Your organic vegetable garden in October 2013
How was your harvest this year? October is traditionally the month of harvest festival, a time to gather in and celebrate your successes, review your failures, and start to plan for next year. After a late and cold spring, summer temperatures and rainfall have been good, so for most crops this has been a good year for us at Ryton.
We are celebrating our harvest on the 12th October, come and join us for a day of fun and festivities. Click the link for more details.
Plenty of choice in the new catalogue
- Things to do this month
- Soil matters
- Sowing and planting
- Harvesting and storage
- Pest and disease watch
- Save money! Don’t dispose of any left-over seeds from this year’s packets. With the exception of parsnip, most vegetable seed should last at least a couple of years. And some can last much longer. Store opened packets in a glass jar or plastic box in a cool, dry place. Next spring, check viability by doing a mini germination test on a piece of damp kitchen paper on a tray/in a plastic box.
- Save tomato seed - it's so easy to do.
- Learn how to save all sorts of seeds, come on our Seed Saving course, there are still places left on Thursday 17th October, follow the link for more details.
- Pick up and pick off dead and yellowing leaves from winter brassicas. This helps to remove whitefly and reduces places for slugs to lurk. Leaves can be composted.
- Compost crop remains. Cut down stems and if any are tough, sweet corn for example, chop up or shred first.
- Plan next year’s veg growing in your garden or plot. Make a note of successes and failures and what you’ve grown this year, and where. Order the new Organic Gardening catalogue for 2014 to help with the planning and get your seed orders in early.
- Plant rhubarb sets in October-November.
- Clear away the last remaining outdoor tomatoes. There are several methods of ripening remaining unripe tomatoes.
- Hang the whole plant upside down somewhere frost-free. Light is not required for ripening, so a shed is fine, as long as temperatures don’t plummet.
- Pick all the tomatoes off the vine and lay them in shallow boxes (seed trays are good for this), no more than 2 layers deep, covered with several sheets of newspaper. Keep in a cool dry place. Under a bed, or cupboard is ideal. They will ripen slowly.
- To speed ripening, if required, place a ripe banana in with the tomatoes. The banana gives off ethylene gas when ripe, which triggers ripening in the tomatoes.
Green tomatoes can be used for a range of dishes – not just turned into chutney! Try this soup recipe for a change.
Green Tomato Soup
Good knob of butter
500g/ 1 lb green tomatoes, sliced
200g/8oz potatoes, peeled and sliced
1 onion, chopped
1.2litres/2 pints stock
1 tin beans like borlotti/pinto/cannellini
1/4 tsp mixed herbs
salt and pepper
a handful of rice
125ml single cream or a splash of chilli sauce (optional)
1. Fry the tomatoes, potatoes and onion in butter until softened.
2. Add the beans, stock, herbs, rice, salt and pepper and bring to the boil.
3. Simmer for 30 mins or until the veg/rice is tender.
4. Blend 2/3 of the soup and return to the pan. Can be left lumpy if preferred.
5. Stir in the cream/chilli sauce and reheat gently.
- If there is any late season sun, use it to ripen the last of your squashes and pumpkins before taking them in to store. Stored in a cool, airy location, well-ripened pumpkins can keep for 12 months or so.
- From this month onwards, check stored crops and remove anything showing signs of rot or damage to prevent spread to healthy material. Tomatoes in particular can develop blight, even though they looked fine when picked.
Tomatoes with blight will
rot if stored
- Self blanching celery types are less hardy and may need to be covered to protect them from the frost or harvested at this point.
- Earth up non-self blanching celery for the last time if not done last month, leaving just the tops sticking out. If frost is forecast cover the tops with fleece or cardboard to stop them rotting.
- Chicory and seakale can be forced to provide you with leaves for the winter. ’Forcing’ chicory improves the flavour by blanching the leaves and thus reducing the bitterness found in green leaves. Place an upturned plant pot over each plant, covering the hole to exclude any light. Make sure that the plants are dry before you cover them.
- Insulate your worm bin with bubble wrap, or move it into a warmer spot, such as a porch or greenhouse. This will help to keep the worms working well over winter.
- Bare soil in winter is not good. Aim to protect it one way or another to maintain fertility and structure. Green manures or leafmould are the best options. Commercial soil conditioner is available, at a cost. It’s also possible to leave plants debris, such as a pile of newly fallen leaves or spent runner bean vines covering the soil in winter, to be moved to the compost heap or dug in next spring.
- Sow green manures – this is your last chance. Field beans are the only reliable option for this time of year, though you may get results from grazing rye in milder areas and if the soil is still warm. The Organic Gardening Catalogue carries a wide range of green manures for all soils and situations.
- Mulch soil with leafmould made from autumn leaves from last year. This is particularly beneficial where carrots or parsnips will be sown next year.
- Collect leaves for next year’s leafmould. Pile into open containers, four posts surrounded by chicken wire is the simplest or make piles behind shrubs if space for a container is limited.. This time next year, they’ll be ready to put on your plot and protect and condition soil over winter.
- Autumn is the best time to lime your soil. Organic gardeners use dolomite limestone, which is slowly broken down in the soil. Apply it to where you plan to grow brassica family crops next year, or the year after if your soil is very acid, as the full effect can take a couple of years to show up. Never lime soil before growing potatoes. Dolomite limestone is available from The Organic Gardening Catalogue.
- If you are thinking about liming the soil, test the pH (acidity) of the soil first. Too much lime upsets the balance of the soil and can make it unsuitable for vegetable growing. For general veg growing, a pH of around 6.5 is fine, though the cabbage family will thrive in soils with a slightly higher pH. You can buy a pH test kit or meter from The Organic Gardening Catalogue.
