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Growing your own Vegetables and Fruit

Enjoy growing and eating fresh veg and fruit when you want it.

Here, help is at hand month by month so you can see what you should be doing on your plot when growing your own vegetables and your own fruit. The weather and where you live make a huge difference to what grows, or not, but doing anything is better than nothing. Use the links above if you want specific information on a fruit or veg, or to see what you should have done last month.


September 2016

This is a lovely relaxing month in the veg plot. If you look at any ‘sow/harvest’ style calendar you’ll see that September is the month when you can just about harvest any and everything, and sow virtually nothing – a real glutton’s paradise!

Of course, if you’ve done everything right and planted in succession you‘ll have crops for a few months yet, and then some more, but often this is the month when everything stops flowering and packs up shop. So, enjoy it.

Everyone talks excitedly of an Indian summer as if it is unusual in September, but this month is often warm and sunny, and ripens the tree fruit. Looking back at previous years the only conclusion you can draw is that September will be sunny, windy, warm, and wet!

Apples can be picked when ready (twist the apple and if it comes off it’s ready!) Generally speaking, the earlier the apple is ripe, the shorter time it will store. So, eat them now, and then as the season progresses, start to store the later varieties. Pick up diseased fruit and leaves as they fall to remove any pests from your plot. Paint sticky grease bands onto tree trunks to stop winter moths. Store fruit ideally in airy containers, and place the fruit on straw or wrap individually in newspaper. Your local greengrocer/garden centre may have wooden boxes going cheap or free. If you notice new shoots on your tree, cut them back to about 5 leaves, but otherwise you can leave the pruning of apple trees until the winter.

Autumn raspberries are there to be enjoyed, as are plums, damsons, pears. Make sure to secure any new summer fruiting raspberry canes, so that they don’t flap and flop around all winter. You should have cut to the ground any old summer fruited raspberry canes (the leaves are yellow as well) but leave the new shoots to flower next year.

Blackcurrant bushes can be pruned now by cutting out one in three fruited shoots. With Blackberries, cut out fruited canes, and secure new shoots so they grow where you want them to. You can prune most of the fruited bushes now, or over the winter. Don’t prune apples or pears until winter.

If you are lucky enough to have tomatoes and cucumbers growing, cut off the big leaves now to allow maximum sunlight to reach and ripen the fruit.

Your asparagus foliage is probably going yellow and leaning over. Cut it off now near the base and give the area a good rich manure mulch.

Plant out new strawberry plants produced from runners, or pot up some runners to make new plants. If your strawberry patch is a mass of plants, you could lift them now, fork in some manure and fresh compost, trim off runners and old leaves and then replant them in neat rows. It will make your life easier if you plan to use cloches or netting next summer, to plant them in rows that fit under the cloche. It’s best to leave plants uncovered over winter, as they need a cold spell in their life cycle before they will flower. But cover from March if you want to try to force an early crop. Either way, trim off all the old leaves and clear away any rubbish like straw, that’s probably going mouldy now (but I found a frog under mine!)

As you harvest the last of the beans and peas, cut them off at the stalk leaving the roots in the ground, and plant any remaining winter and spring brassica plants that you have left over into this space.

If you have lots of potatoes it is worth investing in some sacks, but make sure the pots are dry first. Use your hands to lightly rub off the excess soil. Or, if the soil was really dry when you harvested, leave them to dry as picked, in the sun. You can leave maincrops in the ground, but be wary of slugs, but lift all your crop by mid October. If you lift them on a sunny day, let them bake in the sun to toughen up the skin so they are less likely to be damaged in storing. If you had blight around hopefully the virus has not got into the tubers, but if it has they will rot. So make sure you only store clean pots with no holes or blemishes. You can eat blighted potatoes, but do so now before they rot, don’t store them. In 2007 we had lots of blighted plants and removed the foliage at the first sign. The tubers we lifted were fine and we did not get blight in 2008 until mid September when it wiped out all the toms, and rotted much of the main crop potatoes as they lay in the ground.
And if you are feeling energetic, sort out your compost! Some people say don’t waste your compost by putting it on the soil in autumn, as the goodness gets leached out with winter rains; others say do it to protect the soil and the worms will mix it all up perfectly. Personally I think it’s a good idea to clear out the compost area now, or over the next few months. It’s hot work and more pleasant to do when the weather is cooler.  If you can, lift off the unrotted ‘new’ stuff and put in onto a sheet, then dig out all the good stuff and bag it, or wheelbarrow it onto your soil, then return the ‘new’ stuff to the bin ready to have more piled on top of it. Save a spade full of the good stuff and return it to the bin to get things going, and if you can, cover the new pile with an old coat, duvet or pillow to keep it nice and warm. Ideally you lift and turn your compost regularly in summer, infrequently the rest of the year, to get plenty of air into it, but it’s hard, sweaty, fly circling work! Much as the black ‘dalek’ looking bins are easy to fill, and heat things up well, they are a nightmare when it comes to turning. So I don’t, and just shovel out the compost from the bottom as it becomes useable. Traditional open, wood cased bins make turning and lifting easier, but it still needs strong arms.

If you haven’t got room for a compost bin, dig a compost trench. This is when you dig out a trench in your plot, say a spade’s width wide and deep and just fill it with shredded newspaper and your kitchen scraps. When full, pull the soil over and start again. These trenches are great to grow peas, beans, potatoes and courgettes into, but there’s really nothing that won’t like it except brassicas that like firm soil.

Sow some green manures. These are plants that protect the soil over the winter, and help fix nutrients in it. A green manure that stays in the ground all winter is very beneficial. You just dig it into the soil in the spring, or put it on the compost heap. You can sow these into a compost covered area of soil, or bare soil, and they germinate quickly now when the soil is still warm. Just make sure the green manure fits in your crop rotation, as some, like mustard, is a member of the brassica family so it should not be grown out of turn (grow it after brassicas so if club root shows up, it ruins the green manure crop, not your brassica). Phacelia can be grown at any time in the cycle, as can field beans.
If you grew sunflowers, cut off the seed head and keep them stored dry to feed the birds over the winter. (I was too late and the squirrel’s eaten all mine).
Japanese onions can be planted now. They will grow over the winter and be ready to harvest in June/July ahead of your later crop. And you can plant some onions sets, shallots and garlic this month. Check the variety before doing so.
Try collecting seeds from flowers you really like, or neighbour’s or friends’. Pop them in an envelope in the fridge and sow in early spring.
September can be a lovely sunny month, so when you are outside you can dig over soil if you feel like it, make sure you tidy up fallen leaves in the plot, wash out your pots and trays ready to store away for the winter, and maybe sow some salad seeds and spring brassica under cover. You never know what may germinate, if it’s happy it will grow and you’ll reap the benefit. Check seed catalogues for varieties that can cope with the winter. It’s the reduced hours of sunlight as much as the cold that affects whether they will grow over the winter or not. But, September can also experience cold spells, so protect any very vulnerable plants, like Basil. (I scraped a thick frost off my car windscreen at 7.30am on 18 September 2007, and the day went on to be a warm and sunny 13 degrees!). In 2009 there was an icy blast one night in September, and then none until November.
Catalogues will be arriving tempting you to buy bulbs – and you may as well. But plan where they will be going first. Bulbs in the plot look pretty, or in a pot.  Plant them very deep if you want to keep them in your veg plot, and then plant veg on top once they have flowered.

Many garden centres and on-line garden sites have sales now, so look through for items you would have liked this year, and maybe order. A cloche tunnel for instance, or an obelisk or trellis, or a trough for salads maybe. A small greenhouse, or even just a mini-greenhouse will mean you can get salads all winter, and start off bedding plants early, and peas and beans.

Plant this month:
Outside  - (Autumn) onions sets, Raspberry canes
Under cover – Spring brassica, salad, chard
Leek, Lettuce, Spinach can be sown all year round and planted out, depending on the variety.
Plant out seedlings of:  (spring) Cabbage
Harvest:  French Beans, Runner Beans, Beetroot, (summer) Cabbage , Carrot, Cauliflower, Courgette/Marrow, Cucumber, Onion, Parsnip, Peas, Potatoes, Radish, Rocket , Sweetcorn, Tomatoes, Turnip/Swede. Apples and pears can be picked when ready.

Plums picked at the plot in 2007 were truly sweet and delicious, just not plentiful as in previous years. Some raspberries and apples were picked, and the cucumbers were finally growing, and the tomatoes (apart from bush ones) were still green. The sweetcorn looked perfect but not ripe, as did the pumpkins. But all the carrots and potatoes were lifted and stored in damp sand (carrots) and sacks (potatoes) in a cool dark room. The garlic and onions were all been lifted and dried. And the peas were lovely, going with more runner beans from the garden than anyone can possibly eat.

In 2008 the plot let us pick an awful lot of beetroot. For the village show there were courgettes, lettuce, rocket, radishes, turnip, beetroot, a few carrots, a few beans and broad beans, rather ripe and mouldy raspberries, small onions. The toms were wrecked by blight, and many of the potatoes. Rocket and radishes did well when planted late. Squashes appeared in profusion but rotted. Grass grew very long on the paths. Didn’t harvest any apples, yet, but the trees were full, but there were no plums on the tree, and only a few damsons. The pears tasted Ok but looked awful.

2009 at the plot saw more Victoria Plums on a tree than you could imagine, and they were delicious. There are not many pears or apples to speak of, but thousands of autumn fruiting raspberries. The parsnips were huge, as were some of the beetroot, and turnips, and the carrots were crunchy and sweet. Peas were finished but the runner and French beans just kept going. The kale and cabbages are just about done, but more will go in now for next year. And, the phacelia flowers continue to look gorgeous and keep the bees happy. One large clump of Verbena bonariensis still glows a bright purple which the butterflies love, and the wild flower patch continues to have red, pinks yellows and whites and looks so cheerful. Most of the potatoes have been lifted and either eaten or stored. The first sweetcorn cobs were picked and eaten on 28th and were lovely, but sadly the tomatoes that had looked so good all went black and horrible from blight. At home it was beans, courgettes rocket, lettuce, parsley, basil to eat.

2010 and the Victoria plums were again delicious, and there were quite a lot of damsons as well. The apple trees are heaving with fruit, but after one wild windy night so many lay on the ground. The pink chard looks fantastic, and there were lots of carrots, huge parsnips, and the odd beetroot that escaped the rabbit’s nibbling. Leeks are looking good, and there is one huge pumpkin, and lots of smaller ones. If they’d been grown earlier maybe we’d have had more! The Brussels seem to be coming back having been nibbled, and the bed with Phacelia looks stunning. The raspberry canes are 2m high and full of big soft fruits, but you need to eat them quickly after picking. The late planted sunflowers are yellow and pretty, and one flower had 8 ladybirds on it, and the Verbena has self seeded and flowered again. The tomatoes are big and green and so have been taken inside and introduced to a banana in the hope they will ripen. And, for the first time, celery was grown and picked, and tasted so strong – great if you like celery. At home it’s a little bit thin produce wise after such a dry start to the season, with lettuce, chives and rocket; but the calendula, nasturtium, borage, achillea  and phacelia make it still look beautiful.

2011 saw us eating lots of fruit – raspberries, plums, more raspberries. There were a couple of small cucumbers in the hot bed, and one pumpkin is doing well at school. Lettuces, rocket, the staples keep going and there will be lots of cabbages in the spring. Sadly the sweetcorn did not do much, and look small and stunted. There are lots of lovely leeks and beetroot, and some carrots. And three sunflowers that have shone for so long are now setting seed. The weeds and nettles that have crept in amongst the paths and bed edges are huge, so we will get rid of them over the winter. So many potatoes to harvest, I don’t know where to put them! Flowers everywhere still keep going, with the rain and now sun they are still looking great. And the insects are happy!

2012 having been so wet, the plot has only produced fruit and veg that had been started early, or under cloches. In the garden there are carrots and beetroot, lots of lovely big raspberries and some rocket and chives, but the lettuces have now bolted. In the school plot there are radishes, turnips, courgettes, raspberries and rhubarb. There are a few sweetcorn cobs that will be picked at the end of September, rather than August, and the early potatoes have grown huge. Some of the potatoes are mushy and blighted when lifted, and some are perfect (the red skinned ones). The summer flowers of Calendula have kept the plot looking pretty, along with a purple flowering clematis. There are a few apples that will hopefully ripen, but no plums, and a friend’s wall trained pear tree is covered in fruit.

2013 was the year of endless sunny September days, and continuous raspberries. The soil was baked dry, so not much else produced. But the Victoria plums were lovely, the odd courgette, still lots of lettuce, chives and parsley. The beans are over, but the pretty calendula flowers continue everywhere, with nasturtiums and borage. The apple tree is full, but many have fallen early, probably because it is so dry.

2014 was the driest September on record with only 20% of the normal rainfall. This followed on from a wet August and the wettest winter and the wettest Jan-August period on record. But if you ask anyone, it was a lovely summer because most of the rain fell early in the year. Fruit has been prolific starting with strawberries, then all the currants, raspberries and now apples and pears. With water levels high, established trees have had plenty, and then there have been weeks of warm sunshine to ripen the fruit. In the veg patch lettuce, rocket, and autumn raspberries have continued, and the courgettes have flowered, albeit with smaller fruit. The onions dried off as di the harvested potatoes. Beans were still being picked at the end of September, and the warm sun with daytime temperatures of 20C made it feel lovely to be outside. Farmers have been harvesting, rotavating and sowing like mad, waiting for the October rains to come.

2015 was mainly warm, with just a few very wet days. The days often started grey and cool, but by midday the sun burst through and gave the autumn colours a lovely glow. The sweetcorn picked this month was sweet and delicious, and the courgettes kept coming. Sweet peas enjoyed the late rains and kept flowering, and the calendula kept their bright flowers. Squashes are developing well, but I thought I’d gown pumpkins, and as ever the raspberries are huge and delicious. The raspberries are covered in bright green shield bugs, but there’s no damage, and if anything the fruits seem cleaner than ever. There also seem to be a lot more blackberries than usual. 







box of veg

Still eating peas?

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