Top Tips for: October

October in the garden...


October really marks the changing of the gardener's year, this is the month where we finish the main harvesting and start preparing for next year. Soon the frosts will come and finish off crops like runner beans so, depending on the local weather patterns, it's time to clear them.  

If you've left some runners to grow on and develop the beans, either for next year's seed or for using as haricots in soups and stews, it's important that they are dried well. The easiest way is to take them into a greenhouse or shed and spread them on a rack so the air flows around them and dries them thoroughly.

Hard cabbages can come up now to store on racks in a cool shed or garage. They'll keep remarkably well, especially if sprinkled with a little salt to stop any slugs that may be hiding in the foliage.

Squashes and pumpkins will benefit from late sunshine, toughening the skins so they will store better. One of the joys of growing your own is to wander through a supermarket as we get into autumn and look at the prices of the vegetables, especially the organic vegetables. Not only do you have the satisfaction of eating your own, you can see how much money you've saved!

If you're left with a lot of green tomatoes, not only can you use them in
chutneys and pickles but you can store them to ripen later. We have an old chest of drawers in the shed and carefully space the tomatoes in a drawer, making sure they're not touching each other. When we want them to ripen faster, we just pop a ripe banana into the drawer and the ethylene gas given off by the banana ripens the tomatoes. We've had red ripe tomatoes at Christmas this way.

As I said, this time of year is a beginning as well as an ending. With heavy soils it is time to start digging over. Double digging is no longer popular, mainly because nobody likes backache, but even single digging will help produce a fine tilth for next spring's sowing. Don't bother breaking the clods into a tilth, the idea is to leave the clods exposed so the action of wind and frost break the clods up for you.

With raised beds, on which you should never walk, the soil still compacts to some extent. Just harvesting your crops from them should break up the soil in there to some degree but a light forking over will benefit the quality of the soil.

Now is a good time to look at your tools. If you have a clay soil, it is well worth investing in a stainless steel spade and fork. The ease with which they go into the soil saves your back and the way the soil slips off, saving cleaning the sticky clods off all the time, makes them a great investment. Decent tools will last a lifetime, if you look after them.

Some crops will still be in the ground, like the leeks and Brussels sprouts. The leeks will be fine but the sprouts are a tasty treat for slugs and pigeons. The slugs are not so active at this time of year, but don't ignore them.

The pigeons however are more of a problem than ever. Do ensure your netting is supported in such a way as to prevent the pigeons from sitting on the nets to happily munch away at the plants below.

Don't forget the idea is to feed you, not the pests!

Copyright © John Harrison 2008
Author of the Best Selling "Vegetable Growing - Month by Month Guide"  and Editor of the Allotment Website: