20th September, second plantings right

October 2020 autumn harvests, new planting under cover, composting wood chips, diseases

It’s a stark difference between the remains of summer in late September, and an entry to winter by 31st. I notice while picking salads every week, how leaves from the same plants become thinner, paler and smaller, the opposite of spring. It’s as much about light as temperature.

September here has been unusually dry, with just 14mm or 0.6in rain. We have not watered much because it’s going to rain soon, and with no dig the soil is holding moisture very well.

Most sowing is done except for garlic, and broad beans later

You can separate your own garlic bulbs, into cloves for planting. It’s the only vegetable worth sowing now, and are for a harvest next June. I pop garlic cloves into dibbed holes almost at soil level, then cover with 3cm of compost.

We are raising transplants to grow under cover through winter. They were sown in September, as per advice on the Sowing Timeline and in my Calendar.

Pricking and planting, interplanting

  • Pricking out is when small, two leaf seedlings are moved from seed tray to individual modules.
  • Transplanting is when plants of small to medium size go in the ground: we use a wooden dibber to make holes for them
  • Interplanting is when you pop transplants between existing plantings which will finish soon, details in online course 2

First frosts, very slight so far

We had a ground frost on 26th and 28th September, but only briefly, no damage caused. Plants at risk include climbing and dwarf beans, squash and pumpkin, tomato, potato, courgette and cucumber. I covered the climbing beans with Thermacrop, and it helped to minimise damage, which was minimal as it happens. Watch the weather forecasts, be aware of your local conditions.

Cabbage and Chinese cabbage

The brassica family is huge, and each member needs understanding of best times to sow and plant. All are enjoyed by insects and other wildlife!

For example Chinese cabbage can make lovely hearts or heads in the autumn, from sowing mid to late summer. While spring cabbage is best sown late summer, to over-winter as small plants. They they make most growth in early to mid spring, sometimes even hearting up, depending on the variety.

Compost and other sources of fertility

There are plenty of raw materials for compost making now, and if you want quality compost, best cut any long stems and woody material to 10cm lengths. A lawnmower is good for shredding tree leaves and twiggy prunings. 

Use one half of such woody material, with one half grass clippings and leafy material, for a balanced mix to make compost. If the woody material is very woody, such as wood chip preferably aged already, use one quarter or less.

If adding tree leaves, around one quarter of the mix is max. If you have a lot of leaves, their own pile works well for leaf mould. Chopped with a mower is good. Leaf mould decays more slowly than a compost heap, it’s fungal, and valuable in the end.

I have been happy to receive two piles of wood chips recently, from tree surgeons happy to offload. Both heaps heated to 60C for a few days, after we watered them.

Harvesting, clearing

Harvest winter squash by mid October, and before frost. Then bring into the house so they cure in the warmth. A sunny windowsill serves well, and once the squash are fully dry on the outside, they keep for months, to eat at your leisure. Pumpkins on the other hand do not store so well and want eating by December – their skin is softer and flesh more watery than true squash.

Best pick all remaining tomatoes now, and bring them indoors to finish ripening. They ripen better off the plant, anywhere in your house, and not in sunshine as it happens, according to a recent trial by Which? Gardening.


There are always a few, but mostly they are not catastrophic! The captions are to give you guidance.


Wind damage

August winds blew over my broccoli plants, and it looked bad just after the event. However, brassica plants have amazing strength and are used to coping with wind, perhaps because of their seaside origins. The photos show how they stood up again, without our doing anything except for keeping them tidy, removing lower leaves. That helps to keep slug numbers low.

Growth is still steady, but is decreasing fast too

The photos below show the change over eight days since the equinox. The soil and air are still warm, but nights are cooling fast, and daylight now decreases very fast!

The third plantings below will make only small harvests. They are still worthwhile, and are good for soil because their roots keep the soil organisms busy and help them to feed. You could also sow a green manure such as mustard or field beans, and as soon as possible.

