Gardening Blog – Autumn Thoughts

October already – the month when the autumn tidy up can really begin. Crisp mornings and sunny afternoons have given us perfect conditions to get on with it. As most allotment holders agree, despite our grumblings about the strange weather earlier in the year, it hasn’t been a bad season.

We still have peppers, tomatoes and courgettes to harvest in our sheltered garden but, with the exception of a few beetroot, all of our summer crops on the allotment are ready to be cleared. A warm September was just what we needed to dry the runner bean pods ready for sowing next year.  It helped ‘cure’ the butternut squash too. We cut the squash from the plants and left them on the ground to harden in the sun. This has toughened the skin so that they can be stored ready for winter soups and stews.

It was our first attempt at growing butternut squash and what a result! The rapidly growing and extensive foliage was perfect for keeping the weeds down on a patch we’d cleared but hadn’t cultivated. And we’ve enjoyed a bountiful harvest – or so we thought until we heard about Carl Lambourne’s latest giant veg.

Carl’s amazing vegetables are always the talk of the allotments. He’s a regular exhibitor at the Autumn Malvern Show. This September he was well placed in the UK National Giant Vegetable Championships again. His pumpkin took second place at over 540lbs (thank you to Carl and friends for the photograph). He also won second place in the squash category and 4th place for his runner beans – all of them 36” long!

As we clear this season’s crops away, we’re trying something different. Encouraged by the results of fellow allotment holders, rather than covering the empty soil with weed suppressing fabrics, we’re sowing green manure. The fabric has always kept the weeds under control over winter but doesn’t add anything to the soil. If we’ve chosen the right one, the green manure should add nutrients and help to suppress the weeds. We’ll have to remember that overwintering a green manure only works well if it is cut and dug back in a good four weeks before sowing next season’s seeds. Without this time lag, something in the green manure can inhibit their growth.

We’ll try it and see. One of the delights of growing vegetables as an amateur is that if something goes wrong, there’s always next year.

This is the last Gardening Blog I’ll be writing for the Henley Herald for a while. I’m aiming to spend less time at my desktop and more time in the garden with my elderly mother. Being outside and somewhere green is an enormous help with her dementia and gives us happy times together.

Very many thanks to Andrew Hawkins for the Top Tips he’s provided for the last two years.

Top Tips

  •  Clear the ground and dig it over after harvesting
  • Check carefully to ensure all potatoes have been removed from the ground
  • Earth up leeks and celery
  • Plant garlic towards the end of October
  • Plant shallots on the shortest day (around 21st December)
  • Collect any seeds you’d like to save
  • Store potatoes in a cool place
  • Rake up fallen leaves.  If you don’t have a leaf bin, try putting damp leaves in black plastic bags.  Puncture the bags with holes and store in a shady corner. After two years you should have good leaf mould.
  • Order new fruit trees and bushes ready for planting in November