Mid October in the Vegetable Garden

Mid October in the vegetable garden

Most of the crops are in and we hold our breath waiting for the winter weather to arrive. We seem to have had a typical British summer – variable rain and rather cool nights on average, resulting in poorish crops of those vegetables happier in warmer countries such as outdoor tomatoes and squash. Old British staples such as potatoes, leeks, beans, peas and onions appear to have done well though many of the cabbage family have, on my patch at least, struggled to get away from slugs and snails. When things don’t do well I find it is good to hear from others that theirs haven’t done well either so I hope this is a help. I don’t broadbeanslike to have bare patches in my raised beds so I’ve been filling them with varieties which can stand through, and even enjoy, the winter. The overwintering onion sets are in. I plant Radar out in the open and Senshyu Yellow under cloches. Both these did pretty well last year. I’ve been planting broad beans in empty spaces for the last few weeks but more as green manures than as real crops. Green manures are crops designed to feed the soil rather than produce an edible crop. Despite this broad beans have been flowering for the last three weeks and might even produce some small beans (the pods are apparently edible) if the frosts don’t come soon. If they don’t produce I will eventually cut them down to level with the ground leaving the roots in to feed the soil.

Beans, like peas, are legumes which means that they have nodules on their roots full of bacteria which are capable of taking nitrogen from the air and “fixing it”. This leaves the nitrogen available for the crops which follow them. Nitrogen is one of those elements, along with potassium and phosphorus (N, P and K on the packet contents), which non organic gardeners add to the ground when they scatter artificial fertilizers. As an organic gardener I prefer to let the beans do some of that work for me. Within the next couple of weeks I hope garlicto plant those broad beans, variety Aquadulce, super Aquadulce or Aquadulce Claudia which are, except in the very hardest winters, happy to grow slowly until spring and then to race
away to provide the earliest beans of the year. They haven’t failed me yet over many winters. I have also put the garlic in. I have used my home grown bulbs taking the fattest cloves and placing their tips at ground level and around 150mm apart. This year they were ready very early producing large bulbs in May and June. If you don’t have your own to plant I would suggest planting any from the supermarket with Wight in the name. I have just planted some spring onions, variety White Lisbon and some wild and cultivated rocket. These might germinate and provide some greens for a week or two. The parsley – variety Italian Giant – planted a few weeks ago looks ready to take on the winter.

Finding the Fertility

One of my preoccupations is to try to provide enough compost to add a couple of inches on top of each bed every year. Following Charles Dowding’s methods I don’t dig but let the soil organisms take the compost down. It is clear that an allotment is not capable alone of providing enough compost or mulch to give a two inch layer so I am trying to recycle enough from household waste and from our average sized garden to make up the recyclingdifference. We don’t throw any food out, only the occasional bone. This means that I am trying to recycle all kitchen waste, including cooked food and meat, and all garden waste which includes prunings, leaves and even tree branches. Thicker tree branches are dried for use on the stove but thinner ones are shredded and used in the compost. There will be much more of my recycling experiments in future blogs. If you have any thoughts on this, on how to make our households more self sufficient in fruit and vegetables or on any other green gardening ideas I would be glad to hear them and hand them on in these articles.

Indispensable Tools

Just a note about one of the tools I use most on my raised beds – the Japanese razor hoe. This is a short handled hoe perfect for removing all those weeds, such as grasses, razorhoeshepherd’s purse and speedwell which pop up continuously during the summer. They can be cut off at the roots before they set seed and spread. This hoe is not really suitable however for bindweed, docks, dandelions and nettles which have thicker roots and will
happily recover from having their tops cut off. These are in the category of pernicious weeds and rely on their starchy roots to store enough food for them to pop up again. They need removing with as much of their roots as possible. Once they are cleared from your beds however the razor hoe comes into its own and can help to keep the ground looking clear and impressive. A Japanese razor hoe is likely to make a good Xmas present for any keen vegetable grower.