October allotment garden

Last revised: 27 February 2018

Seasonal reminders, hints and tips.

Broad beans

Sow broad beans at end of October in prepared ground, manured 2 or 3 weeks previously. Make sure the ground will be above flood level by at least 20cm to reduce rotting seeds, which are 5cm below surface.

You can expect to see shoots by end of November which will usually weather the winter well, while remaining semi-dormant. Consider covering with fleece or netting to deter foxes, rat and pigeons eating or digging up the plants.

Potatoes

Any remaining main crop potatoes should be ready for lifting. When the haulm (leaves) starts dying back you cut it off and leave the potatoes for a couple of weeks. This will make the skins set and hopefully prevent any stray potato blight spores from the haulm infecting your tubers. Wait for a sunny dry day and dig up the potatoes, brushing off excess soil and letting them dry off before storing in hessian or paper sacks in a frost free, dark shed.

Christmas potatoes

If, early it is October and you have a large and deep container, try sowing potatoes for a very late crop. From October onwards the ground will be too cold for a further crop. Using a large container enables it to be placed in a warm, sunny position and moved around if necessary. The container must have good drainage holes at the base.

Add a layer of about 10cm soil, perhaps mixed with old multi-compost, to container. Position 3 or 4 potatoes on the layer, then cover with further soil/compost mix up to 20cm. Sprinkle a handful of general purpose fertiliser, then water well.

If possible wrap in straw or bubble wrap to keep in warmth. Regularly check soil is moist, water if required, but not soaked. Containers dry out quickly, so it is surprising that even regular rain may not maintain a reasonable moisture level.

When plant haulm begins to show, add a further mix of soil/compost until reaching top of container.

Blight infected plants

If any plants, tomato or potato, are infected by blight please do not bury or add the stalks to your compost heap or the communal heap. Bag the material and take to the Council tip. If transport to Council tip is not possible, leave bagged material near main shed at Bilton Road gate and tell the site manager.

Please read this article about Potato and Tomato Blight.

Vegetable storage

If you have a raised bed of carrots, beetroot or parsnip they may survive very well through autumn and winter when left undisturbed in the soil until you need them. Most plots quickly become wet at ground level leading to rotting roots, disease and loss of crop. Lifting of the crops and storing elsewhere for later use is the best option.

After lifting the crop, trim foliage to about 5cm, wash off soil and insects, and allow to dry in sunshine and select the best for storage. A clean, dry box with layers of dry straw is good choice. An alternate is a dry compost and fine sand mixed 50% of each. Store the box in a cool place, keeping covered from light.

Fruit trees

Grease bands are applied in after last picking of fruit, and before end of October. The grease band catches hibernating winter moth, preventing them hiding in the trunk and branches. Otherwise they will emerge in spring to lay eggs in the developing buds of the next years crop.

Fallen leaves

Through October and November a valuable source of mulch becomes available from fallen leaves. Leaves collected from the street will be polluted and most likely contain litter.

Target only deciduous trees, avoiding diseased leaf from fruit trees. Also avoid privet, pine and conifer which take too long to rot down and make soil acid. Watch out for litter, glass and other undesirable content.

It is best to allow the collected leaves to rot down over winter either in large bags or bins. Soak with water and puncture bags to allow air circulation and access by worms and beetles, all promote the composting action.

Add old general fertiliser, fish blood and bone or urine will promote decomposition. Some people recommend watering with comfrey or borage tea.

Keep the leaves bagged and watered until next September and October for digging in. You can also add some to your compost heap during spring and summer.

Digging for spring

Preparing the ground for next year is important on the heavy clay soil. Removing weeds now, will reduce growth during autumn/winter.

Deep digging is not necessary, but will greatly benefit ground that has not benefited from additional mulching or composting this past year. Create a trench by digging a fork depth of soil into a heap next to the trench. Fill the trench with rotted compost, old compost material, rotted or fallen leaves. A good mix is beneficial. Remove weeds as you go.

When the first trench is full, step to one side and start a second trench, using the digging to cover the first trench. Break up big clods, but don’t fuss to much. The winter frosts, rain and cold will help break down the clods, kill off many hibernating slugs and snail, plus allow birds to feed on the open ground.

A lighter and quicker dig is achieved by simple forking the surface to half fork depth, removing weeds.

Remove weeds to your compost heap allowing them to die and rot down, rather than digging them in. If soil is wet and clinging to weeds, drop them into a bucket of water for half hour or more, then shake off the soil.

Gardening on clay