Jobs to do this month
October is a busy month, because there’s lots to do, but less time to do it in, as the daylight hours are getting shorter. The nights are getting colder, as is the daytime, and the light intensity is reducing. We might even get the first ground frosts.
We harvest the last of the summer crops, especially those that would be ruined by frost, such as celery, runner beans, and French beans; we start harvesting the autumn and winter crops, such as swedes; and we finish planting the over-wintering crops.
We start planning for next year, and order the seeds and plants that we’ll need. Which crops did well this year? Which ones didn’t?
We start digging for next year. The sandy soil on our Heathlands plots will always benefit from adding plenty of organic matter: well composted farmyard manure, or the contents of the compost heap.
Alternatively, sow green manure such as winter beans or grazing rye over bare soil, to help improve it. This reduces nutrient loss and helps prevent soil compaction by winter rain. In spring, chop it down and dig it in to release nutrients back into the soil, about a month before you need the plot.
The unheated greenhouse is coming to the end of its use for the year. Clear it out, and clean and sterilise all pots and equipment.
This list isn’t exhaustive. You can get detailed advice from many organisations, especially those listed on this website under Help and Advice.
- Continue cropping apples and pears (the later-ripening varieties).
- Divide rhubarb crowns and plant them in well-prepared, moisture-retentive soil.
- Apply grease bands to fruit trees to prevent female winter moths from climbing the tree to mate with the winged males.
- Trim old foliage and runners from strawberries.
- Bring citrus plants indoors. They need to be kept frost-free but cool between October and March. The ideal temperature range is 5–15°C.
- Plant new cane fruit (blackberries and summer-fruiting raspberries).
- Take cuttings from gooseberry and currant bushes.
Vegetables and salads
- Over-wintering crops such as onion sets, garlic, cabbages and cauliflowers should be in by now; if not, get them planted as soon as possible while the soil is still workable.
- Sow over-wintering broad beans, such as Aquadulce Claudia.
- This is the last chance to harvest maincrop potatoes.
- Strip tomato plants once they have stopped producing ripe tomatoes, and ripen the green ones indoors. Clear the plants out of the greenhouse and compost them.
- Plant lettuces in the greenhouse.
- Hardy brassicas can be cropped over winter, as can leeks and parsnips.
- Cut old stems of asparagus down to ground level once they’ve turned yellow, chop them up, and put them on the compost heap. Then apply a mulch, once you’ve cleared out any weeds. If asparagus beetle has been a problem, they may still be lurking inside the stems, so dispose of material rather than compost it.
- Harvest squash to store for winter use, once their skins have ripened and toughened in the sun, and before the first frosts. Leave a couple of inches of the main stem on each one, so that bacteria can’t get in.
- Cut Jerusalem artichokes down, compost the tops, and harvest the roots.
- You can overwinter potted chilli plants. Protected from low temperatures (about 13°C is ideal) and watered sparingly, they go dormant, and you can prune them back once they have lost their leaves. They then come back into growth in the spring.
- Gather sprigs from woody herbs such as rosemary, thyme, bay and sage and dry them thoroughly to store for use over the winter. Pick any healthy leaves from herbs such as basil, parsley and chives; chop them up and freeze them with a little water in ice cube trays.
- Start lifting celeriac roots towards the end of the month.
- Start harvesting spring-sown swedes this month.
- Harvest and store beetroot.
- If you have the space, you could start a bean trench where next year’s crop is to grow. For most of us this a luxury, though, as we’re still clearing out this year’s crops.
- Keep picking chard leaves.