October 18 mid month: new veg, new book, make compost, sow or plant, no dig

Autumn has brought just 41mm/1.6in rain here so far in October, encouraging new growth but not yet enough to soak into the soil, which is still  dry below 4-6in/10-15cm. The average temperature has been above average: 10C/50F by night, with one slight frost, and 16.5C/62F by day.

Now is a season of last plantings, many harvests, first mulching of soil that is cleared, and it’s a great time to enjoy the beauty of what you have grown.

To discover how I maintain a garden like this, with a small input of time and effort, see my online courses.

Swede Gowrie sown 1st June planted 25th, mesh cover 8 weeks, occasional water given
Rose Nancy has been encouraged by the rain to grow more flowers!
Rudbeckia Chocolate Orange from Mr Fothergills: October is the month for rudbeckias
Homeacres 11th October, first hues of autumn in the tree leaves

New season veg, garden beauty

Every month is a ‘new season’ and it’s one of the best things about growing veg, how the garden and meals just keep on changing. Now there are so many lovely autumn flavours, and plants look beautiful too: my favourites are brassicas, spinach and celeriac.

Keep plants tidy by removing old and yellowing leaves, to reduce slug numbers and keep yourself fully engaged with all new growth.

Autumn season. Brussels sprouts, brokali, fennel, kohlrabi
Celeriac Giant Prague after tidying old leaves: I don’t do that is summer, just now
Granat sown 9th May, planted 26th June after broad beans
Spinach Medania sown 10th August & planted 25th between lettuce, picked twice so far

Compost making

There is much green matter coming off the garden now from vegetable trimmings. These are more green than brown so it’s good to add browns too: fresh or older tree leaves, old wood chip, crumpled paper, cardboard, woody prunings chopped up, even some soil to balance the compost ingredients. There may be enough soil on weed roots to keep a balance.

I aim for roughly half green, half brown by weight, which means three quarters green by volume. Other green materials include fresh manures and coffee grounds. If the green goes more than about 60% by weight, heaps go soggy and airless, or may heat above 70C and kill beneficial microbes. Slower and cooler compost is better for fungi, but below 50C there is the chance that weed seeds survive.

This heap is 5 weeks old at the top and 11 weeks at the bottom, has cooled to 50C
During turning and it was dry in parts. Behind is the previous heap which has been turned.
Current heap, layers of greens and browns
Greens include reds! trimmings of outer chicory leaves

What can you sow now?

It’s too late for sowing almost anything except onion sets, garlic and broad beans. For garlic, break up your best bulbs and pop the larger, outer cloves into dibbed holes, then mulch/cover with compost.

In the south of England I suggest mid November for broad bean sowing, not now, or they grow too tall before winter, and are then vulnerable to wind and frost.

Grenoble Red lettuce, plants 30 days old and need to go in
Brassica seedlings mostly mustards and rocket multisown, 3 weeks old and ready to plant
Lambs lettuce 2017 seed, declining to germinate after 4 weeks

Sowing v’s Plant Raising

There is confusion over this because of random swapping of the two words. I suggest you be really clear on the difference between sowing seeds and planting plants.

It’s now too late to sow them but before the end of October and in milder areas, you can still plant spinach, salad rocket, oriental leaves, coriander, chervil, spring onions, land cress and lambs lettuce.

Interplants between lettuce still cropping, of fennel, spinach, land cress
New planting of 3 week old, multisown spring onions, & multisown leeks behind
Interplants between lettuce of spinach, chervil, coriander & radish. Nothing sown direct.
Spinach direct sown 10th August between outdoor cherry tomatoes, has established slowly and well

New Salad Leaves book

I updated this whole book and Steph added some fine recipes. It replaces the 2008 edition which was not on photographic paper, so this is all colour with many more photographs.

Homeacres autumn salads and sunflowers, frizzy endive on right is harvested by cutting
Rocket and mustards picked regularly of outer leaves, sown 10th August planted 21st
Madrid garden Of Fernando Garcia de Vinuesa, no dig salads picked of outer leaves

No dig and less watering

I was fascinated to hear from Dag Jorund Lenning about how crops fared in some trial no dig beds they made mid May, in Stavanger Norway. The ground was compacted pasture (he has a “cpmpactometer” device to measure it!) and they spread half compost, half wood chip of green wood not brown. Plants were watered after planting on 22nd May, but then not revisited for two months (!!) in extreme drought and heat. They wrote them off, in their minds, but went to have a look in late July and found,,, growing crops. This made the national headlines in Norway.

Dag is organising a conference in March on soil and growing, with Elaine Ingham, Joel Salatin and myself, an English version of the programme is coming soon.

This is Neil on a forum post early October: During this summer we had the sum total of 4 good days of rain in SE London, from 28th to now.

Reflecting on the no-dig in my second year, I consider this practice now to be absolutely essential, especially as my allotment rules only allow watering by use of watering cans.

Most allotments around me are empty, and will remain so until April or May next year, but I am (rather smugly) walking away each day from my two plots with enough for myself and my neighbours every other day. I am still harvesting salads, radish, mooli, broccoli, cabbage, autumn rasps, physalis, carrots and the oca and sweet potatoes are still growing.

I feel that with the concerns in the news about global warming being ramped up, no-dig gardening could possibly get more traction if it was called low-water gardening.

With Dag at Homeacres, 11th October
Harvest of 11th October, summer and winter together

Under cover last of summer, first of winter

It’s changeover time. We have removed almost all tomatoes now and half the salads are planted for winter, from September sowing. These plants will start cropping from mid November and continue until April, all being well.

Mostly empty and ready to plant, aubergine Black Pearl & tomato Country Taste
Last summer veg in the greenhouse, French beans sown July
Polytunnel with first plantings far end of Grenoble Red

12 thoughts on “October 18 mid month: new veg, new book, make compost, sow or plant, no dig

  1. I’m about 50 miles north of London. My two outdoor courgette plants have never been better. I harvested one from each plant today and there are still three courgettes on each plant to come, if we don’t get a frost tonight – fingers crossed. Conversely, my leeks are dreadful and have only just started growing after the weekend rain, having sat sulking for weeks after transplanting. They’ve been uprooted by my mole several times though so I expect that has a bearing.

  2. I think discussions around low water gardening might beneficially focus on which crops are least impacted by drought.

    My data from NW London, where rainfall from late April until the past 24 hours has been equally scarce and heat was more Mediterranean than temperate, is clear:

    1) Courgette, all beans are pretty pointless in a hot drought if you cannot water regularly.
    2) Leeks, maincrop potato, soil-based tomato yield crops but with reduced yields. I harvested my Desiree maincrop on 9th October and the numbers of tubers harvested per plant after 5 years no dig were very impressive (15-20/plant), but many failed to swell. Leeks also grew but failed to thicken as much as normal. For me this was disappointing as I harvest early to try and eradicate allium leaf miner reproduction.
    3) Parsnip, carrot, beetroot, winter squash, sweetcorn, onion, shallot and celery have done well this year with little to no watering after establishment.

    My learning is that transposing a Welsh potager to NW London may have challenges in a dry summer…..there is a reason leeks, runner beans and potatoes grow well in Wales: it usually rains quite a bit there and is not too hot…

    1. Hi Rhys,

      Thanks for your observations – its interesting to compare your yields with mine as we are few miles away from each other. I agree with your first point,

      In contrast to you, I have superb leeks this year – a vast improvement on last years total of 9 specimens! My tomatoes did well (again, compared with last year when they were destroyed by blight too early in the season). And I never manage to grow large size potatoes!

      My winter squash were overall disappointing – in spite of my prioritising their watering. The best specimens are two self-seeded plants. Parsnips too have been poor; carrots are great after resowing 3 times!

      So perhaps there are many (unidentified) variables between what works and what doesnt. I agree that it was all pretty challenging in this hot dry summer. I am fitter than I have ever been thanks to the long hours of trecking watering cans to my plot!

      Best wishes

      1. Beverley and Rhys,
        Hi, my list of achievers and failures are like snap cards of Rhys’s experience this year. I did not sow carrots until July, and have had zero rootfly. A first for me. The dry weather does not seem to have adversly affected their development, but referring to my Robert Kourik volume ‘Understanding Roots’ they go way further down than anyone would guess… I do not know when you started your parsnips off, Beverley, but mine were in the toilet roll tubes by February, so perhaps they need a good start?

