Although October feels like it should be a time when work in the garden slows down, we find that there is still a lot to be done, especially with changing over summer polytunnel crops to winter salads and herbs. Also getting beds prepared and mulched or covered with black plastic before the winter rains come and compact the ground can take a fair amount of time.
As we clear crops from the polytunnels at this time of year there is one in particular that we are keen to save seed from, as the seed that you can buy is so often poor quality. Agretti (Salsola soda) also known as Barbe dei Frati (Monksbeard) or Saltwort seems to love being grown beneath our tomatoes in the polytunnels. It is a tasty vegetable, usually blanched or steamed and then dressed with lemon and olive oil and either eaten on its own as a green or run through pasta dishes, or when young and tender eaten raw in salads. It has a slightly salty flavour and a bit of a crunch, a little like samphire.
Once germinated it is an easy crop to grow and seems to benefit from the slight shade offered by the tomatoes, growing slightly finer and more tender than when grown in direct sunlight. We start sowing the seed in January and sow successionally through to April, after which germination rates tend to tail off. We sow into module trays—two or three seeds per module and cover with vermiculite. After germinating the plants hold well in the modules so they can be planted once the ground is ready (covering with fleece if growing outside until the threat of frost has passed). We grow some outside and some under the tomatoes in the polytunnels, all at 20cm apart. After a few weeks the tips can be cut which encourages sideshooting and a bushier plant. Subsequent cuts can be made every couple of weeks through the summer until early autumn when the plant becomes a little woodier. We mark some plants in early summer to leave and save seed from. We do not harvest from these, but let them grow and produce the unusual “seed” later in the season. The seed is actually a tiny rolled up plant rather than a seed and we find that after leaving it to mature until around October on the plants it keeps well if hung up in a polytunnel (see picture) and threshed when needed from January, rather than drying them further and keeping them in an airtight container which would be the normal way to treat seeds. Bought seed often gives very poor germination rates, and is rarely viable for more than three or so months, whereas our own saved seed usually gives us around 100% germination for the first couple of sowings and then slowly declines over the next few months.
If you are interested in starting to save seed then I would say that agretti is as good a crop as any to start saving from as the results are always so much better than bought seed (I would recommend buying the starter seed from Real Seeds), and the process is so simple.
WHAT TO SOW THIS MONTH: Spring onions (for polytunnel/glasshouse), broad beans, garlic, peas, sugarsnaps and peashoots (all for overwintering in the polytunnel/glasshouse), mustards, rocket, leaf radish (last chance for sowing these for overwintering in polytunnel/glasshouse)
WHAT TO PLANT THIS MONTH:
OUTSIDE: overwintering spring onions (if not before), direct broad beans and garlic.
INSIDE: overwintering salad leaves, coriander, chervil, parsley, spring onions, overwintering peas.
OTHER IMPORTANT TASKS THIS MONTH: continue mulching beds for the winter, and it is probably your last chance to sow cereal rye as an overwintering green manure in any bare ground