October is the last real push in the garden before things really start to quieten down. Almost all of the outdoor planting is now done for the year (apart from some garlic and broad beans), and this month brings the turn around of the polytunnels, with all of the remaining summer crops being taken out and beds planted up mainly with winter salad, but also some early peas, spring onions, parsley, chervil, coriander, chard and perpetual spinach.
Outdoors there is still time to cover any bare beds with either mulch (straw or compost) or ideally a green manure to keep living roots in the soil. It is best to have a mix of different plant types in a green manure, but at this time of year it is only really feasible to sow cereal rye and maybe some other grains. Earlier in August and September we were sowing mixtures of oats, phacelia, fenugreek, linseed, buckwheat, trefoil and white clover, but temperatures are getting a bit low for these to germinate now. The different plant types all root in different ways and provide a more diverse habitat and food sources for the life in the soil, which in turn leads to more diverse soil life and healthier plants. With cereal rye we tend to sow at around about 25-30g per square metre and rake it in (and ideally roll it), and this will germinate even up to December. Another technique that we have been trying this year is oversowing a crop with green manures, which has allowed us to get more of a diverse mixture sown earlier in August and September, as opposed to waiting for the crop to finish in October and sowing then. We successfully oversowed chicory, lettuce and fennel by planting out the crop, then hoeing it one week later, and then a week after that we sowed the green manure and hoed the beds again. This not only hoed off the next flush of weeds, but also the hoe acts as a rake and helps to incorporate the seed into the soil a little, helping the all important soil to seed contact and improving germination.
The basic principle of having the soil covered over winter is to protect it from the heavy rains which can compact it and cause soil erosion. Covering the soil also provides favourable conditions for soil life. In the case of mulches there is added organic matter for soil life to live on through the autumn, winter and spring. With living green manures, the roots of the plants give off exudates which feed the soil life, and these exudates also help to bind soil particles together so that it is far less susceptible to erosion. The result in spring is that you are left with a soil that is alive, aerated and friable, meaning that sowing or planting into it is far easier, and the spring crops have instant connections to the soil life, and therefore instant access to fertility.
Once the green manuring is sorted outside we will spend time sorting out the crop plans for next year, working out what worked well this year and what didn’t and changing the plans accordingly. That all then feeds into our sowing plans for next year, and we can work out how much seed we need and start the exciting process of seed buying! We always try a few different varieties each year, but also have the stalwarts that return year on year and seem to suit our conditions and soil type.
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, chard, perpetual spinach, 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. Make a start on your winter job list before it starts getting too wet and cold!