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
- Harvest warm weather crops.
- Protecting winter crops.
- Protecting tender herbs.
- Slug and snail patrols.
- Cover empty pots or sow with seeds
- Sow fast growing salad crops.
- Save seeds.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.