It really is hard to believe that it’s already October, and the year is winding down inexorably towards Halloween and that other mid-winter festival that will remain unmentioned. Thankfully there’s still some sowing activity to do this month that helps us to hang on to this year’s growing for a little longer.
The way I see it, sowing activities at this time of the year have a number of benefits. First of all, over-wintering varieties of vegetables will be ready to eat earlier than their spring-sown equivalents. Secondly it makes the task of seed sowing that little easier in the spring because you’ve already completed part of the job. Thirdly I really enjoy seeing some green things growing in the winter vegetable patch, which can other wise feel a little dreary (the picture with this column was taken in the depths of winter last year, with the super hardy broad bean variety Aquadulce Claudia successfully facing down a particularly nasty ground frost). Finally, the contrarian in me loves sowing at this time of the year exactly because it feels counter-intuitive to be doing a spring activity at a time of the year when nature is starting to shut down.
This time last year I sowed three different types of vegetables that paid major dividends—garlic, red onions and broad beans. In the case of red onions and broad beans it was the first time I have sown them in the autumn, and they worked out great. I have found red onions sown in spring are inclined to soften or rot in my wet soil, but the autumn sown ones worked fantastically well. In the case of the broad beans, because of the jump start they get from early sowing, they were ready to eat in May when there was very little else to eat.
Finally it’s worth reiterating that garlic is best sown pre-Christmas, as it needs a prolonged cold spell in the soil for the cloves to split and form big juicy bulbs. With spring-sown garlic you can be lucky and get a long, cold spring or you can be unlucky and get a very mild spring and terribly puny garlic bulbs. Though of course I realise that a mild spring has other attractions!
We’ve a good selection of winter garlic and onions on the GIY shop at GIYireland.com/shop.
Things to do this October
Pot up herbs to grow inside over the winter. Continue to lift crops that have finished harvesting and clean up the beds. Sow over-wintering green manures. If you are going to cover empty beds down with manure for the winter, the earlier you do it the better. Try and find a good source of farmyard manure if you don’t have your own—cow, horse, pig, sheep and chicken manure are all great sources of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium for your soil. Cut autumn fruiting raspberry canes down to the ground.
You can sow hardy varieties of peas and broad beans later this month for an early spring crop but only do so in well-drained soil. In the polytunnel get a crop of cauliflower and carrots going over the winter. Plant selected varieties of garlic and winter onion sets.
Depending on the weather, the harvest may well continue in to October—pumpkins, squashes, courgette, apples, pears etc. It’s the last hurrah however for peas, beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, aubergines, peppers and chilli-peppers. Continue to harvest wild mushrooms, elderberry, blackberries, sloes, carrots, potatoes, parsnips, swedes, celeriac, turnip, beetroot, celery, marrows, leeks and cabbage.
Recipe of the Month—
Red Cabbage, Carrot & Beetroot Slaw
I like growing red cabbage because it seems relatively impervious to some of the beasties that make growing other cabbages a complete nightmare. I must say however that we often find it difficult to do it justice in the kitchen and don’t find it as versatile as green or white cabbages.
This coleslaw is great though and I like to think the abundance of raw veg in it can offset the use of lots of mayonnaise. I have tried to do a more virtuous mayo-free version with mustard and vinegar but it didn’t work so well in my view. This will keep in the fridge for 3–4 days.
- ½ a red cabbage, outer leaves removed and very thinly sliced
- 1 large carrot, peeled and grated
- 2 small beetroot, peeled and grated
- 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
- 3–4 sprigs fresh parsely, finely chopped
- 3–4 tablespoons mayonnaise
Combine all the vegetables and the parsley in a bowl and mix well. Season really well with sea salt and black pepper. Stir in the mayonnaise and sprinkle some more parsley on top. Serve immediately.
Tip of the Month—
Think the growing year is over???
- Broad beans—autumn sown broad beans are ready a good month before spring-sown and they don’t get black fly. Try variety Aquadulce or Supersimonia.
- Peas—Ditto for autumn sown peas—try variety Meteor.
- Sugarsnap peas—you might be able to get early varieties of sugarsnaps such as Snow Pea Gigante Svizzero—growth will be slow but you will get small pods early next year.
- Garlic—plant cloves one inch below the surface.
- Onions—Autumn sown onions will be harvested earlier than spring-sown.
- Spring onions—Sow some spring onions too—White Lisbon is a good option.
- Spring cabbage—if you can get your hands on some cabbage plants from your local garden centre, plant them 12 inches apart and earth up the soil around the base of the stem.
- Winter lettuce—you can still sow some really hardy varieties of winter lettuce—cover with fleece in cold weather. Try Winter Gem.
- Lambs lettuce—easy to grow and undemanding. It’s not the greatest taste but will bulk out the salad bowl in lean winter months.
- Spinach—the beauty of sowing spinach at this time of the year is that it won’t bolt (which is the great blight of growing spinach earlier in the year). Young leaves are great for salads.
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Michael Kelly is a freelance journalist, author and founder of GIY.
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