October in the Garden Smallholding

The Autumn garden tidy up is well underway this month, bean canes are coming down, leaves are being collected to make leaf mould, herbs such as mint are being potted up and brought indoors for use over winter. I like to get the tidying up done now but I keep wildlife in mind, making sure I leave enough ‘messy’ areas for hibernating creatures.

There’s a definite nip in the air although most days are still very mild for the time of year, night-time temperatures are slowly plummeting and beautiful star-filled skies suggest frosts are on the horizon – some areas may have experienced a few already. These first frosts will almost certainly finish off tender vegetables such as courgettes, keep an eye on the weather forecast and harvest anything tender as necessary, cover with fleece or cloches if you prefer. Hardy broad beans such as Aquadulce Claudia can be sown from this month onwards, garlic can be planted now but I tend to wait until next month and plant again in December, weather permitting. Digging over the soil at this time of year allows essential air back in and frost to break up compacted soil, killing off pests too.

I’ve been pulling baby carrots this month thanks to a spur of the moment late summer sowing, I watched Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall discussing the gorgeous flavour of baby carrots during an episode of River Cottage Veg Every Day – a great incentive to sow them late next year. I just hope the weather is kind again.

I would like to wish you all a very happy Halloween, or Samhain blessings. Enjoy your October garden.

Still Finding Charlotte Potatoes

Somehow I managed to miss a few Charlotte potato plants, normally I’ve pulled them all by now. I started digging over the ‘empty’ potato bed at the weekend and found dried potato haulms just visible on the surface of the soil and lots of healthy Charlotte potatoes buried beneath – the best yield per plant yet!

I usually find a few rogue potatoes in the empty beds but this is ridiculous! Luckily the weather for this time of year has been beautiful, I’m pretty sure this time last year we were under a blanket of thick snow and ice. Surprisingly, only one potato from this little lot was slug damaged, the others are just asking to be boiled and tossed in butter, perfect for an autumn snack.

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It’s a Good Year for Autumn Raspberries

It’s a good year for autumn raspberries, how do I know? – because I’m still picking them! I grow Joan J autumn canes and they’re still exploding with huge plump fruit with no sign of stopping despite a few frosty nights. The fruits are much larger than our summer variety, being darker in colour creates a dramatic statement against a heavy grey autumn sky.

Cropping can start from July right through to October or early November, weather permitting. I notice they tend to get better and better as the temperature drops off, they’re not troubled by birds either so you get the lot.

The only downside is knowing what to do with them all!

Borlotti Beans

Borlotti beans have to be one of the prettiest legumes I’ve ever grown, the pods and beans are equally beautiful. The pink splashed pods really brighten up the veg patch and look almost exotic. Cook and eat them as you would for french or runner beans, I chose to leave mine a little longer before picking, allowing them to dry in the greenhouse spread out on a rack in their pods. This way the beans will store for a few months until I need to use them. They should be soaked overnight before cooking if used dry. 

This is the first time I’ve grown borlotti, the seed packet instructions said to support them as I would for runner beans so naturally I expected them to climb tall. I planted them within a cane wigwam but it wasn’t needed, they grow pretty much the same way as dwarf french beans and support themselves pretty well. No harm done, at least I know better for next year.

Book Review – The Ten-Minute Gardener’s Fruit, Flower and Vegetable Growing Diaries

I was contacted recently by Transworld Publishers and asked if I would like to review three gardening book diaries written by author Val Bourne, covering the fruit, vegetable and flower garden. Val Bourne has been a fanatical gardener since childhood, she has worked in vegetable research and has grown her own fruit and veg for many years without chemical use. She has a large allotment as well as fruit and veg patches nestled amongst her extensive flower garden in the Cotswolds. She regularly writes for the Crocus website and publications such as Daily Telegraph, Saga, Oxford Times, Grow It, Hardy Plant Society magazine, Homes and Gardens, The English Garden, RHS The Garden and The Rose Magazine.

The books have a real vintage feel to them which I adore. Warm and attractive illustrated covers with tasteful colours ensure that these books will have key place on the book shelf. The books are packed with useful tips including Val Bourne’s own success secrets, organic tips and snippets of broad knowledge which displays the authors deep personal understanding and obvious passion for gardening. I was pleased to see tips aimed at attracting and preserving wildlife, something that is very close to my heart and I feel all gardeners should be doing.

Each book is written with time pressed people in mind, covering essential tasks and offering useful tips to keep the fruit, veg and flower garden thriving, maintained, and manicured throughout the growing year. Clearly structured with a carefully chosen plan of action covering the growing year season by season and month by month. I find breaking down the workload in this way, combined with practical tips for all abilities really gives the reader a clear sense of direction to tackle essential tasks. All too often these tasks can seem over bearing or too difficult to achieve, to the beginner it can all seem very daunting but Val Bourne simplifies the process with her easy-going approach to gardening.

The books are practically written, clearly defining time frames for planting, sowing, harvests, dividing and pruning which can be confusing to the new gardener. There are many detailed recommendations for modern and old varieties of plants, shrubs, fruit and vegetables to help the reader make an informed choice. The books are also practical to carry around with you, unlike some of my rather bulky and heavy books. In an age of digital photography you might be disappointed there are no photographs, but the illustrations are clear and easy to follow.

In my opinion all three books are pleasantly ‘olde worlde’ to the eye, but modern and practical in content to suit todays organic and often time pressed gardener.

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