      2. Beverley and Neil – interesting comments

        For what it is worth, parsnips and carrots are two of the few crops I sow direct. This year I sowed Parsnip on Easter Sunday, April 1st and carrots (Autumn King) in late April. The carrots are the biggest and longest I have ever grown, with more than one weighing over a pound and 30cm long. Harvesting carrots was initially difficult, but with two good rainfalls, it has recently become easier. The more years of no dig, the better carrots become. They seem to be a marker of sorts for soil health. I sowed Autumn King last year in May, a reasonable crop but not nearly as big as this year.

        Squash I used biodynamic seeds from the new cooperative in Lincolnshire, germinated on a hotbed of horse manure, transplanted twice before planting out from 15cm pots around June 8th. The Red Kuri were well swollen by mid August and I harvested seven good fruit from two plants in mid September as plants started to show signs of losing puff.

        The courgette plant died off over July and August but came back to life in September and I will harvest one enormous marrow soon. All due to the rain….

        Potatoes I usually get a very good crop of large potatoes, be they Desiree or Sarpo Mira. Last year heavy rain in August after drought in May-July secured a great crop. I used chop n drop comfrey as a mulch both years. The Sarpos are still in the ground, hopefully swelling after the good rain recently.

        Interestingly, I was trying to grow competition leeks in pots this summer and they have swelled very well after the competition season once the rains and cooler weather came. I did not show leeks as they were boringly average in size in September!

        I agree that every plot has its peculiarities and there are more unknowns in gardening than most of us will ever discover….

      3. HI Rhys and Neil,

        Like you Rhys, I direct sow parsnips and carrots. Mine went in later than yours – I recall Easter weekend as being quite cold and wet, so I delayed sowing. I didnt make a record of when I did sow – I do know that parsnips had to be resown as did the carrots. I think the slugs and snails might have devoured the seedlings of the first sowing….

        Also like you, my Autumn Kings are whoppers – perhaps the most successful I have grown – although they are very multi-forked! I think there may be stones in the bed that I used this year.

        Yesterday I harvested the last of the courgettes and French beans – a record late harvest for me.


      4. Blight is supposed to be less severe if you water with “compost water” from a compost rich in weeds. Also it is said that spraying with a diluted bicarbonate of soda solution slows down the blight. Others planted garlic around their tomatoes early in the season. In terms of what gardeners here recommend – dandelion, capucines, horseradish, calendulas are all beneficial fighting the blight/fungal attacks. So much so that the gardeners plant them permanently under trees to improve cropping and it works!

    2. well… in the South of France gardeners plant their tomatoes 1/2 meter deep in the ground with a plastic bottle upside down (bottomless) next to them so they can water directly in the bottle. They also organize the crops in order to provide shade (taller plants in front) and cover the ground permanently – salads/flowers/medicinal plants at the foot of the tomato plant. Mulching is only helpful in sandy soil where there are almost no slugs

  3. Thanks for the great update Charles, but has anyone got any ideas how to prepare the tunnel for no red spider mite next year? We had to take cucumbers out 6 weeks ago and the aubergines and French beans were all struck and I am really worried about next year.

    1. I never had this problem – mositure is high outside in my area (used to be). Normally, I would increase ventilation and if you have to spray with some liquid I’d use either a diluted fermented milk spray or a diluted fermented mixture of stinging nettles, horsetail, dandelion, chamomille (add some rockpowder to avoid the smell)

      1. Bitter plants like absinthe are used as a spray against bugs (tea or fermented solution 300g/5liter water dried plants diluted then 1:10) with one teaspoon of soap to make sure it sticks to the leaves of the plants. Others tried Neem Oil. I saw one gardener using a “concentrated” (4:10 instead of 1:10) fish emulsion spray, if you don’t intend to eat the leaves

      2. Try using at least 1 or 2 of the above mentioned plants to spray or watering, preferably early in the season. Any plants you pick as weeds could have a similar effect. The above are the most common weeds and have been used more often thus are known better. Before fermentation is over the mixture has a bug killing property due to the acids contained in it through the fermentation process.

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