57 thoughts on “October 2020 autumn harvests, new planting under cover, composting wood chips, diseases

  1. Hello Charles,

    I’ve just taken delivery of your new ‘Course 1’ book this morning. As with all your books, it looks wonderful – my reading material is now sorted for the entire weekend! An added (and unexpected) bonus is the hardback form; very durable when taken to the allotment 🙂

    Actually, the arrival of the new book is perfect timing as I’m finally biting the bullet and covering the entire allotment area with cardboard. It’s a great chance to design proper beds/paths and get things generally neat and tidy. Over the years, I’ve added large quantities of well rotted horse manure, council green-waste soil conditioner and used hops so the soil is in pretty good shape, it’s just those pesky perenial weed seeds I’ve allowed to build up that drive me increasingly round the bend, they are so viable and always germinate in their thousands.

    Anyway, your new book will be a great reference for the upcoming work over the next month or two, but I wonder what your thoughts are on what I intend to use on top of the cardboard? I can order cubic metre bags of both green-waste soil conditioner and spent mushroom compost and I was thinking of using a 50/50 mix in order to increase biodiversity. Is this a good idea or should I stick to one or the other? If a mix is ok then which would go on first? Perhaps it doesn’t matter which route I take, but I’d hate to do all the prep work and then make a fatal error with the most important part: the surface growing material!

    Of course, I might find answers to all of my questions in the new book, but I’ve yet to start reading! Your opinion would be hugely appreciated.

    Best regards

    1. Oops, I meant to say ‘pesky annual weeds’! I don’t usually have a problem with perenials as I’m pretty good at whipping out dock, nettle etc as soon as they appear. The annuals are a different story though, the ground seems to have endless quanitities in every square metre – all my own fault of course!

  2. I’ve seen several comments about early planted potatoes suffering from spring frosts. I live in a zone 3 climate (short growing season), so I plant my potatoes as soon as I can get them in the ground which can be as early as a month before the last spring frost date. When the green sprouts start emerging and frost is threatening, I cover the sprouts completely with soil/compost. This is much like hilling, but, in no-dig terms, just means shoveling a natural covering over the young leaves (rather than hoeing soil from the rows over the plants). The plants aren’t damaged by the frost or slowed down by being covered.

  3. Hi Charles
    The October update is as ever so interesting to read. I notice that you covered your beans to protect against frost.
    Just a query on harvesting… I’ve read that you can hang them up to dry as an alternative to leaving them on the plant.
    Also last year some of the beans were mouldy in the glass storage jars, how do you ensure the beans are dry prior to storing them? and do you ever put them in a dehydrator to dry them?
    Many thanks

    1. Hi Karen,
      Be wary of what you read! Beans need to finish all their growing on the plants and be in pods showing some yellow, before being picked.
      Otherwise they are not mature and will need extra drying plus shrivel, go wrinkly.
      Therefore picking too early is not good, and in wet weather like now we have to hope they don’t rot! Should be ok though.
      After picking, shell out the beans and leave on a sunny windowsill for 10-14 days, that always works here. Yours were not dry, maybe picked too early, they should feel rock hard, look smaller too.

    2. I pop a sachet of silica gel desiccant in with mine just to be on the safe side as kitchen is steamy. I save them when received in other items & loosely wrap undamaged sachet in kitchen paper to avoid possible contamination before placing in top of jar. Worked for me last year.

  4. Charles,
    I must be your number one Irish fan as I am dipping into your wisdom daily, and getting amazing results..also getting many others to follow you.
    I am now Nature Journalling and others are joining every day ….this gets us out observing and learning and opening to wonder ..actually falling in love with the plants and wildlife we share the world with.
    I particularly feel grateful for all the benefits the no dig method has brought to the fore, thanks for your gentleness and honesty, your down to earth approach we love you

    1. Hi Joyce, I agree with you Charles’ wisdom and the way he shares it is truly amazing. Gardening is a great way of getting close to nature. I have just finished reading Dave Goulson’s The Garden Jungle. It centres on gardens and what we grow but pulls in global eco issues. Great videos of his lectures on you tube. It is a great help in avoiding gardeners being too worried about pests!

