into the soil. Some advise covering the beds with black plastic to prevent weed growth, or even sowing so-called ‘green manure’ crops that can be turned into the soil in the spring. But why go to all that trouble when you can make use of the annual weeds such as speedwell, fumitory and scarlet pimpernel that grow naturally and happily in your veg garden soil, and that you can fork out and add to the compost heap in the spring when the time for planting comes?
Roots and tubers
Any root crops that are still in the soil and are not likely to withstand the winter, such as potatoes, carrots, beetroot and turnips, should be lifted and stored as soon as possible during October. Swedes can be left until December, and parsnips should be left in the ground for as long as possible, as they benefit from a sweeter taste after frost.
Any remaining bean plants should be composted this month, and any bean poles, pea sticks and canes brought into shelter for the winter. Sow Aquadulce broad beans and Meteor peas under fleece if you wish, but as beans and peas sown early next spring often overtake the over-wintering varieties, you personally have to decide if the extra work is worth the trouble.
Onions, leeks and garlic
There are certain varieties of onions and garlic that can be planted in October or early November for overwintering, but the same applies as with the pulses. Any leeks in the ground should be weeded and continually earthed up to keep them white with long blanched stems.
Prevent brassica pests and diseases on winter cabbages, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflowers and kale by keeping the plants netted against pigeons, and removing any yellowing leaves to prevent the spread of grey mould. Keep the plants firmed up with earth around the base of the stems. Whitefly can be hosed off, or killed by the spraying of diluted insecticidal soap. Protect crops of perpetual spinach (leaf beet) from disease, frost, and pests such as slugs and snails with horticultural fleece, the twenty-first century organic answer to so many of the problems faced by our ancestors.
—————————————————————————————————————– Copyright (c) 2013 Torbay Organic Gardening Society, 25 Church Road, St Marychurch, Torquay TQ1 4QY Tel 01803 328055 Leaflet No: CAL10