As the energy of the garden retreats into the soil, I too begin to hibernate after working too much through the summer months. Although I still rely on the autumn sun’s energy to keep me going at this time of year, I tend to slow down and focus my thoughts on next season. All of the planting and growing work has been done for the year (bar a few late polytunnel plantings of spring onions, broad beans and peas), and although there is a little hoeing in the polytunnels to be done, most of the practical work involves infrastructural maintenance and improvements.
We will begin to go through notes from the year gone by and feed this into next years’ crop plans. Everything that went well this year will stay the same for the next growing season. Anything that didn’t do so well will either be changed a little – maybe sown a little earlier or later or perhaps planted at wider spacings. Sometimes crops continue in the ground for longer than we had accounted for, so subsequent crops are left without a place to be planted—these are the sorts of detail that we try to record through the year so that we can adjust the plans accordingly.
November is also a time for us to process all of the seed that we have grown for ourselves as well as for seed companies such as Vital Seeds and the Real Seed Catalogue. This year we have chard seed to process—a mix of different varieties to create our own mix of favourites which we will keep selecting over the years so that we can keep selecting the plants that would best suit our conditions and soil. We also have parsley, runner beans, amaranth, nicotiana, agretti and helichrysums still to process this year. It hasn’t been the best year for seed growing, so we have had a few crop failures unfortunately. The summer was just not good enough to dry the seed sufficiently for some of the crops, and others suffered from a range of insect pests that we don’t usually see on crops grown for market.
The general process of getting seed from the plants is that we harvest the plant once the seed starts to ripen and we further ripen the seed on sheets or racks in the propagation tunnel – ideally this is through August and September when the sun’s intensity helps to continue to ripen the seed and dry out the stalks etc. We then thresh the plant—which may be a case of rubbing the seed off the plant or often just hitting the plants with a stick (or something like a rounders bat!) which helps to dislodge the seed from the stalks. Ideally this would be done in a way that doesn’t break up too much of the stalk, so that the next stage of sieving and screening is a little easier. We take off the bulk of the bigger plant stalks, once the seed has fallen to the bottom of the pile and we pass the seed, which at this stage has a lot of dried up plant debris like leaves and stalks, through a range of sieves. We start with a sieve that lets most of the seed through but not the larger stalks and leaves, then we might use a sieve that lets through the smaller bits but keeps the larger seed. This usually gives us a much cleaner seed, but it still needs further winnowing or cleaning. So we then usually use our hoover powered seed cleaner which takes out all of the smaller, lighter chaff and the heavier seed drops through. The same result can be achieved through dropping the seed from one trug into another from a height big enough to allow the lighter chaff to blow away and the heavier seed to drop straight into the trug below. Ideally this is done with a fan strategically placed to help achieve a consistent breeze to blow the chaff away. It is important to then further dry the seed so that it can be stored in airtight containers safe in the knowledge that it is dry enough to keep for a while.
WHAT TO SOW THIS MONTH: Not a lot! We have made all of our sowings by now, and will start tentatively with a few sowings again in January, but nothing else before then.
WHAT TO PLANT THIS MONTH:
OUTSIDE: Garlic (if not planted already)
INSIDE: peashoots, sugarsnap and early pea varieties, spring onions, broad beans, garlic (for extra early garlic)
OTHER IMPORTANT TASKS THIS MONTH: Don’t be tempted to tidy up too much, as old crops and flowers act as a habitat for many beneficial insects. Start going through your winter job list—whether it’s cleaning glasshouses or polytunnels, tidying up your propagating area, cleaning and oiling your tools or even looking through seed catalogues for a bit of inspiration for next year!