  5. Hello, Charles,
    I just watched your recent video (dated September 24)- excellent, as previous ones! Thanks to your beautiful posts and these amazing videos, earlier this year I converted part of my garden to no-dig and planning to go all no-dig next year. I just experienced one problem (on my dig part) with my leaks – I transplanted them in the spring (sowed them sometime in February – I live in zone 6a) and now noticed that many of them have a seed bulbs forming – it never happened to me before – I have been gardening for 30 years. Do you know what happened? Our summer was very hot and dry, could it be the reason?
    And the second question for you is- can I plant tulips bulb in compost too? Have you tried it or other bulbs? Thank you for all your wonderful posts and advises.

    1. Nice to hear Urszuka.
      That is too early for leek sowing, in my experience, makes them think they went through winter and then need to flower by end summer.
      I never sow leeks before April.
      Yes I plant tulips etc at normal depth, in a no dig system.

      1. Thank you, Charles, I will remember for next Spring. Also, for all your new followers, there are bounty of answers to your questions in Charles’ previous posts and videos, read on!

  6. Hello Charles, I too love to learn from your regular posts and videos. Thank you for all your ‘real time’ tips.

    I am now clearing my squash and tomato plants. How do you remove the plant bases and roots of these without disturbing the beds too much? I am unable to ‘twist and pull’ the bases by hand.

    Thank you,

    1. Thanks Alice.
      Best use knife or sharp trowel to cut through main roots, remove stem, leave small roots in there.

  7. I’m so grateful as always for the information you provide! I have a question about replanting my garlic, Russian Red, which I’ve done for four years with great success. But our summer here on the West coast of Canada was excessively wet and cool, and I ended up harvesting the garlic from very wet soil about 3 weeks later than usual (and the forecast was just more rain!). The flavour is down right bland, missing the garlic-ness! Do you think I should re-plant from my current bulbs, or should I buy a brand new batch?

  8. Charles you are such a good source of advice – thank you for your wisdom. We have ponies and I am therefore an avid compost maker after the daily poo pick. However, I wondered if it is also possible to put fresh manure onto a veg plot in the autumn and let it rot down there, perhaps mulching with plastic/cardboard etc. in February/March before planting? I already have a dozen compost bins so really just looking for alternative ways of recycling the pony poo onto a long-neglected garden. Any tips or advice gratefully received.

    1. Thanks Carol and in your case I would do that.
      It’s not ideal as there will be weed seeds, perhaps some leaching of nitrate but not too much with pony as opposed say to cow.
      Try and see!

    2. Hi Carol. I regularly bagged up horse poo in my neighbours fields. It rots down well in plastic bags and is easily moved to wherever it is needed in the garden.

    3. Carol,
      Driving through Amish Country in Pennsylvania in midsummer, I saw Amish women tending their vegetable plots, adding fresh horse manure directly to the soil, between the paths and the plants, but not too close to the plants. In a few days it was lightly incorporated into the soil with a hand tiller to eliminate weeds. It seemed to be lightly scattered, maybe 8″-12″ between clumps.

  9. Jean from Dorset
    Hi Charles
    As always thoroughly enjoy your monthly up dates. I love no dig! It is all you say, especially few weeds on my lotti. I always put diseased plants in my compost Bays(I have 4 now!) to no detriment, mostly. But I have a question- without a host where do the diseases hang out in their off seasons? I have brown rot on a greengage which has got worse year on year over the last five. It was a Very big Old tree so it’s gone now leaving a younger sucker tree tall enough I can remove affected fruit. But my apples had brown rot this year. Affected gages went in compost bins. The trees are orchard like on the top half of my lotti quite close together. Pears seem Ok at the movement 🤞🏼. Morello cherries were not too good several were brown and soft.
    Many thanks for all your shared knowledge! I learn something every month!
    Regards Jean Lamb

    1. Good questions Jean.
      Fruit suffered from the late frosts. Weakened fruits succumb to more disease. My apples had a crazy amount of rot this year.
      A lot I reckon is airborne. Can develop on weakened fruits.
      I am not convinced that compost can increase disease, because it boosts health. Which resists disease.

  10. I join in the thanks for all the information you impart so freely on your newsletter and you tube also the splendid photography & videos allays a joy to receive.
    Do you use thermacrop on all your salad crops outside and no protection on greenhouse/polytunnel plants & seedlings roots and brassicas except nets for the latter ?

