October is a strange ‘in between’ time. The nights and early mornings tend to be quite cold, but once the sun is up it can be very pleasant working out in the open. I now have one eye on closing down for the winter, limiting myself to keeping down any weeds which appear, although this will peter out once a heavy frost comes. This will kill nasturtiums and pot marigolds which have already gone to seed, but the ground cover will be better than clearing it so I will finish things off by clearing them away in early spring as planting time arrives. Some add manure now but I will wait until Spring to hopefully achieve the maximum effect rather than leaching out the nutrients over winter.
I have just stopped picking French Beans as they slow up with the onset of the cold weather. Blauhilde (purple before cooking, green after) and the Neckar Gold (yellow), are normally very successful. This year, I planted Cobra and got a good crop from these too.
These have bean a great success in the past. The Italian one in the picture is much easier to pod than the Major Cook, so I now concentrate my efforts on them. Unfortunately last year the beans did not climb the canes and so on tiny plants only a few pods formed upon each one. I was mystified until one day I opened the store of seed packets and saw, lying on top, the one I bought in a sale last November:Dwarf Beans. I mean to say, what use is a dwarf bean that is not going to be picked and so keep flowering? The amount of beans I had from the usual amount of plants was derisory, probably not enough for one stew.
I planted these Jerusalem Artichokes a few years ago. Underneath the ground was a solid mass of tubers that would be ready to harvest in November. Could I dig them all out? Well I had a concerted effort over about three years, finally not planting anything else near the epicentre of the plant. If I went again it would definitely not be in the centre of a bed but at the edge.
Gooseberries and Redcurrants
Gooseberries and redcurrants may be propagated this month. Redcurrants and gooseberries differ from the blackcurrants in the way they spread. The latter grow from the base, or ‘stool’ forming new shoots which burst out from below ground level. Redcurrants ( and gooseberries), on the other hand, spread from existing wood on the plant, (or leg) so the technique for propagation is simply to take a cutting from the new growth about 25cm long, strip away the lower buds leaving 4 or 5 at the top end and stick the stick in the soil.
To propagate I place the base of the cuttings in a v shape in the soil (formed by inserting a spade or trowel and moving it slightly), so that the stripped part of the cutting is below ground. As with all transplants I press down the soil around the base and water them in.
Gooseberries may be propagated in the same way.
Like the Jerusalem Artichoke picture this is an old one as i no longer have any except for seedlings I planted this year. My Asparagus died out and efforts to replace the plants have not succeeded. I never had to support the ferny growth as the winds did not threaten to blow them over. Soon they would turn yellow and you cut them down. At first I followed the advice to cut the stems to ground level. However, I read somewhere that you should cut them to about 15cm or so in case the asparagus beetle moves in. Then you need to remember to reduce to ground level in the spring, removing any beetles with the extra pieces of woody tube. Although I never had an infestation (nor did the Asparagus!), and not many fellow allotmenteers grow asparagus, this seems like a sensible precaution which I following for a few years. I wasn’t very happy at losing what became my pride and joy. I most strongly recommend you grow these strange but majestic plants, although doing so is an exercise in deferred satisfaction for it is a couple of years before you can start sampling the delights. If you are just starting out I would get some plants in the spring, mine are “Franklim”, and plant them below ground level in a trench. The result is certainly worth waiting for and I have never been able to get beyond steaming them for 3 or 4 minutes because they taste so delicious. A few years back I planted some new ones which struggled to survive in the drought, but I managed to keep some of them alive I took photos of the planting. I intended to put a guide to planting them on the Vegetable Guide, but I have still not done so. If you need guidance desperately let me know.
Once the potatoes are dug I let the nasturtiums run riot because they drown out everything else and disappear to nothing in frosts. They are great for pain free ground cover and both the leaves and flowers are a tasty and colourful addition to a salad. I admit to a prejudice against overwintering green manure because when I tried it early in my allotment days I found that chickweed loved to grow within it and that left me with a chickweed problem, a rather expensive way of making difficulties for myself, I felt, although I am starting to reconsider this as manure can be contaminated by pesticides. I think it’s about time I had another go.
It is still worth bringing out the onions for a sunning occasionally when conditions allow, because however dry they appear when stored, often moisture appears from somewhere and it's best to keep them dry to avoid them rotting. The very action of getting them out is a reminder to check for ones that are going bad, this usually occurs near the root, so they can be discarded, or if not too far gone, used, before they spoil the rest. It’s worth treating this as a reminder to check the potatoes too. A cursory sniff will soon reveal any bad ones, the smell is not a pretty sight. A quick rummage round is a good idea, which is why I don’t overfill the sacks.
By now carrots start to become damaged by slugs and such, so I dig them out and use them. I have never been bothered to store them properly in sand as the experts tell us. “Cut the leaves to about 1½cm and lay in sand in a box so the carrots do not touch.” If I can find some sand I might give it a try one year. Thanks to a Gardening website I lost my wonderful crop of carrots to the dreaded carrot fly a few years back. I erected a barrier, about 24 inches high, as recommended by the website (70cm), thinking that this approach would be more natural as it would allow other insects into the carrot bed. Common sense said this barrier was not high enough, and common sense is right. All my beautiful carrots ruined, their insides tunnelled down and the exteriors bearing the tell tale black rings. Still, one of the great things about growing vegetables is that we can always turn one year's failures into next year's successes. I returned to covering them with mesh and, although my first sowing was slow to germinate and I had to resow them, crops have been very good. They are so sweet and tasty, especially if scraped (when younger scrubbed) and scattered onto the top of a chicken tagine, cassoulet or any dish cooked slowly in the oven. More recently and this year was a case in point, the gastropods have developed a taste for them and I am trying out all manner of non chemical deterrents.
Many gardeners recommend the planting of garlic this month, some suggest even earlier. Up to a point the earlier the better, for the longer the time available to establish strong roots before winter the stronger the plants will be to grow on in spring. I used to stick to the old adage of “plant on the shortest day harvest on the longest" because it takes away the guesswork of when it’s ready. If you don’t actually forget about it you end up thinking like chicken on a barbecue, is it ready, is it ready? Leave it for a bit longer and the chicken ends up dried out. Leave the garlic and it starts to sprout and grow again. Still if you are really organized get the garlic in now. I wouldn’t put it in the bed where next year’s onions will be for the strong root system can help white rot to generate in spring and pass the infection on to your infant onion crop. For this reason I have started to plant the garlic in spring.