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Blog posts of '2011' 'October'

Winter - the veg beds go on!

I've been asked this month what happens to all the veg beds and pots and troughs over winter - and the answer is they continue getting good use! I keep growing veg all year and use basic crop rotation in the beds and pots - ensuring you don't grow the same types of crops in the same space for more than one season.

Great veg for overwintering include all sorts of brassicas - cabbages, caulis, broccoli, kale, sprouts etc and also leeks, Japanese onions, some winter lettuce varieties - to name but a few!


If you do have any empty spaces you can grow green manures which revitalise the soil. As I add manures and fresh compost to every area I grow veg in the spring anyway and have little unused space, instead I plant winter friendly flowers in any gaps to perk up the growing area. Winter pansies are a special favourite for this sort of strategy as they're inexpensive and flower over and over even through the harshest weather if you take care to dehead regularly.

This is also a good time to note what you've had growing where and what will remain in situ until what point in the year - as this will be important for planning your veg strategy for the following growing season - more on that in a future blog post!

Chutney making

A great way to use up a glut of homegrown green tomatoes is in the form of chutney. Chutney goes with cheese, sandwiches, cold meat, in burgers, with dinner...the options are endless. It can store really well too if it is prepared and sealed correctly. That way you can use your harvest throughout the year and even into next year.

Green Tomato Chutney
This makes around 7-10 medium sized jars.

· 2.5kg green tomatoes, roughly chopped (I used some red ones to bulk it up a bit)
· 500g onions, finely sliced
· 4 tsp / 30g salt
· 1L malt vinegar
· 500g soft light brown sugar
· 250g sultanas, roughly chopped
· 3 tsp / 20g ground pepper
· I prefer a bit of spice in chutneys so I added a little ground ginger and paprika also.

You will also need:
· Preserving pan or other large lidless pan
· 7 - 10 jars with lids
· Food wrap / cling film (to seal the jars)
· Sticky labels

Slice your onions and washed green tomatoes, cutting out any bad bits. Add to a large bowl and stir. Add the 4 teaspoons of salt, stir again and then cover with food wrap or a large plate and leave overnight. (Make sure you do this as it draws out the excess water from the tomatoes).
Once left overnight, Place the litre of vinegar into a large pan. Add the 500g of light brown soft sugar and stir over a medium heat until all the sugar has dissolved and bring to the boil. Roughly chop Sultanas and add them to the vinegar. Bring to a gentle boil. Drain the Tomato and Onion mixture (do not rinse!) and add to the vinegar mixture. Then add the pepper and any chosen spices you wish to add. Stir.

Once all the ingredients are in the pot, gently boil for 1-2 hours (stirring every now and then so it doesn't burn to the bottom) , until the chutney has thickened and has a golden appearance in colour. You will know that it is definitely done when you drag a wooden spoon down the middle of the chutney and you can see the bottom of the pan for at least 5-10 seconds.

Now is the time to get your jars ready and sterilized. Wash your jars thoroughly with hot water and soap. Then set your oven to a medium heat and place jars upside down in the oven for 5 minutes. They will be HOT to handle after five minutes so ensure you are wearing oven gloves.

Spoon the chutney into the sterilized jars (or use a jam funnel if you have one) and place two layers of cling film over the top of the jars (this acts as a seal). Allow to cool, add sticky labels saying what’s in the jar and when it was made, and place the lid on top.

You can either eat the Chutney now or allow the flavours to mature for a week or so.

-- Gemma Dray

Garden Round Up for October

Now that the days are starting to draw in, it is time to remove the greenhouse shading so the plants inside get as much sunlight as possible – just do this by rubbing with a cloth. This is especially important for your winter plants – cinerarias, cyclamen and tender bulbs.

October is the month to plant parsley . It is a biennial and will provide fresh leaves through the winter and reach their peak in the spring. Parsley likes moist rich ground and you can easily pop a few plants among your flower beds.

This month is the time to pot up all your winter pots for colour. Use evergreen grasses and carex, euonymus, hebes, ivies, lamiums and colourful pansies and spring bulbs. October is a good month to get your pots sorted so that they have enough time to establish before it gets really cold. Use a standard multi-purpose compost.

This month is the month to complete all your weeding and tackle any that caused you problems during the summer. Tidy up everywhere. You will need somewhere to put your old bedding plants so empty the compost heaps and spread the compost as a mulch. Any material that is not fully decomposed can be put back into the heap with the new material.

If you haven’t already, give privet hedges a final cut for the year. It will be May before you need to do this again.

This is a good time of year to take leaf cuttings of begonias. Cut off a mature healthy leaf, trim the stem to about 2cm and place this so the leaf lies flat on the surface of some gritty compost. Within a month or so, you’ll have roots appearing and then leaves. When these are large enough, separate the small plants which will have their own roots and pot separately.

-- Rob Amey

Autumn Leaf Mulch

With the onset of autumn, many will be sweeping leaves from their lawns and paths. The big question is what to do with them?

Rather than burning, which seems to be the preferred tradition in the UK, leaves are a valuable source of structure and basic nutrient. Creating a leaf mould pit is a good way of recycling nature's bounty and gives you a source of soil improvement, a rich mulch for the borders and reduces the need for watering.

There are several ways to make a leaf mould area depending on the size of your plot;
• For a big plot, you can build a large leaf pit, from pallets or wood.
• For the smaller garden, buy the purpose made string/plastic bags and fill them accordingly.
• Make a small area for leaves decomposition using plastic or metal mesh.

The key to any leaf mould is composting time. Good leaf mould should be left for at least a year, perhaps two if the leaves are of high tanic value (such as oak leaves). If it dries out, water it. Over the period of a year turn it at least once, letting in air and stopping any possible anaerobic activity. The final leaf mould should be a crumbly texture.

Some tips:
• If you collect the leaves on the lawn with your mower, the leaves will have been shredded making decomposition quicker.
• A small amount of leaves can be put into the household compost using the layering method.
• Burn any Horse Chestnut leaves as they are host for the leaf miner moth.

-- Guy Deakins

October and Seed Collecting

"The gilding of the Indian summer mellowed the pastures far and wide.
The russet woods stood ripe to be stripped, but were yet full of leaf.
The purple of heath-bloom, faded but not withered, tinged the hills...
Fieldhead gardens bore the seal of gentle decay; ... its time of flowers and even of fruit was over."
-- Charlotte Brontë.
What better way to celebrate the birth of October with these words?

October; traditionally the months of frosts and revolution, the Saxons actually called it Winterfylleth, the first season on winter - but then it was colder in ‘them thar days’ (the Nile actually froze over in 892AD and again in 1010AD.)
In the garden, there is lots to do, scarifying the lawn, dead-heading and generally tidying of borders, pond work, leaf chasing and not forgetting the addition of those autumn mulches (much more important than the late spring mulch).

Seed collecting is a guilty pleasure. My children love collecting poppy seeds, and whenever I go into a friend’s garden these days, I take a collection of small paper bags and disappear for half an hour – my friends are quite used to this now and are happy for me to do this I hasten to add. A particular favourite of mine is a friend who collects Geranium. She has such a large collection and there is such a great mixture of colours and leaf shape I am virtually guaranteed a ‘new’ crossbreed with each visit. Some seed I have to admit is not strong and the plant is feeble, but others have proved spectacular.

Which reminds me, I have to plant out the new Narcissi bulbs. Are they really pink?
-- Guy Deakins