    1. Cheers Michael.
      Covers like thermacrop are for spring mainly, and odd nights in autumn. Most salad crops are uncovered most of the time. Mesh over brassicas against insects.

      1. Will oriental salad crops be okay even during the torrential rain we are experiencing and winter frosts

  11. Hi Charles
    Thanks for the update.
    I have a large wooden square compost container which is now almost full of the stems, leaves etc from my squash and tomato plants etc. Do you recommend covering the container with black plastic over the winter months?

    1. I hope you chopped the tomatoes stems, so that all the material packs down,
      With so much new material, I would even walk on the contents.
      Covering is worth it to keep out heavy rain.

  12. Dear Charles I too had wind problems In August! Sweet corn plants and a row of climbing french beans blew over. Unlike your brassicas they did not straighten themselves up! But I managed to resurrect the sweet corn better than the bean row as in some cases their roots had been pulled out of the ground. But the beans Cosse violette are still cropping so that’s ok!

    It is immensely helpful when you comment on how many years a crop ( cabbage for example) have been growing in the same patch. I have been spending an inordinate amount of time planning rotations particularly in my 45 foot poly tunnel. I am going to plan less rotations in the future to save agonising on what I should grow where!

    As ever thanks Charles for a super update

    1. Hello, Lynn!
      I planted sweet corn through a weed mat spaced 12″ apart, in 7 rows 30′ long. A wise gardener told me to plant 2-3 seeds together, so they’d stand up to wind better. And it worked, without seeming to affect the harvest.

  13. Woodchip and watering. looks to be a success to start the process. Thanks for sharing that.

    Johnson-Su compost maker: Is this watered daily? I couldn’t see anything semi-permanent to do that in August. Might it just be daily by hose? And does it need insulationof any kind now?

    Off to finish my tomato and squash harvest.

    1. Thanks Suella, and I have hardly watered my Johnson Su. Their advice of daily watering is for Texan climate.
      I do not plan insulation, but imagine you could. Not vital imo.

  14. Hi Charles ,
    This was my first productive summer with a new 10×6 greenhouse … I have now cleared and composted the beds and am starting to plant salads and a variety of veg to overwinter … We are in Plymouth , close to the sea , South facing , but quite elevated , so wind is more of an issue here , rather than the couple of rare frosts we had last winter … Do you think I should be insulating with bubblewrap , and then installing some kind of heater to get good results ?
    Many thanks .

    1. Sounds good. I would not insulate, those salad plants need air and your temperatures are good for them, without a heater

  15. Thanks Charles, a bit off topic but I was wondering what are your favourite books? Do you have any that have inspired you in any way? Not necessarily about gardening, but in any part of your life, thanks!

  16. Hi
    Thanks for that Rhys. Ditto here, and just down the road from you I am enjoying a squash crop the likes of which I have never experienced before.

    Charles, do you have any advice on the sweetcorn smut. I have pulled the plants and put them in the compost heap. Not sure if that is the best thing to do


    1. Nice you have squash!
      This is from Which? Gardening on sweetcorn smut:
      “This spectacular disease likes warm, dry areas and hot summers, when it infects ears of sweetcorn. It is rare for losses of sweetcorn to be serious, despite the alarming appearance of the ears.”
      Yes I would compost all of it.

  17. In my greenhouse I have cherry tomatoes (piccolo) which are just turning red now. If I bring them indoors should I leave them on their trusses or pick them of separately?

  18. Had an amazing year this year, i had never grown veg before or anything for that matter. However, since being furloughed (in March) I decided to create a mini allotment at the bottom of my garden and i have not looked back. I have loved every minute and had amazing results. Thank you Charles for all your veggie videos – i have learnt loads.

    1. Bailer twine or other propylene string for burying under the plant. I use sisal but tied round the stem loosely then wound up the stem. It rots jf buried, but can go on the compost heap at rhe end of the season

    1. Charles, I have been told that peas are season- sensitive and crop better in spring than in autumn, what is your conclusion?

      1. That is absolutely true and I say it myself in most of my advice about growing peas. And broad beans for that matter 💚

  19. Hi Charles,
    Thanks as always for your inspiring work and example. I have been following no-dig principles for at least 7 years now, I think, My crops are nowhere near as impressive as yours, but my allotment is the jewel of our site nonetheless.

    I have a question about diseases. My sweetcorn has been affected by smut. All my plants were the same variety, sown and planted at the same time in the same bed. The early ripening cobs were perfect – I had never harvested such perfectly formed ears. The later plants produced small cobs with few kernels and several plants were affected by smut.

    “The books” tell me this is serious- that the plants should be burned and the bed can no longer be used for sweetcorn – for many years. I’d appreciate your view on this.

    Many thanks

    1. Beverley

      I think most of us are like you in not having crops as impressive as Charles’! What we can console ourselves with is that they are ludicrously better than they were before we started no-dig and, just occasionally, we get a crop which makes us feel worthy of tying Charles’ gardening bootlaces!

      I just harvested a crop of around 50lb of Arran Victory potatoes from 12 tubers planted, on beds I made at my new allotment with cardboard and horse manure atop the weeded newly extinct jungle. That really made me feel good.

      I also harvested 13lb of spring onion from 1sqm of growing area in a trial I am doing in my home garden. At least in spring onions, I reckon I could work as Charles’ assistant! Even if he fed the local cows with them, rather than sell them to the local Spar lol!

      I really notice how the world of marginal gains applies to vegetable growing: lots and lots of little improvements through attention to detail, sourcing of the right materials/seeds etc, perfection of compost making technique, use of copper tools, spraying with BD500, pruning apple trees correctly, incorporating rock dust, bacteria and fungi into potting compost when sowing seeds etc etc.

      Each little bit of tlc improves outcomes but even then, Charles’ compost is probably a grade above ours, and I happen to believe that some vegetables grow better in the West Country than SE England: a bit cooler, a bit wetter, cooler nights maybe better for runner beans in high summer.

      I am finding that SE England is great for root crops, notably beetroot, radish, carrot, parsnip, fennel. It can be great for leaves if the young plants happen to experience a multi-inch summer deluge (the late August deluge means my endive are outsized and ready for early harvest, ditto my autumn chard is ready sooner than anticipated). But too often we get prolonged dry spells which doesn’t make for good early potatoes, spring turnips etc.

      Could be great this year for autumn harvests if we get regular rainfall the next 14 days as long-term forecasts are suggesting.

      1. Hi
        Thanks for that Rhys. Ditto here, and just down the road from you I am enjoying a squash crop the likes of which I have never experienced before.

        Charles, do you have any advice on the sweetcorn smut. I have pulled the plants and put them in the compost heap. Not sure if that is the best thing to do


        1. Beverley – same with me re squash. I harvested 8 monster Crown Princes from 4 plants and have so far harvested 13 Red Kuri with 2 more big ones assured and a few smaller ones which may or may not reach a harvestable size (from 6 plants). I won first prize at the LBH autumn show for my Crown Prince squash too. I think the combination of warmth and really good watering every 10 days (like 2 gallons per plant) did the trick.

          The other great success was outdoor cucumber: another plot holder gave me a plant in May and I harvested around 20 cucumbers over 10 weeks, including 9 when we killed the plant last week. Cucumber makes great soup, with a variety of other partners (like beetroot, tomato, courgette etc). I don’t yet have the details of the strain, but I will ask my fellow plot holder as I want to buy some seeds for next season (I’ve saved a few myself, but best to be safe with a new strain I know nothing about).

      2. Hearty congratulations on your harvest of 50lbs of Arran Victory from 12 tubers! My potato crop was awful for the first year ever in over 30+ years, due to late frost then the drought.
        Was the horse manure with straw or wood shavings bedding?
        How far apart were the tubers?
        Ps I always enjoy your updates, Rhys.

    2. Hi Beverley, sorry to hear about your problem with smut. When I harvested my sweet corn cobs invariably there were one or two earwigs in the leafy wrappings. There was no evidence of nibbling just some tiny dry droppings. I think maybe they were in there after aphids. Such activity would be in line with the statements from Dr Dave Goulson in The Garden Jungle that earwigs eat loads of garden pests and that they should not be killed. This book contains a wealth of eco information and is extremely entertaining.

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