What to do in your allotment in October
Written by Lee Senior
October has already nailed its colours firmly to the autumn mast and what colours they are! Blueberries are an underrated star in this department. I love the way they offer a glorious fiery red grand finale, lighting up the fruit garden in late evening sunlight.
This year my sweetcorn is facing a race against time to ripen here in Yorkshire before the weather deteriorates. I hope it’s worth the angst. There’s nothing worse than picking a half formed cob. Sometimes wind pollination is poor, even when the corn has been grown in blocks. Other times a lack of sun means the plants don’t develop enough during midsummer. As long as there are no frosts and we get some October sun, I’m sure the cobs will ripen, albeit rather late.
Allotments really do keep us on our toes and each year something unexpected happens. It’s all part of the fun and means you can never rest on your laurels. Good record-keeping helps so you can keep track of successes and failures as they occur. I like to look back at my notes, especially when it comes to weather. Each day this month I’ll be torn between leaving my sweetcorn to enjoy another day of sun or quickly rescuing it from frostbite. Keep your fingers crossed for me. Happy growing!
- Get your autumn-planting garlic sets in as soon as you can. Choose a hardneck variety like ‘Carcassonne Wight’ if you live somewhere with prolonged cold spells during winter.
- Plant out your onions and shallots. Cover the sets with netting until they establish roots, to stop the birds digging them out.
- Clear the tops from your spent beans, peas and sweetcorn plants. If you cut the long stems at the base and lay them on the soil, they act as a weed suppressing mulch. Add them to the compost when they turn from green to brown.
- Protect your cabbages, sprouts and broccoli plants with netting to keep the birds off.
- Sow some leaf salad ‘Winter mix’ in a cold frame for fresh leaves in the coming months. You can also sow hardy winter lettuces like ‘Valdor’ and ‘Winter Density’ under a cloche or in a growbag in a greenhouse.
- Sow hardy spring onion ‘White Lisbon’ in a cold frame, or in containers or grow bags in the greenhouse, to harvest through the winter and into early spring.
- October is the month to start sowing broad bean ‘Aquadulce Claudia’, cabbage ‘F1 Mozart’, pea ‘Douce Provence’ and cauliflower ‘F1 Seoul’ to overwinter under cloches or in the cold frame. They’ll give you extra early crops next year.
- If you have any unripened tomatoes, take the fruit off the vine and bring them indoors to ripen. If you have a large quantity, try making green tomato chutney.
- Divide your established clumps of rhubarb to produce more crowns and free up your older plants.
- October is the perfect month for moving fruit bushes and trees, and for planting new bare root fruit trees and soft fruit bushes. Avoid planting into frozen or waterlogged soil and try a grafted apple and pear tree duo if your space is limited.
- Use a testing kit to see the pH of your soil before planting blueberries. They like acidity, so if your soil is alkali, grow them in a pot with ericaceous compost.
- Harvest your pumpkins and squashes this month for carving and storing.
- Sweetcorn should now be ripe – make sure you harvest before the first frosts hit.
- October is prime apple harvesting month. Press your windfalls for juice and keep the perfect fruit for storing through the winter.
- Pick pears slightly before they ripen and bring them inside.
- Make sure you’ve harvested all of your summer crops and give your onions, shallots and garlic plenty of time to dry before storing.
- Keep on top of weeding as the beds are exposed to light when crops are cut back.
- Sow green manure seeds on empty beds to keep the soil covered over winter. This puts nitrogen back into the soil and prevents run-off in heavy rain.
- It’s time to take down pea and bean wigwams and frames.
- Sort out your composting area as it’s a great time to add prime fodder to your pile.
- Find a local source of horse manure. Use an empty bed to rot a pile down for use next year.
- Try planting a native bare root hedge on your allotment for wildlife. An edible hedge could give you a niche crop of crab apples, sloes and hawes to make jellies and jams.
- Stay off the soil when the ground is wet. Walk on broad flat planks if you need access to avoid compacting the soil.
- Get in as much allotment time after work as possible before the clocks go back later in the month.
- Order in plant protection gear to prevent frost damage during the winter months.
- Invest in a cold frame for your plot if you haven’t already got one. They’re a great way to protect young crops from the worst of the winter weather.
- It’s time to start thinking about next year. Make a list of what worked and what didn’t.
Suttons Seeds recommend these areas which may also be of interest.
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