What to do in October

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October is a time of change in the container garden. We say a fond farewell to our warm weather friends – the tomatoes, chillies, runner beans etc – and welcome in the cool weather crops like rocket and kale.

Jobs for this month include

  1. Harvest warm weather crops.
  2. Protecting winter crops.
  3. Protecting tender herbs.
  4. Slug and snail patrols.
  5. Cover empty pots or sow with seeds
  6. Sow fast growing salad crops.
  7. Save seeds.
Green tomatoes will often ripen if left on a window sill for a few days / weeks.

Green tomatoes will often ripen if left on a window sill for a few days / weeks.

1. Harvest warm weather (“tender”) crops

Harvest your last courgettes, tomatoes, aubergines, French and runner beans and chillies before the first frost. The date of the first frost varies from place to place – Google “first frost dates” to find yours. In warmer cities like London, you may be able to pick tomatoes right into November, even early December.

Keep your green tomatoes! They can be eaten (Google “green tomato recipes”) or put them in a draw with a banana to speed ripening.

Chillies are perennials which means they will flower and fruit for several years. Bring them inside to survive the winter (they’ll keep fruiting for a while), and then put them outside again in early summer next year. If you don’t have space for a chilli plant inside, harvest the chillies and hang them to dry or cut them up and freeze.

Dry (or freeze) your chillies to give you a supply through winter.

Dry (or freeze) your chillies to give you a supply through winter.

2. Protect winter crops

Your winter crops (kale, rocket etc) should be getting well established now. Most will grow more productively if you can give them some protection from the cold and the wind – covering them with a cloche (eg a plastic sheet) for example.

Protection is not always essential, though – it depends on the crop (cavelo nero is as tough as old boots), how cold the winter is, and how exposed your growing space is. I’ve successfully grown nearly all my winter crops without protection in both London and Newcastle. As usual, trial and error is usually the best way to find what works for you in your space.

Ideally, winter salads should be well established by now in order to survive a cold snap.

Ideally, winter salads should be well established by now in order to survive a cold snap.

3. Protect Herbs

Some herbs will survive the winter better than others.

The hardier herbs (more resistant to frost) include chives, mint, thyme and sage. They’ll die back, but appear again magically in the spring. Parsley and coriander are also fairly hardy, and will usually survive in leaf throughout the winter (like other winter crops they’ll grow more productively if covered with some form of cloche).

Herbs that are a less resistant to the cold include lemon verbena, tarragon and rosemary. These may survive the winter unprotected, but covering them with horticultural fleece will further improve their  prospects, particularly if your growing space is exposed to cold winds. To do this, just lay a length of fleece over the plant and then wrap string round the pot to hold the fleece in place.

The tender herbs (killed by frost) include basil and Vietnamese coriander. You can harvest and eat them before cold weather, freeze them, or bring the whole plant inside to keep on the windowsill.

Lemon verbena is tender and the leaves will die back over winter. To improve its chances of surviving into next year, cover it in fleece or bring the plant inside.

Lemon verbena is tender and the leaves will die back over winter. To improve its chances of surviving into next year, cover it in fleece or bring the plant inside.

4. Slug and snail patrol

Slugs and snails may catch you by surprise at this time… they can’t make much of a dent into a large tomato plants – but your freshly planted, leafy winter crops… Decimated in days! Do some evening slug patrols to keep on top of them.

I got lazy and look what happened :(

Chinese cabbage munched by snails.

Chinese cabbage munched by snails.

5. Empty pots

When you remove spent crops from your pots, it can be beneficial not to leave the pot bare and empty. Rain will wash nutrients out and the compost may dry out over winter.

Instead, move some salad seedlings in, sow some fast growing pea shoots or a fast growing green manure (eg mustard) or cover the pot with a layer of plastic (eg an old compost bag).

6. Sow fast growing winter crops

Its too late for sowing most winter crops, but you can still get a crop from fast growing, (and hardy) pea shoots or broad bean shoots. And if you can rig up a cloche or mini greenhouse, you might also be able to squeeze in a sowing of a hardy salad like rocket and mizuna.

7. Save seeds

Keep saving seeds! Tomatoes are one of the easiest and you can find step by step instructions here. You can find more videos on how to save chilli, bean, pea, mizuna and lettuce seeds in the Vertical Veg Club.

Home saved tomato seeds - from my favourite cherry bush tomato.

Home saved tomato seeds – from my favourite cherry bush tomato.

 

 

 

 

 

9 comments… add one

  • Great tips especially about the empty pots.

    What would you recommend we start sowing now that autumn is here?

    I usually plant broad beans and garlic, both of which are pretty durable and fool-hardy, but I’m looking to broaden my growing horizons. :-)

    Reply
    • Hi Marcel, I have a lot in my pots over winter but most of it is sown earlier in the year – August / Sept time. For sowing now I’d go for the ones you said (I love broad beans but find you tend to get a rather disappointing yield from pots) plus maybe some of the fast growing hardy shoots like pea shoots and fava bean shoots. Mustard microgreens might also do OK if we don’t get too much frost. The other thing to think about over the next few months (from Nov onwards) is fruits: its a good time to get blueberries, apples, Japanese wineberries, blackberries.

      Reply
      • Thanks for that Mark.

        I’ve decided to add shallots to the list as well though I’ll be planting them in uor veggie patch. Have you had any success with them in pots?

        The peas and beans sound great as we love them in our house. I must also look into mustard microgreens.

        We actually have a briar in our front hedge so we have a ready supply of blackberries in late summer for our smoothies. It’s great, the kids love them and they are so healthy.

        You have a great blog btw I must read more posts. Will look you up on twitter. I’m @byemould. :-)

        Reply
  • Crushed egg shells are a fantastic slug and snail deterrent, it lasts a long time too as it remains in the soil

    Reply
  • Hi Mark, have you any tips for limiting squirrel damage? They dig up nearly everything I plant in my tiny London front garden. It’s frustrating to plant seeds only to find the whole lot in a muddy heap on the ground next to a nearly empty container! I’ve given up on my winter kale…. :-(

    Reply
    • Hi Pat
      Squirrels are funny – sometimes they don’t do much, at others they can be a real pain. Autumn and winter can often be the worst. They are hard to stop because they can climb up (almost) anything and eat through most things. Covering crops with chicken mesh is one thing that I know definitely works – so is an option to consider. Like other animals they also don’t like being sprayed with water – so a water scarecrow is also something to consider, they are much cheaper now, but still a substantial investment. Cats of course are also pretty effective.
      I’ll ask people about this on my Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/verticalveg?ref=tn_tnmn – they might have some other ideas.
      Mark

      Reply
      • Do you use shells of raw or cooked eggs?

        Reply

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