What to do in October

October is a time of change in the container garden. Until the first frosts come, you can pick the last of the warm weather loving crops – the tomatoes, chillies, runner beans. If you sowed winter crops like kale and rocket in the summer, these will now be establishing.  If not, there is still time to sow fast growing hardy crops like fava and pea shoots to keep you in greens in the coming months.

Jobs for this month include

  1. Harvest tomatoes, chillies, squash runner beans before first frost.
  2. Consider protecting winter crops – see discussion below.
  3. Slug and snail patrols.
  4. Cover empty pots or sow with seeds
  5. Sow fast growing salad crops.
  6. 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 your tender summer crops

Harvest your last tender crops: courgettes / zucchini, squash, tomatoes, aubergines, French and runner beans and chillies before the first frost.In warmer cities like London, you may be able to pick tomatoes right into November, even early December

To find the expected first frost dates for you area Google “first frost dates”. In these times of increasingly unpredictable, you also need to keep a close eye on the weather forecast.

What to do with your chillies

Chillies are perennials which means they will live and fruit for several years. You can 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 inside, harvest the chillies and hang them to dry. Or cut them up and freeze. Frozen and dried chillies taste quite different. Frozen taste more like fresh chillies, while dried ones usually develop a warmer, fruitier taste. Thin skinned chillies are the easiest to dry. Thicker skinned varieties, like jalepeno, are often best to freeze or pickle.  It’s interesting to experiment.

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. Is it worth protecting winter crops?

If you sowed some winter crops (kale, rocket etc) in summer, they should be getting well established now. Providing protection for your crops with cloches (like plastic sheet on hoops) or fleece in cold spells has pros and cons.

Most crops will grow faster and bigger if you can give them some protection from the cold and the wind. How much difference protection will make depends on the crop (cavelo nero can survive very cold weather), how cold the winter is, and how exposed your growing space is.

On the other hand, rigging up cloches over individual containers is time consuming and a bit faff. Plastic cloches can also look quite unattractive and be prone to blowing over.

In many places protection is not essential. I’ve successfully grown nearly all my winter crops without protection in both London and Newcastle. That said, crops I have covered have usually done better. So it is a bit of balance and personal choice. I’m happy growing mine without protection but I could get bigger harvests with protection.

As usual, trial and error is usually the best way to find what works for you in your space.

Cloches can be made with hoops and plastic. Crops grow better protected from the wind and cold. But there is a certain amount of work involved and aesthetically they don't look the best.
Cloches can be made with hoops and plastic. Crops grow better protected from the wind and cold. But there is a certain amount of work involved and aesthetically they don’t look the best.

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, rosemary 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 and tarragon. These may survive the winter unprotected (my lemon verbena has survived the last five winters), but covering them with horticultural fleece will improve their prospects, particularly if your growing space is exposed to cold winds. To do this, before the first hard frosts, 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, Vietnamese coriander and scented pelargoniums. You can bring the whole plant inside to keep on the windowsill. If the plant is too large to fit on your windowsill, you can take a cutting and raise it inside over autumn and winter. Cuttings raised at this time may grow a bit spindly (due to lack of light) but they do the job. I do this with Vietnamese coriander each year.

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. Managing pots over winter

When you pull out your tomatoes and other finished crops, it can be beneficial not to leave the pot bare and empty. Rain will wash nutrients out and the compost may dry out if there are prolonged dry spells over winter. (Dried out compost is hard to rewet and loses vigour.)

Instead, move some salad seedlings into the pot, or sow some fast growing pea shoots or a fast growing green manure (eg mustard) or cover the pot with a layer of plastic to keep moisture in and protect it from rain (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 or fava 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 early this month.

7. Save seeds

Keep saving seeds! Tomatoes are one of the easiest and you watch a video on how to do this in my September tips.

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

 

Your turn…

What is happening in your container garden this month? Are you planning to grow over winter or have a break from growing until the spring? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

 

 

 

30 thoughts on “What to do in October”

  1. I save my tomato seeds onto kitchen paper, spacing them out. Then you can label the paper with the variety/description. Then in the spring you can cut out the seed with a little of the kitchen paper to plant

  2. Mark
    Really impressed by your apple tree. It doesn’t look like a cordon, what sort of rootstock is it and what size pot did you use to start with?

