If October starts warm it can provide a nice breathing space, to catch up late harvesting, saving seeds and generally getting the garden ready for the winter. It’s also the time to cover any bare soil, with mulches if necessary, to protect your soil structure from bad weather, and to ensure any tall plants (mainly brassicas) are staked against ‘wind rock’, which can lift their roots out of the soil. You may also need to net brassicas to stop them being munched by marauding pigeons.
Remove the saucers and trays from underneath containers, to encourage better drainage and remove the risk of waterlogging.
Once the cold weather has come there will be bare roots fruit trees for sale, which is the cheapest way to add to your orchard. Bare root trees need to be soaked in a bucket of water before planting out as soon as possible on receipt. If their permanent spot in the garden isn’t ready, or the weather is too bad for planting, they can be ‘heeled in’ – quickly planted into a slit in the soil anywhere handy. This keeps their roots moist and healthy until they can be planted out. Popping them into a container is also an option.
Did you know you can encourage wildlife, and beneficial insects, in the garden just by being a bit lazy? It pays not to tidy up too much. Seed heads can be left to feed the birds, leaf piles in secluded corners makes a cosy place to overwinter, and a small pile of logs can be called home by all kinds of creepy crawlies.
Vegetables to sow in October
- Broad beans (varieties for autumn sowing).
- Peas (hardy round seeded varieties can be sown in October and November).
- Overwintering/Japanese onions. Sets can be planted now, and into November.
- Garlic. Autumn-planting garlic can be planted from late October, into November and December.
- Land cress (American cress). Very similar to watercress, but extremely hardy.
- Oriental leaves, including mustards, pak choi and mizuna. You can get seed mixes, which are great for stir-fries or if you’re new to Oriental greens and want to try a few.
- Lambs Lettuce (Corn Salad), a very hardy winter salad with soft, mild leaves.
- Winter lettuce.
- Winter purslane (Claytonia or Miner’s lettuce). A hardy winter salad. With small, mild leaves.
What to harvest in October
It’s time to bring in the rest of the apples and pears, and get them safely stored away for the winter. Beetroot should be lifted now, before they get too big and woody, but carrots can be left for a little longer and harvested as you need them. Parsnips are at their best after a frost or two, so don’t be too hasty to harvest them.
October is the time for autumn cauliflowers and the first of the Brussels sprouts. You may have celery and/or celeriac, and swedes.
Autumn lettuces and leeks are harvested as and when you want them, as are the leafy greens – spinach, leaf beet and chard.
You may find a few more strawberries and raspberries, and it’s time to bring in the winter squash and pumpkins. Don’t forget you can eat the innards of the pumpkin you carve for Halloween!
Making leaf mould
Whilst many people find fallen leaves a nuisance – the can bleach grass, clog up ponds and make paths and patios slippery – kitchen gardeners can see the bright side in a deluge of free compostable material! It’s not good to add a lot of leaves to the compost heap, because they are slow to break down. But, treated in the right way, they turn into leaf mould, which is in invaluable low-fertility soil improver, and can be used as the base for homemade seed composts and potting mixes.
The traditional way to make a leaf mould heap is to use stakes and chicken wire to make a cage. This is then filled with fallen leaves, which rot down – exposed to the elements – over the next two years or so. If you chop the leaves up, by running over them with a battery powered lawn mower, or pushing them through a shredder, you can speed this process up a little. But bear in mind that making leaf mould is an annual event, so after the first couple of years you’ll have mature leaf mould to use each year.
If you don’t get that many leaves you can put wet leaves into a plastic sack. Tie the top, make a few holes in the bag with the garden fork, and leave it behind the shed for a couple of years, and free leaf mould will be yours for the taking.