As the nights draw in, our thoughts turn to autumn. During the next few weeks, I’ll be planting my overwintering onion sets. My favourite varieties of choice are ‘Autumn Champion’ and ‘Senshyu Yellow’. Autumn Champion is a reliable, robust variety that stores very well, for up to five months. This is exceptional for overwintered varieties which typically don’t store as well as their summer-grown counterparts. Senshyu Yellow is very hardy and has comfortably survived temperatures on my allotment as low as -12C. This variety produces really good-sized onions.
If red onions are your preference, the variety ‘Electric’ is easy one to grow. This variety has been around a long time and with good reason. It is the most popular red winter autumn planting choice.
Prior to planting the onion sets. now is the time to first prepare the soil, which should ideally be well-drained. These are long-lasting crops and will be in the ground until next July. A general de-weed followed by the addition of some garden compost or well-rotted manure is all that is needed. This will get the plants off to a good start.
Garlic and shallots are also very suited to autumn planting. However, they can wait until next month to allow us time to concentrate on the onions.
Another immediate task is to plant out the last of my spring cabbage plants. The sooner the better, to allow the plants time to get established before the colder weather.
There is also still time to sow some radish seeds, winter lettuce, salad (spring) onions and leaf salad (winter mix).
September is also a good month to sow a patch of green manure. This can then be dug into the soil next spring. ‘Winter mix’ can be sown from now until October.
Green manure is a great use for spare land. It reduces the leaching of nutrients by winter rains and helps improve soil structure and fertility. I feel quite strongly that more allotment holders should grow green manure as well as adding the brown stuff!
Late Summer Bonanza
There are still an exciting number of remaining summer crops. Our indefatigable courgettes are a great example as they continue to crop consistently. If there is a better value-for-money plant on the allotment, I’ve yet to meet it! With luck, we won’t have an early frost and the plants will then soldier on until early October.
It is a similar tale with runner beans. They should continue to provide a supply of beans for several more weeks, given decent weather. At this time of year I discard the larger, lumpy, mature beans to allow the tastier smaller beans develop. Inevitably the plants will run out of steam and can be added to the compost heap.
Turnips are a great addition to any allotment plot and they will continue on into late autumn and early winter. ‘Purple Top Milan’ or ‘Armand’ are my preferred choices. Both the tops and roots of turnips are edible. Young Turnip tops are tasty in they’re own right and make a nice addition to a late summer salad. They can also be boiled or steamed. Turnips are really easy to grow and are a real all-rounder.
Sweetcorn is also still in season, especially in the colder, windier regions of the country.
Finally, there is still a fine harvest of carrots and beetroot ‘Rainbow Mix’. My children are fascinated by so many different colours of beetroot in one packet of seeds. No longer do they think beetroots are (just) purple!