    1. I started it in a 20 litre pot, and moved it into 30 litres after a couple of years. Now it is in a 60 litre pot (perhaps even a little bigger than that). The tree was bought as a minarette from Ken Muir (excellent nursery, if you don’t know it) but I don’t have the details of the rootstock – M25 perhaps?

  3. I have had great success with Swiss Chard; it kept me in fresh greens throughout last winter (Isle of Wight weather is helpful for winter . This is the second year I have grown it successfully and the seeds are VERY cheap (99p. plus postage for approximately 450 seeds !).
    Tom Thumb lettuces were a disaster; poor germination..

  4. Hi Mark, I’m trying, for the first time, to grow PSB and winter cabbage in largeish containers (near Windsor UK). I’ve had to cover them to keep pigeons off but they’re starting to outgrow the covers under the frame. Do you think it’s safe to remove this in winter or will hungry pigeons be even worse then?! Thank you for all your inspiration by the way, you are such a good help.

  5. I’m sowing pea shoots into any space that I can find 🙂 I also have some mystery seedlings coming up, I had a few seeds left in a pack, thought I’m sure I will remember what these are, didn’t label, now have no idea….

    1. We all do that with seeds 🙂 think we’ll remember what it is without a label and then forget. I still do it from time to time even though I’ve learnt the lesson several times before. I like your pea shoot strategy, I do that, too.

  6. Catherine Valder-Hogg

    Hi Mark,
    I’ve dried some of our tomato glut for the first time and am really enjoying seeing the jars of yummyness in my cupboard! I’m working part time now and looking forward to sowing some Kale for the winter and maybe some Chicory. You are truly inspirational – many thanks.
    Cathy

    1. Dried tomatoes sound great – and a lovely thing to look forward this autumn and winter! It’s quite late for sowing kale as it is slow growing, but if we have a warm autumn they might establish ok. Pea and fava shoots are good now.

  7. good morning,
    the traditional winter crop in Switzerland (sowed from August onwards) used to be lamb’s lettuce. It was a typical salad crop in the cottage style vegetable gardens of the farm houses (now disappearing fast). Lamb’s lettuce here is called Nüsslersalat or Nüssli (Nüssli being the diminutive word for Nuss = nut). I suppose it’s because it tastes slightly nutty.
    I’m sure it would work well in containers, too.
    Best regards from Switzerland, Jeanne

    1. hello Jeanne, yes indeed, lamb’s lettuce is a very good winter crop for containers. It always amazes me how hardy it is as it doesn’t really look it! Thanks for sharing your experience from Switzerland.

  8. The picture of your garden in the latest email is really inspiring. My two small veg patches have been sorely neglected and only sport a hardy alpine strawberry plant and some crazed mint. I am too late to do much for this year, but will be eagerly awaiting tips and todos when the winter finishes, I always thought our tiny garden was no good, but having seen what you have done I can’t wait to dig all the old pots out of the garage and get going. Thank you – you have made me realise that I was wrong about our tiny outdoor space and that there is in fact a lot I can do with it!

  9. Chineese cabbage growing fast and feels good at 4 degrees. I am also going to sow Hablitzia Tamnoides – Caucasian Spinach, its a perennial edible climber, up to 3 m high.

    1. Hi Jenya, Chinese cabbage is so fast to grow isn’t it. Your Caucasian spinach is new to me – and sounds very interesting. There are not many climbing leafy vegetables, particularly hardy ones so I will look out for that. Thanks very much for sharing. Mark

  10. 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. 🙂

    1. 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.

      1. 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. 🙂

  11. 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…. 🙁

    1. 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

    2. I occasionally have trouble with squirrels, they dug up a couple of newly planted primulas presumably looking for bulbs (does that suggest they use their eyes more than their noses?). After planting a lot of bulbs in a patch, I covered the area with leaf- on cuttings from a bush I was pruning then peed on the area. Not a single intrusion yet, touch wood!
      Also, as they’re naturally building their Winter stashes, just get a bag of bird peanuts & put them somewhere away from your bulbs to help them. Why dig up medium quality grub when there’s a pile of high quality stuff easily available?

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