What to do this month

If you are new to the allotment start to make notes of what other people are growing around you and find out what varieties work best you can then get ready to think about planning your crops for next year.

Outdoor tomatoes seem to have done well this year but you may want to try a little trick to get the last few fruits to ripen.  The outdoor tomato season is all but over but if you lie the plants down on a bed of straw and cover them with a cloche this will help to produce enough warmth to get an extra month’s ripening out of them.  You will need to keep feeding and watering then and then the side shoots will appear more quickly.  When the fruit starts to change colour pick them and put them on the window sill or in a drawer with a banana.  Bananas produce ethylene gas which will assist ripening.  If you have green fruit then of course this can be made into chutney.

Now is a good time to clear weeds as this will ensure weed-free beds all winter.  Wet weather and warm soil will provide ideal conditions for late germination of weeds such as groundsel. Groundsel is capable of having several life cycles in one year and it has the potential to grow, flower and set seed again in warm spells in the winter.  Remember, ‘One year’s seed, seven years weed’.  Try to get rid of your weeds now before this happens.

Now is a good time apply bonemeal as a late feed if you have trees, shrubs or perennials on your plot, as this is slow release and it will break down slowly, feeding your plants into spring.  If you can get hold of some bark mulch now it will also help to keep down the weeds and also keep the moisture in so try and put it down after a heavy rain shower.

You can sow green manures, such as mustard and Italian ryegrass, this will help autumn weeds from taking hold and it will also help to prevent soil nutrients from washing away over the winter and act as a soil improver when dug in during the early spring. Just broadcast the seed over an area of bare soil and it will soon germinate.  You can purchase your green manure from Kings seeds – www.kingsseeds.com – they provide a really friendly and efficient service.

Once summer crops come to an end the best place for them is on the compost heap, unless of course, they have any pests and diseases.

You can plant overwintering onion sets if you are sure you will be able to get to the allotment in the winter months as they will need weeding and possibly watering.  Onions are not good weed suppressers because of the way they grow, but potatoes with their bushy foliage are good at keeping weeds away so plant your onions on the plot that you had potatoes in last time.  Onion sets are just immature onions and so you can plant them a hands span apart with the tops just above the soil.  Make sure you nip off the tips so that the birds don’t come down and eat them – sometimes, overwinter, the frost will lift the sets out of the soil – just push them back in again and plant them up to their shoulders.  Make sure you leave a good foot in between rows so that you can hoe the weeds off.  Onions like a sunny position and Radar is a good reliable variety.  These onions will be ready for harvesting in May.

Sow some lettuce ‘All year round’ or ‘Winter Density’ in modules and once they get going you can plant them out, try to find a spot that is not too exposed. You can also sow Oriental vegetables directly into the ground such as mizuna, giant red mustard, purslane or corn salad. I usually sow mine in my unheated green house or in guttering and it should keep you in salad leaves over the winter.  You might want to cover the crops with a cloche just to keep the worst of the weather off them, but most of the above are very hardy, and unlike the ones in the supermarket, won’t be full of chlorine!

If you have mature Brussels sprout plants earth them up now and stake them as the winds will soon lift them out of the ground – the are such majestic plants and look wonderful during the winter so look after them now.  Just take a hoe and pull the soil up around the base of the plant and take a stout stake, tie twine once round the stake and then, with a figure of eight, tie it to the stem – this way you will leave some room for slight movement without cutting into the plant.

If your runner beans are coming to an end then snip off the stems just above the ground – there is a lot of nitrogen goodness in bean roots that will be returned to the soil as then decompose. There are always fat pods of beans that can be dried and saved for next year.   I have some that were grown by my Grandfather who died in the 1960’s that I have saved every year!

Comfrey and nettles continue to grow in abundance – cut these right back again and put them into a container such as an old bin and then this liquid manure can be stained off in early spring to feed next years corps.

Cut out the fruited canes of your summer fruiting raspberries, and tie in new canes, aim to leave around five canes per plant – remove any weak ones.  Summer fruiting raspberries fruit on wood made in the previous season and autumn raspberries fruit on wood made this year and so they are just cut down to the ground during the winter time – this will then enable them to make growth ready to fruit the following autumn.

The blueberries look wonderful at the moment as they produce fantastic autumn colour on their leaves.  They need a sheltered, sunny position with moist but well-drained soil.  They also need an acidic soil, so if your soil has a pH higher than 5.5 which is very likely in this area you will need to grow them in containers. I use leafmould mixed with ericaceous compost (compost suitable for plants requiring acidic soil) and some horticultural grit to help with drainage.  Of course you will need to water them regularly during the summer if they are in a container and rain water is best for this purpose.

Cut down your asparagus foliage now that it is turning brown, asparagus is a brilliant plant to grow as it is expensive and also so delicious, and you can use the foliage for flower arrange.  Give your plants a generous mulch of organic matter.  If you are new to allotments start to prepare your asparagus bed now for planting new crowns in the spring.  They like a really well drained soil so are ideal for a raised bed. 

Lift your maincrop potatoes at the end of September.  This is a lovely job done on a warm day – it is best to leave them on top of the soil for a couple of hours to dry out.  Store them in paper bags, but make sure you store only undamaged ones.  Potatoes must be kept in the dark, otherwise they will turn green.

Plant our spring cabbages, if you didn’t sow any last month you can buy them from the garden centre.  They should be planted 15cm apart with rows 30cm apart.  Make sure you cover them with a cloche or some netting if not the pigeons will demolish them.

You can begin your garlic now – I always plant them in a module tray for a quicker start and keep them in the cold frame for the winter and then they can be planted out in the spring.  Buy a couple of bulbs of garlic from the garden centre which are guaranteed virus free.  They need a period of cold to grow well.

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