October has been a busy month as we prepare for the winter ahead.

Stephanie's Kitchen Garden Diary 30th October 2017

October has been a busy month in Stephanie’s Kitchen Garden as we prepare the garden for the cold months ahead. The daylight hours are diminishing and the night-time temperatures are beginning to drop. This month has been a balance of tidying up for winter versus trying to keep crops going for as long as possible before consigning the to the compost bins.autumn runner beans

The climbing French beans and rhubarb were the first casualties of the cold weather which soon reduced them from thriving crops to bedraggled yellow leaves littering the ground. They have been cleared away to the compost heap before the rhubarb crowns were treated to a winter mulch of well rotted manure and the bean frame was given a good clean ready for next year’s crop.

As I write this, in the last days of the month, we have just harvested our sweet potatoes; possibly my favourite Kitchen Garden crop. In the last two years, we have harvested these in late September or early October as early frosts have turned the foliage the tell-tale yellow that signals that it is time to dig up the tubers. This year the plants have remained green and thriving right up until the end of October. The top foliage was been cut back to the ground and added to the compost bins. We then gently explored the soil for signs of tubers, taking extra care as they are easily damaged. We were not disappointed. We have just enjoyed the best harvest we have had, digging up many huge tubers. These will be left in a warm dry place for their skins to harden and cure before being stored in a paper sack in the larder.sweet potato harvest 2017

With all the clearing away of summer crops that we have been doing of late, our compost bins are filling up fast with more plant material still to be added. Earlier in the month we completely emptied the spare compost bay of the mature compost and spread it onto the garden beds. This allowed us the space to turn the full compost bin into the empty one. Turning the compost helps the decomposing process by moving the fresh material to the bottom of the bin where it is hottest. This bin will then be left for the winter whilst we fill the empty bay.

At the beginning of October, our seed garlic arrived and we were quick to sow the cloves into seeds trays to get them started in the greenhouse. Like the onions, we find this is a more effective way of growing them as they get a good start and put on plenty of growth before the winter. It also stops the birds pulling them out of the soil. Within a couple of weeks they were well rooted and were planted out in the old runner bean bed alongside the onions that we sowed in September. At the same time, we sowed broad beans into rootrainers with a view to getting an early crop next year.   These are growing well and will be planted out in November.

Inside the greenhouse the shelves are up and the aeoniums from our ornamental gardens have now joined the chillies and aubergines under the protection of the glass. Spinach and rocket seedlings are filling out the raised tomato bed. We have also been taking cuttings of plants from the ornamental gardens with a view to filling out the garden next year. We have a stunning purple salvia in two of our zinc planters that has put on a beautiful display this year and we would like to fill more pots with it next year. The cuttings rooted quickly and have already been potted on. They should be good sized plants by next summer if overwintered in the greenhouse.

Despite the recent cold nights, the weather in October has been mild despite for most of the month.   The soil is warm making it an ideal time to continue planting winter crops and this month we ordered salad plants to fill our manger by the kitchen door. These arrived neatly packed in straw which we promptly unpacked and planted out. These will be grown in addition to the plants grown from seed which are in the kitchen garden raised beds and in the greenhouse. The manger is within easy reach of the house when the weather is bad and the plants have been covered to protect them from the worst of the winter weather. Despite the imminent onset of winter, the kitchen garden is still full of young vegetable plants that are becoming well established and ready to fill the dreaded hungry gap.

One of the highlights of the month was seeing our two little thatched summerhouses completely transformed with new thatched roofs. Our greenhouse backs on to one of them, so we were quick to make good use of the scaffolding put up by the Thatchers as a cleaning platform. Jo spent a happy couple of hours with a cleaning brush giving the normally hard to reach parts of the roof a really good clean and enjoying the views of the garden. In that days that followed, the remaining glass was cleaned inside and out and the greenhouse is ready for its insulating layer of bubble wrap to be added in November.

No Autumn garden can escape leaf-fall. Mother nature is winning the battle of the leaves and as fast as we clear the debris, she litters the paths and beds again. We have had some very windy days this month which have exacerbated the situation. But most days the sun has shone and still has a little warmth to it, the leaves are dry making them easy to rake, and the end result of a tidy garden is worth the effort, however short-lived it is.

Here are some of the jobs we’ve got planned for November in Stephanie’s Kitchen Garden:

  • Clear leaves and plant debris to the leaf bins and compost bins
  • Put covers up on our peach and apricot trees
  • Start cleaning pots, seeds trays
  • Add bubble wrap insulation to the greenhouse.

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