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.
As it’s been a sunny September most fruit will be ripe, and you’ve hopefully been picking lots of the lovely things for ages. October 2013 was a very warm month, but with lots of rain as well, and now 2014 is the driest on record, and nearly the warmest, extending the fruiting season so bountifully.
Once all your fruit has been picked, and stored or eaten, a big tidy up is needed. Sweep up all the fallen leaves and remove them if they are diseased. Make sure any nasty looking fruit that is still on the bush/tree is removed. Anything nasty on leaves or fruit that is left about is harbouring the disease/pest for next year. Then apply tree grease to the main trunk of trees to trap winter moths and reapply in spring. You can leave fallen fruit that is just bruised, not diseased, for birds and other wildlife. Blackbirds love apples!
Now, or over the next few months is when you should prune out any spent canes on blackberries, raspberries and other cane or bush fruit you may have grown. Tie in the new canes so you can manage their growth.
Rhubarb is at home in Yorkshire, and it’s a huge plant. This is traditionally the month for planting rhubarb, so have a go if you have the space. Rhubarb likes ground that’s had loads of manure, and then some cold, so don’t cover the crown of the plant but leave it exposed to the frost. However, cold, wet ground just rots the plant! Each plant needs about 1m square. In January 2009 I planted one rhubarb plant at the plot, a Timperley Early. From a plastic bag it had a tiny pink shoot and one leaf. The next day it snowed! On re-reading the packet instructions it said plant in autumn/spring. However it survived, and in February 2010 I covered it and was rewarded with soft sweet pink stems in March. It's grown enormous since then, and bits have been dug out and given away all over Harrogate. You can pick the rhubarb from April-October.
If you have some Alpine strawberry plants in your garden, you’ll notice they will have self seeded and you’ve got lots more. Remove those you do not want, or pot some up to give to friends – that’s where my first one came from. The small sweet strawberries are lovely to snack on, and children are happy to try them.
You may find the towering foliage of Jerusalem Artichokes starts to brown and topple now. Cut the stalks off near ground level so that you know where they are when you want to dig them up to eat over the winter.
Frost will pretty much kill off any plants when it hits. This is OK as it signals the end of the season, but it does mean that any tomatoes, courgettes, cucumbers, squashes, sweetcorn etc that are on the plant need to be harvested BEFORE the frost. Usually the first frost to hit is light, and acts as a warning to ‘pick everything now’. But, predicting that frost will affect you is tricky, so keep an eye on the weather forecast; southerners may get frost in certain pockets; northerners know they will get it everywhere. (I scraped ice off my car windscreen at 7.30am on 18 September 2007, and the day went on to be a warm and sunny 13 degrees!)
Wind can also come whipping through your plants. Stake any tall ones like Brussels, and big cabbages, or at least earth up the soil around them to give them some support.
You really should not have any potatoes left in the ground by the end of October. Carrots, parsnips, beetroot can be left. But if it’s very wet, check they are not being eaten underground. It’s best to lift and store if you can (see last month). If you don’t have sand to store in, try newspaper, and keep everything cool and dark.
If you like chives, you can lift up some older existing clumps and separate them now to keep producing healthy plants. The foliage will die back, but pop through before you know it when spring arrives. Chives are good value as you can snip them for 6 months of the year, they have a lovely purple flower that attracts beneficial insects, and they are free if you divide them each year.
October is when you (start to) tidy up the beds that have had most of the crop harvested, and prepare them for the next crop. The beds need to be weeded (by hoe or digging) and the weeds removed, and maybe dig out the big perennial weeds. However, it’s unlikely that all your beds will be ready to clear, as you’ll always have some brassicas, kale, beets and leeks around. The bed that’s going to have roots next year does not need manuring, but do dig over the soil as the brassica leave, to make it nice and open. Dig in plenty of compost to make the soil moisture retentive. The bed that will have the brassica next summer can be dug now and lots of manure and compost put in, and then firmed down. Try growing a leguminous green manure to feed the soil ready for summer planting. The bed that will have potatoes can have lots of manure dug in, as can the ‘other bed’ as the space becomes free. If you are waiting for your peas and beans to finish before planting winter/spring brassica, leave the legume roots in the soil, and do not dig it over! Brassicas like firm soil, and they need to be kept firm against winter winds.
Peas and beans (and strawberries) would love it if you could dig out a trench for them (see last month’s notes).
Once you have done your digging, or if you know you won’t do it, you can sow a late green manure, or sprinkle compost. Winter frost is good at breaking down soil and killing pests, but you never know how harsh the winter will be. Some people think that digging messes up the soil’s structure and you should do as little as possible. They just cover the soil with manure or compost and let the worms and weather do the rest, just lightly digging to put in plants. Believe me, it’s a back-friendly option, and better than doing nothing at all.
If you have got covers on your soil you could take them off for the winter, as most annual weeds have stopped spreading their seed now. Dig out any perennial weeds you can see. If you keep doing this over the years you will have a relatively weed free plot.
If you didn’t sort out your compost bins last month, have a go this month. But do it before any animals or frogs decide to hibernate in your compost bin.
Make regular checks on the harvest that you have in store. Anything with any mould, or black bits needs to be removed, and used straight away. If you can’t use it, put it on the compost pile, or remove if you think it’s diseased. If a lot seems to be going off, make sure that the crop has plenty of air to circulate, and is kept cool and dark.
To keep your garden wildlife friendly means you can leave plenty of ‘rubbish’ around. Anything diseased should go, but flower heads with seeds can stay, and fallen fruit. Try to create twig and branch piles in hidden corners where animals can take refuge from cats, and maybe hibernate. We all love hedgehogs, but their lifestyles have been wrecked by recent climate changes, so feed them if you see one in your garden, or see signs that they have trundled through.
Plant this month:
In 2007 at the plot all the pumpkins have been harvested, and the sweetcorn. But in 2007 the courgettes did nothing all summer and then went mad, as did tomatoes which never ripened. The weeds were huge in between the beetroot, parsnips, turnips, chard, spinach and leeks so these have been harvested when accidentally pulled! Runner beans keep going, with still more flowers. The cabbages looked fantastically healthy.
In 2008 the sweetcorn was plentiful and delicious. Finally some runner beans appeared, and the Brussels sprouts and final shoots of calabrese were being picked. Radishes, rocket, beetroot, turnip, leaf beet and carrots were also available, and some beautiful fat autumn raspberries. Sadly the late potatoes were pretty much all rotten, and the squashes never got ripe. Cabbages were ready to be cut, and apples kept dropping.
2009 saw a sweetcorn fest from the plot. They were unbelievably sweet and delicious, even if they were eaten at every meal. The purple sprouting broccoli that has flowered started to produce small florets again, and the cabbages have sprouted leaves. New leaves on the Kale can still be eaten, a year on after planting out. The asparagus fronds look sickly, so a new batch will be planted with more grit in the soil, and a slightly more elevated position along the bed. The carrots pulled were sweet to munch on but oddly shaped, the last of the beetroot are still great, and there’s lots more parsnips and turnips. I think the plentiful Runner and French beans can officially be classed as finished now, as are the raspberries, and courgettes. But there’s lots of parsley, and the Jerusalem artichokes carry on as ever. At home I kept snipping the last leaves of lettuce, chives, parsley and rocket, and the last courgette was picked from a blackened plant.
2010 produced lots of carrots, parsnips, leeks and lots of potatoes, plus the end of the beetroot. The rainbow chard looked so pretty, and all the green manures made the plot look vibrant. Sadly the outdoor tomatoes got blight, again, and the Brussels got attacked by caterpillars because I didn’t cover them. Lettuce, herbs and rocket continued at home, but no beans this year. There was a very heavy frost on 24 October which froze the bird bath, pond and car windscreen! The day went on to be beautiful, clear and sunny, but the nasturtiums were done for.
2011 gave plenty of leeks, beetroot, and of course potatoes. The earlies seemed bigger and better than the maincrop when lifted this month. The carrots were disappointing, as there weren’t many and they were very scabby. All the spring brassicas look great and there are Brussels in there so maybe we’ll have some (small ones) for Xmas. There have been two sharp frosts this last week, and the courgette plants have gone. At home there is still lettuce and rocket.
2012 was a bit bare. The last of the carrots, turnip and beetroot were lifted, and the sweetcorn looked good, if late. Stars of the show have been the autumn raspberries that have just kept coming. The frosts have killed off the courgette plants that failed to deliver this year. In 2012 it snowed lightly on 26 October as the new 007 film went on general release.
2013 was a very warm October, but with torrential rain and storms to add to it. I was still picking beautiful raspberries, and the very last of the lettuce and chives. There is now an experiment in the green house – growing salad crops to eat all winter! I dug over everything in the outside veg patch on a warm sunny day and added two bags of horse manure, and covered with comfrey leaves. The comfrey plants this year have been huge.