October is really the time to clear our the vegetable garden and to take care of the crops which will remain in the ground for winter like sprouts, cabbage and kale. Niall will be sniggering when I advise you to keep your winter veg well weeded and remove any dead leaves to prevent the spread of disease, you should see the state of my garden. I guess that’s what I’ll be doing this weekend. If you have any good leaf mulch or compost it’s a good idea to use it to protect the bare soil around your winter vegetables from the wet weather.
By the way, I had a great conversation about growing winter vegetables with kitchen gardener extraordinaire Dermot Carey which I’ll share with you in a later post. You need to get all in by July so it’s one for next year but I’ll share some of Dermot’s tricks (he has many) in the next newsletter so you can see what you can look forward to next winter.
Komposting with Klaus
If you’re doing a big clear out get as much as you can onto the compost heap so you can get the benefit from it in the spring time. Have a look at the following video on composting we shot with Klaus Laitenberger and Mick Kelly of G.I.Y.. As usual Klaus explains the subject in a simple and easy to understand way and will help you avoid ending up with a stinky pile of mush in your compost bin.
We agree with Klaus about the wooden compost bins and have found them far easier to produce a good compost in than the plastic versions. Of course, as with all the stuff which actually works, we stock them. Our timber bins are Irish made using pressure treated Irish spruce and make a good sturdy structure. You can click through to the compost bin shop here.
Feed and protect your soil
Now is the time to pamper your garden soil and give back the nutrients you have taken out when you harvested your fresh vegetables. You need to add organic nutrients every year or you will be more and more disappointed as the years go by. It’s obvious I suppose but your soil is the single most important thing in your vegetable garden, it’s the key to everything.
You need to get your hands on organic matter to add nutrients to the soil, this can be manure, garden compost, seaweed, or if these aren’t available, a ready made compost like ‘Envirogrind’. The reason we add these bulky nutrients at this time of year is that they need to rot down over the winter and early spring.
You’ve heard me get excited about ‘Envirogrind’ before but we now use it ourselves every year to improve our soil with fantastic results. Spread approx 1 bucket per square metre for best results. We supply in 1 tonne bags which is the best value, it can be stored for years and used as a top dressing next year so don’t worry if you think it’s too much. Remember you’ll always need to add extra organic material to your garden even if you produce your own compost because you’ll never be able to make enough. You can buy bulk bags of Envirogrind here.
Tip: A quick word of warning about using horse manure from stables: Many stables use wood chip as bedding for horses and this is usually mixed with the manure when you get it. The problem is the wood takes a long time to rot down and actually takes and uses nitrogen while it does so. This process will remove nitrogen from the soil and therefore from your plants for a year or more. It will be returned when the wood finally breaks down but you will have had a couple of frustrating years in the garden. If you’re using horse manure make sure the stables use straw as bedding or that the manure is at least 4 years old and completely rotten (very little smell).
Protect your soil
Once you have added some lovely organic matter to your soil you will need to protect it from the Winter weather. Many nutrients like nitrogen are soluble and will be washed out of the soil if it’s left bare till next spring. We’re in October now so a bit late to sow green manures so you’ll need to cover the bare ground with something else. We use black plastic which you can get in rolls from an agricultural supplies shop. It may not look fantastic but it has the added advantage of absorbing heat from the sun making the ground underneath warmer and accelerating the rotting of the organic materials you’ve placed there. If you are growing in smaller areas like raised beds cardboard or old carpet cut to size will work just as well.
Leaf mould is also an excellent protecting mulch but it’s better after rotting down for a year or more. Collect Autumn leaves this winter and store in piles or in a leaf mould cage made by hammering 4 fence posts into the ground and wrapping with chicken wire. A good trick is to run over the leaves with the lawnmower and collect them in the grass box. The chopped leaves will rot much quicker. OH YES…. If you want to collect leaves really easily you should try our lightweight and super strong ‘Golden Gark’. Apart from the oscillating hoe this is our favourite tool, use it for clearing weeds in the summer or collecting leaves in the Autumn. This is the perfect tool for clearing anything anything up in the garden. You can buy the ‘Golden Gark’ here.
Storing Root Vegetables
If you still have carrots, turnips or beet that you’d like to harvest and store the best way is to use buckets or boxes of moist sand. Root crops will store well in this way as they are the storehouses of biennial plants and would naturally stay dormant in the garden over winter. The reason we dig them up is our wet winter conditions can cause them to rot in the ground so are better kept in a safer environment.
Harvest carefully making sure you avoid damage to the skin. Do not wash the vegetables unless grown in very heavy, sticky clay soil or if disease or pest damage is suspected. Remove any leaves by twisting off rather than cutting the foliage and leave to dry slightly before storing.
Lay the vegetables in moist sand, leaf mould, sieved soil or sawdust from untreated timber. Make sure the vegetables don’t touch each other as this can spread disease later on.
Still a little time for onions and plenty of time for garlic
We still have enough time to put in some over-wintering onions and will get away with planting them up until the end of the month. Remember if you have a wet garden we recommend using raised beds or large pots. The variety we’re stocking is Japanese Onion ‘Radar’. We include onion ‘Radar’ in our Garlic and onion pack
Autumn planted garlic cloves can be put in up to December so you still have plenty of time left. All I will say is we’re about half way through our second order of bulbs and won’t be getting more once they are gone. The varieties we’re stocking are as follows: