New planting 13th October of lambs lettuce or corn salad

October 2020 mid month – make compost, clear ground, brassica insects, vegetables for spring, seeds, fungi, insects

The transition from summer to winter vegetables is almost complete. It’s both sad and exciting: we just ate the first celeriac, yet still have tomatoes ripening in boxes. There have been cool nights with ground frost, not cold enough to kill the gorgeous marigolds and zinnias.

However my Czar runner beans have not dried as well as normal, after the 111mm/4.4in rain over five days in early October. Day temperatures are consistently 11-14C, mid fifties F.

Compost making

There is so much interest now in making compost, and if you are one of many who are perhaps struggling with a first heap, please don’t be discouraged! It’s not always easy, especially when supplies of raw material are limited. For example, heaps don’t get hot when additions are small and sporadic – but the resulting compost can still be good, eventually.

The photos I show from here can discourage some, and I apologise for that. Homeacres is a 3/4 acre garden (one quarter acre of vegetables), so there is a lot of raw material. Plus I add wood chip contributions from tree surgeons/arborists, and from other sources such as cardboard, paper, coffee grounds, hair (!) and spent hops.

Clearing an allotment no dig

With cardboard and compost of almost any kind, you can clear weeds quickly, then plant. See these results on the Wheaton’s allotment in Norfolk, which they took on in early summer.

Mixed results

I am upset to hear of a lovely allotment site in Oxford, being threatened by bulldozing to make new houses. With new planning laws, this will be harder to prevent, although there is a petition you can sign.

If you have space at home, my other two photos below give ideas for maximising harvests from small spaces. See this video for a year of cropping the one bed in my middle photo below.

Small garden

Harvests continue to be steady and seasonal, with beetroot, leeks, salads, herbs and the first swedes ready. We made a video about it, posting on You Tube very soon.

You will see a sweet potato harvest. I was amazed by the 1.82kg/4lb of white fleshed Erato Gusto, with a fine flavour. There are two plants still to harvest.

Seasonal vegetables

There is so much to harvest! Succession sowing and planting in summer pays off through autumn and winter.

We sell a lot to Bruton. Homeacres beds are still 90% full of vegetables, gradually emptying with each passing week now. Then we clear and spread the annual inch/2.5cm of compost.

Winter and spring harvests

Vegetables to harvest fresh in the winter half of each year start life at different times.  For best harvests, timing makes a big difference.

Sow Brussels sprouts in May, broccoli June, cauliflowers July, Chinese cabbage 1st August, pak choi early to mid August, spring cabbage late August. These are all brassicas.

Autumn winter spring

Lettuce, spring cabbage and salad onions to over winter can be sown late August. Plants do not have time to grow too large before winter, and they sit quiet for a while in midwinter. Thanks to a strong root system, new growth is fast and welcome in early spring.

Sow garlic now, and broad/fava beans late October to early November. The idea is to have not too much leaf growth before winter. especially for broad beans, which otherwise suffer damage from wind and frost.

Insects on brassicas, even in winter

Sow Chinese cabbage and salad rocket in early August. After transplanting these, I cover with mesh against insect. Even then some insects get in, especially to pak choi and Chinese cabbage. THE most difficult vegetables!

Fungal world

Autumn rains see many mushrooms and toadstools, a sign of healthy soil. There is a fine range at Homeacres, and in places the soil is quite white with mycelia. Be happy if you see this in your soil.

Celery and septoria, another fungus

Also in the damp of autumn, we see a lot of Septoria blight on celery, celeriac and parsley. I am not aware of a remedy except for harvesting before it’s too endemic in plants.

With celery for example, some brown spots on leaves does not matter. However within say two weeks of seeing them, it can infect the celery stems as well and discolour them.

By December, it can cause rotting of celeriac, if they are left outside. A November harvest is best for celeriac, and they store well in a shed.

Under cover growing in autumn 

It’s the changeover time, with final picks of summer’s plantings. I am sad to see my old friends go, not least the marigolds.

I use the greenhouse’s extra warmth for aubergines and even some ripe peppers.

Under cover growing in winter

September sow, October transplant. Here it helps to have plants in the ground before mid October, giving them more time to settle and grow new roots before winter.

On 7th September I sowed lettuce Grenoble Red and endive, plus land cress. Then on 17th-18th we sowed all other winter salads, including salad rocket, mustards, and Claytonia.

We water fully before planting, then need to water less afterwards, say twice a week now and once a week November, even less in winter.

Bought seed, and seed saving

My experiences recently are not good, with many older and open pollinated varieties of vegetables. For example

  • Gardeners Delight tomato, which is now twice the size, half as sweet and tough to bite.
  • Late sprouting purple broccoli has smaller stalks, so I grow Claret F1.

Most importantly, Boltardy beetroot is slipping away from its earlier high standard. Seed producers are not selecting best beetroots to save seed from. See the result below. I complained to Kings Seeds and got nowhere!

The other options are F1 seed, or save your own. Both are expensive – beets need 8-10 plants together for cross pollination, so that is a lot of space. Plus you need good roots to select from, for planting next spring. The selection/roguing of poor plants is what seed companies are not paying for.

See more on Seed Saving in my online Course 2.

Courses

It is an experience to run courses in Covid days. For some we have been outside too much and gotten cold. So we come in more if needed, masked up and I wear a visor while talking inside.

It’s great to meet people in real life!!

There are two courses here this coming week, fully booked, then two in Inverness!

Visit of RHS students to Homeacres 2nd October
Visit of RHS students to Homeacres 2nd October, with Sheila Das the manager of Wisley Edibles Gardens

58 thoughts on “October 2020 mid month – make compost, clear ground, brassica insects, vegetables for spring, seeds, fungi, insects

  1. Hi Charles , I too complained to Kings Seeds about their Greyhound cabbage , and sent photos. They told me I had put too much compost on the soil which was causing the plants to be loose – leafed !

      1. Hi Allan,

        Kings Seeds are a real problem.

        This autumn I threw away my entire stock of their seeds – that’s flowers, salads, beet, peas, beans, brassicas and anything else I grow to eat – and went back to my previous supplier.

        Over the last two years I’ve achieved no more than a 50% germination success rate, all seeds well within their stated sow by date.

        I’ve been self sufficient in most fruit and all veg for the last 30 years, I don’t consider myself an expert but I would reasonably assume I know how to sow seeds by now.

        When I complain to Kings Seeds I get the usual tiresome corporate reply.

        Another whinge I have with them is that they did not consider the consumer when they designed the packet – most of the important info get cut off when opening the packet to access the seeds.

        The reply I got was along the lines that it was important that the packet was visually attractive – so my take on that is once they make the sale they simply don’t care.

          1. I always look forward to the twice monthly updates from Charles and also to everyone’s comments. Just so interesting and informative.

            Gosh, lots being said about seeds! Quite a worry.
            Re tomatoes – All very good germination and cropping ( in a pt) Gardeners Delight from Johnson’s seeds packeted May 2018 ( use by 2021).
            Red Alert T&M pkd dec2018 ub 2020
            Harbinger Kings Pkd July 17 ub 2019
            Tigerella Kings Pkd July 18 ub sep 2020
            Yellow Delight Kings pkd July 19 ub Sep 2021. The latter were free with Kitchen garden magazine Cropped well and very tasty.

            It would be great if other people continue to write about their successful seeds.

            Re beetroot, Kings Forono were good, DT Brown Boltardy too. I used quite a few DT Brown seeds this year – no disappointments.
            I could write loads more but I don’t want to be boring!

  2. Many thanks for your very informative blog. On the matter of seeds I wonder if you have used Vital seed a small organic seed company in Devon who are on the same wavelength as yourself.

  3. Charles, have you tried growing mushrooms? I’ve had good success with Garden Giant/Winecaps, Stropharia Rugosoannulata which grows in the paths but fruits on the intersection between path and bed. A symbiotic mushroom appareantly.
    Having started some logs with dowel spawn of oyster mushroom varieties, I am also trying out elm oyster (hypzygus ulmarius) below my winter cabbage to see there’s anything to Paul Stament’s claim of tripling cabbage production.

    1. How amazing and no I have not tried that. However the soil here is full of mycelia and mushrooms (after rain) so it’s a reason why growth is good!

  4. Hi Charles
    Thank you so much for your inspirational videos and blogs, I really look forward to your monthly newsletters so full of common sense and wisdom. On the subject of seeds: I have been disappointed with my runner beans this year. I usually grow Moonlight because – until this year anyway – it produces long almost stringless beans which go on being tender and delicious right until the end of the season. But this year many of the beans were mishapen, nowhere near as prolific, and often tough. It’s not the compost as I use my own, home made compost and don’t use chemicals on anything I grow. I wonder if it’s the seeds.

      1. How interesting -my moonlight runner beans did exactly the same – grew really well and plants looked so healthy but beans misshapen and tough and not many . Have grown runner beans for years and usually cropped well ( but hadn’t grown this variety before ) Id thought the poor crop was just down to the very hot weather .- but as you say could be poorly selected seed . Thank you

  5. Charles hi, another great blog thank you.
    Re: fungi, we met at Perch Hill a couple of weeks ago where I mentioned my ‘Devil’s stink horn’ conundrum. They have since multiplied exponentially in the wet weather and have become somewhat unpleasant! I have cleared them from the paths along with some un-rotted wood chip, but am concerned that if I add them to my compost, the spores/gelatinous bases will ‘contaminate’ it. They have also started to spread to the grass surrounding my vegetable garden. They are spectacular to look at, but really very unpleasant to smell! I live in Kent, the garden of England, so how on earth did we get these fungi which apparently originate from Tasmania?!

    1. They have been around since Victorian times. Likely the weather is just right for them or we have insects that are living longer and moving them around more. As they need fly’s to move them, maybe put out fly traps each yr. But that’s not going to stop what is there now. Not sure now long they live or if there is a way to starve them out. Or, hunt them down like Darwin’s daughter was said to have done. Good luck. See if others around you have them or not.

      1. Once when working inEnvironmental Health I got a call from an animated complainant. Saying something terrible must have happened in a wood nearby. The stench of rotting flesh was unbearable. Went to the wood and it was A fine stand of stink horn fungus! I kind of admire its adaption and insect vector spreading. And I don’t mind the smell at all. If I remember correctly it’s cadaverine that makes the pong. Isn’t nature wonderful?

        1. Hi Phil, nice reminder of Darwin’s daughter removing Stinkhorn fungus from their garden so that the maids did not see their lewd shape!

          We have a clump of Voodoo lilies right outside our front door, very similar smell but in June!

    2. Lucy, I have learnt that these are really rare!!
      Any mycologist would be happy to hear from you. Hope that is a consolation.

  6. Every year ( 10 years) I grow Double Standard bi colour sweet corn , seed from uk, Real Seeds, so highly reputable seed people, and it does so well here in Galicia. But this year about half the cobs were all yellow. I have no complaints about the corn, it was delicious and not too sweet (we are not keen on the supersweet varieties at all). But the lack of bi colourness was a pity.

  7. Started watching a documentary on Netflix called ‘kiss the ground’ last night which looks at how looking after the soil and no till could greatly reduce carbon dioxide levels. Worth a watch!

      1. It’s an excellent film and, I’m guessing, based on the book The Soil Will Save Us by Kristin Ohlson. Well worth watching.

  8. Hi Charles

    I am so disappointed to learn that my baldness is impacting on my ability to match you for compost.

    On another tack our allotments have had deliveries of hedge trimmings (more leaf than woodchips). I am aware that it is probably best to make a separate heap and let it rot down but I am trying it as a direct mulch on my extensive comfrey beds. What do you think?

    Best wishes

    John

  9. Great blog! Really informative, and reassuring that some of the failures and growing oddities I have may be the actual seed not my lack of skill. But I’m now regretting a lapse in sowing as not got much to plant out now. Other than a few cabbage, beetroot & garlic, which is saved from my first ever crop!
    Although the blog did distract me from reading my course 1 book, which I’m also thoroughly enjoying!

  10. My experience of seed collection is that the following are idiot proof, pretty much:

    1. Cupidon Dwarf Bean.
    2. Cobra French Climbing Bean.
    3. Red Alert Tomatoes, grown as bushes in the garden.
    4. Any tomatoes grown in pots outdoors (I have selected Super Marmande, Black Prince/Russian, Maskotka, Black Cherry, Alicante and Tigerella for 7 years now and the seeds seem to get more vigorous each year).
    5. Alderman Peas.

    I have successfully made my own Kelsae onion seeds, but it is quite a pfaff. I have successfully saved seeds from cucumber, courgette and winter squash but I’m not totally convinced I am improving the first two by doing so.

    I have some Grenoble Red lettuce plants seeding right now at the allotment but whether they will produce viable seed, only next spring’s sowings will tell.

    I have allocated 4.8sqm of growing beds at my new allotment for seed saving, so I need to do some calculations to see what I can do to start creating my own self-sustainability bubble.

    ON Boltardy Beetroot, I have sourced them the past two years from the Seed Cooperative and they were very good. Their Cylindra this year were less consistent: some very good roots and some less impressive. First time I have grown them but they did not match up to either Boltardy or Pablo.

  11. I get my seeds from tamar organics or the seed co operative usually very good.However ,problems with turnip purple top Milan,they did not germinate.

    1. Interesting John: I have had Turnip Purple Top Milan from the Seed Cooperative the past two years and they have germinated very well – they were Bingenheimer seeds. This spring was too dry, so the roots were less good than in 2019, when they were excellent.

  12. Thanks for all the helpful info.
    Re compost…. I have separate piles of stuff {compost, Manure, leaf mold, dovecote poo} and mix it all up in a wheelbarrow and then use as the mulch. It doesn’t mix very well.
    Would I be better to just add the Manure etc to the compost piles, and then only use the compost as my mulch in future without adding all the separate bits?
    Thanks so much.

  13. Mid October now and my tomato plants are dying but tomotos are still green and dying with them too… can’t even save them from rotting. Is it rain or chill thats killing them ? Any way I can save them ?

  14. I must admit that it had never occured to me that poor harvest results may not be my fault after all but down to the seed in the packet. (Still almost convinced that it is still the former!) I am therefore trying to save more of my own seeds. I had noticed that Gardeners Delight have not been as delightful as I remembered!

    My eternal cry has always been that I have never enough material to make enough compost. This year I remembered we live on 2 acres!!!!! What is my problem?

    1. Results less delightful sounds familiar!
      Two acres!! Depends what is growing but you should be finding enough material 🙂

    2. Hi Lorraine,
      I have about an acre of actual garden lawns, flowers, orchard ( with long grass and wild flowers) and veg beds of course.

      I have 19 no dig beds 4 feet wide and varying in length from 12-15 feet. I do manage to make enough compost – just about.

      I have two metal sheet bins 6feet square and two plastic daleks – they don’t make much at all, but I use them for peelings and tea bags, egg shells etc plus paper and a few lawn mowings.

      I aim to fill a big bin through the Spring summer and autumn, building it up in layers of grass cuttings ( around 3 barrows a fortnight, but much less this summer), cardboard and usually horse droppings and wet wood shavings from A neighbour. At this time of year a lot of spent vegetable plants are being added. This year No horse manure available so I got a trailer load of fresh cow manure, covered it in polythene to keep it weed free and used that in the layers. I will not be turning this compost and I will start using it about November 2021.

      I have numerous mature trees, including two oaks and I collect all the leaves and rot them down in those square bags builders deliver sand etc in. Or in large plastic bags. I rot the leaves down for two years, adding comfrey when I have leaves to spare. ( I always add comfrey to the other bins too). I use the leaf mould mainly on the potato beds to exclude light.

      If horse manure is available I also let it mature in large plastic sacks as it easy to move these to wherever they are needed in the garden
      I do not use any bought compost as a surface mulch. And I forgot to mention I am also using compost in a large polytunnel.

      And a ps to anyone who has grass cuttings but not a lot else, I was at a neighbours the other day and he had superb dark crumbly compost from mowings rotted down for a number of years.

  15. Morning Charles,

    great information, thanks as usual. I had an idea while reading, something that crossed my mind before. You seem to know a lot of information by heart, harvesting results, bed capacities, seemles transition from cm to inches (or lbs and kg) and vice versa. How do you keep track of all those figures and how does your work with it look like? Is there a morning session of number crunching? I’d love to find out how you organize yourself as I imagine that’s just as much work and really pays out in the long run. If that’s part of your success as market gardener, never mind. However, I’d love to take a look behind the scenes and benefit from your experience in the office just as well. Thanks a lot for your content, we love it.

    Warm regards from Germany

    1. Hi Marco, nice you notice! Force of repetition, attention to detail, curiosity.
      We are about to create a membership option on You Tube where I shall discuss inside stories like this.

  16. I’m not an expert on compost but people may be interested to know that mine gets lots of feathers in from my pet budgies – the result of cleaning out their cage each week goes in wrapped in newspaper. I expect it’s similar to hair.

  17. I hope you are wearing a mask while indoors, a visor alone does hardly anything. I wish I was better about starting winter crops earlier in the season, in late July and August i’m busy with harvests and a bit tired of the garden!

  18. When I just harvested my Rutabaga (Swedes) this Sept, we were evacuated for 11 days due
    to a nearby fire in Point Reyes National Seashore CA, USA, they were all unusable. Some form of worm had bored many holes in the plant. Would covering with tulle or floating row cover have prevented this, or is this pest soil born? Also, when I grow Rutabaga, the plants are completely below soil level, but I notice that yours show a large portion above the surface. Am I doing something wrong? How do you get yours above the surface?

    1. Sorry to hear that.
      Sounds like cabbage root fly, and mesh cover could keep it out. Mine have them but on the surface mostly so we trim off.
      Yours need longer to grow I reckon, would harvest winter from sowing June even early July.

  19. My greenhouse is on concrete slabs so my so my crops are grown in growbags. The question is what to do with the old growbag compost.
    Is it best to put it in the compost heap or can it be be spread out onto the beds.

      1. Hi David
        My two greenhouses are also on concrete so I have about 12 growbags to shift every autumn. I open them up on the plot but they are just a big slab of roots so I use a small border spade to break them up into a dozen pieces and scatter them about the beds. The winter rains and soil life do the rest and they just need a rake over in the spring. There will still be small roots in spring but by the end of summer they are gone. Hope that helps.

  20. I never see the glass of your greenhouse painted white in the summer.
    Here in the Netherlands it is common to do that.
    Dont you use any sun/heat protection?
    Am I wasting time and money every summer?
    I am affraid to lose my crop by not whitening my greenhouse…

  21. Hello Charles, and may we add our thanks for your monthly tips, keeping us abreast of progress in your own garden.
    I have two queries please:
    Firstly, our 4-year-old asparagus plants (from seed) have really taken off this year with masses of growth 5′ tall. The foliage is still green, but I wonder, how soon can I safely cut the stems down to tidy the garden up?
    Secondly, you mention you have sown green manures on areas not required till spring. What varieties did you sow please, and how do you treat the arising growth once killed off presumably by frost; do you clear it to your compost heaps or leave in situ?
    Many thanks,
    Geoff and Flo
    Pickering, N Yorkshire

    1. Cheers and cut asparagus at end October usually
      White mustard mainly, and buckwheat to see. Leave the killed leaves to decompose in situ.

  22. I started a veg garden this spring after reading and re-reading Ruth Stout’s no-work book, and had a great time, managed a pretty good harvest all summer and autumn across about 700 sq ft with very few slugs. (I’m in zone 7A, coastal New England in the US, and I think the limited number of slugs might have had more to do with the very dry summer we had.) Now I’m sure I’d do even better using your very appealing and common-sense composty no-dig method, which I love. However, I’ve already laid my beds down for the winter under a thick layer of Stout-ish straw. So I’m stuck about deciding what to do next. I was thinking I could just let the straw do its thing over the winter, mellow things out and keep suppressing whatever weeds might remain, then clear it out a few weeks before I’m ready to plant out in the spring, leave a thin bit of straw on the paths but put most of it aside in a heap to compost down on its own, and start the year with a fresh layer of (imported and some homemade) compost over my newly de-strawed beds. Or should I amend my ways and do all that much sooner than that? Or something else?

    1. Hi Beth and this is good to read, nice work.
      I would do exactly as you say. And remove the straw about a month ahead of first plantings in spring.
      Ruth Stout was my original inspiration in 1982.

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