Garden Organic members can see our useful factsheets:
Access to factsheets requires members' password. Find out more about Garden Organic membership here.
Free to download – Growing cards on Green manures
- Start a winter compost trench: Dig a trench – or a hole – a spade deep and wide. Fill this with kitchen scraps as they come available, covering each addition with some soil. When the trench is full, cover with soil and start another trench (if possible). Next season, grow moisture-loving crops such as runner beans or pumpkins on the site.
October is a busy month for lifting and storing your harvest. Pay careful attention to weather reports concerning the first frosts, as this can easily ruin all your hard work put in during the summer. Runner beans, carrots, beetroot, pumpkins and winter squashes, amongst others, are all ready to be harvested, stored or preserved.
Access to factsheets requires members' password. Find out more about Garden Organic membership here.
Eat within minutes of picking
For those who sowed sweetcorn late, early October is the last chance to harvest. Eaten within a few minutes of picking, homegrown sweetcorn is unrivalled by anything you will buy. Each plant produces anything from one to four cobs.
- The cobs are ready to harvest when 'silks' wither and turn brown.
- To test the ripeness, peel back the leaves and push your thumbnail into a grain. One of the following will apply:
- Unripe: if the liquid runs clear.
- Ripe: if the liquid is milky.
- Over-mature: the liquid will be thick and the cob will be unsuitable for eating. Can be frozen or pickled.
The information given below on sowing and planting is for everyone from the south of England to the north of Scotland.
Growing conditions can vary dramatically across the country, and also even within a locality. If you are new to growing and are unsure about exactly what to do when, try asking other vegetable growers nearby. And be guided by the weather and soil conditions.
Keep on sowing
Garlic Buy garlic for planting in October or early November. ‘Vallelado’ is suitable for autumn and early winter planting; ‘Flavour’ for late winter and early spring planting. To avoid the risk of introducing diseases, don’t use cloves bought from the greengrocer. Planting a named variety ensures you are growing a variety suited to the UK. Onions Autumn onion sets, such as Radar and Electric Red can be planted now Land cress Also known as American land cress. Makes an excellent substitute for watercress and is very hardy, usually surviving even the toughest winter. Chinese leaves There is a great choice of oriental salads to sow now, giving a supply of salad or stir-fry leaves over the autumn and winter. Some (marked* below) are best with some protection, and all will crop more generously under cover. If you are not sure what you like, try Oriental Saldini - a mixture of various greens. Green in Snow, Mizuna Greens*, Mibuna Greens*, Giant Red Mustard*, Indian mustard, Komatsuna*, Pak choi*. Lamb's lettuce Also called corn salad, very hardy winter salad with a soft texture and mild flavour. Lasts well throughout the winter, and when it flowers next spring the flowers can be eaten too. Winter lettuce Slower and less reliable perhaps than the salads listed above. Use a winter variety such as Rouge d'Hiver, Winter Density or Winter Crop, for harvesting in November and December. Winter purslane Goes by the additional names of claytonia and miner's lettuce. Another very hardy winter salad, good at self-seeding. Produces small, mild tasting, succulent leaves. Sow in unheated greenhouse/polytunnel. Broad bean Sow Super Aquadulce, Aquadulce Claudia and Imperial Green Longpod towards the end of the month. The Sutton can be grown under cloches. Peas Round seeded peas can be grown from October/November sowings. An organic variety is the Douce Provence. Other varieties include Feltham First, Meteor or Pilot (probably the hardiest of all varieties). Spring cabbages Cabbages that were sown last month are probably ready for planting out now. Cover with enviromesh to prevent the pigeons from nibbling at them.
All the above are available from The Organic Gardening Catalogue
Online at: www.OrganicCatalogue.com
What you could be eating now - if you remembered to
sow it and if the weather has been kind.
Brussels sprouts - early
Cabbage - summer and autumn
Cauliflower - autumn
Green in the snow
Turnip (main crop)
Sea kale beet
Download the vegetable Growing Cards for all information on growing vegetables.
Keep on top of brassica pests on winter cabbages, broccoli, kale and Brussels sprouts.
- Remove yellowing leaves from winter brassicas. These are not needed by the plants and will only encourage fungal diseases, such as grey mould and botrytis, to invade your crops.
- Check that bird netting is still in place. As the season progresses, pigeons are even more likely to take a fancy to your Brussels and broccoli.
- Brassica whitefly can build up over the summer and survive the winter on Brussels sprouts, broccoli, winter cabbage and kale. The tiny, white creatures fly up in clouds when the plants are disturbed. The sticky honeydew they produce often encourages black ‘sooty’ moulds to grow on leaves. Pick off infested lower leaves; the young whitefly ‘scales’ live underneath these leaves. Spray with insecticidal soap if the infestation is bad. Spray both sides of the leaves, repeating two or three times at intervals if necessary.
- Mealy cabbage aphids can also build up on winter brassica crops.
- Leek rust (a fungal disease), forms red/orange pustules on the leaves and stems. In a mild autumn the disease may continue to develop turning leaves yellow and resulting in reduction of plant size.
- Leek moth - Mainly a pest of leeks and onions, the caterpillars of leek moth feed within the leaves. Whitish brown patches develop and older caterpillars tunnel down into the stem and bulb causing extensive damage.
- Keep track of your crop rotation to prevent a build-up of pests and diseases.
- Keep an eye on your stored vegetables. Mice looking for places to hibernate can do lots of damage to your precious stores.