Preparing for Autumn

It's an easy trap to fall into, to just focus on summer produce and forget about production for the winter. It is always better to be looking forward rather than dwelling too long on our achievements, so hopefully, with our eight raised beds and glasshouse, we are reasonably well-prepared.

In out winter brassica bed, the purple sprouting broccoli and kalette (a cross between a brussels sprout and cabbage) are now quite large and look very healthy. They are under fine mesh netting and daily, I watch the persistent cabbage white butterflies flitting around looking for ways to get in. With that level of determination, there must be no gaps, and any weeding has to take place early in the morning or late in the evening when they are not around. My only concern is that the plants are going to outgrow the construction of the cover before the butterflies give up for the winter in September.

Winter salads are a great thing to grow, and as they will remain productive till next March, they save you a small fortune on buying salads from the shops. I also find all the oriental salad leaves easier to grow over winter, as they don’t bolt, and aren’t troubled by flea beetle. This year, we included rocket, mizuna, winter red mustard, golden frills, green in snow mustard and corn salad. Unfortunately, they got off to a slow start, as I had to resow with fresh seed. The original seed that was sown was from 2016, and the germination was very scrappy, especially the rocket seed. Conversely, the home saved seed mixture germinated very well, showing how seed saving is an excellent and cheap way of ensuring that your plants get off to a good start. Don’t forget that these are all brassicas, so cabbage whites will even lay their eggs on your seedlings. And a caterpillar doesn’t take long to eat a seedling, so cover them up too!

My chard is looking poised to be productive over the winter, a few have bolted so I have sown some replacement plants. Replacement winter lettuce (Marvel of 4 Seasons, Little Gem) have filled in the gaps where the earlier summer ones bolted. So there is a brief respite from lunches spent dutifully munching through a plate piled with lettuce leaves, as these plants get up to size.

And most importantly, let’s not forget the soil in all the remaining areas. Vegetable production takes a lot of nutrients out of the soil, so now is the ideal time to be sowing green manure plants to recharge the soil and improve its structure. You don’t have to wait for vegetable plants to be taken out, sow green manures around things, wherever you have a gap. Don’t listen to the people that say broadcast the seed on the soil, as you will never be able to see what is a plant and what is a weed. I find sowing in rows makes it much easier to manage. Vetch can be sown in rows about 15-20 cm apart, whereas smaller seed such as clover or trefoil should be in closer rows 5-10 cm. Make small channels in the soil with a stick, water the channels well, sprinkle in the seed, then cover. I certainly noticed that where I had grown green manures last year, the vegetables thrived, so they really should be considered essential growing over the winter.

More about Anton...
Anton is a Knowledge Officer at Garden Organic, where he has worked for 16 years. He is looking forward to writing a series of blogs on how to garden using little resources.

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