What to do this month

tidy up, plan your plot for next year, plant garlic and more

By Bridgette Saunders

Now is a really good time to start tidying up your allotment, it really will pay dividends, will keep pests and diseases at bay and if you clean up all your old pots will certainly reduce the slug and snail population.  One way of saving money and reducing waste is to by black plant labels and write on them in a white pen.  I get mine from a really efficient company that I came across at Hampton Court Flower show called Labelsnthings, www.labelsnthings.co.uk you can order on line.  The white pen they provide with the labels doesn’t come off and you can clean them with white spirit when you have finished with them and they can be used time and time again.

If you have a glass house or polytunnel on your allotment now is a good time to give that a good clean to.  It really is rewarding and sometimes quite a relief to have a good clear out!  Don’t forget to put old plant material and compost on the compost heap – unless of course it is diseased, for example blight on tomatoes.

Garden canes and stakes used for summer flowers can be stored in lengths of guttering – make sure you clean them first and even better, soak the used end in some wood preservative. 

If you are new to your allotment now is a good time to start to plan for next year, measuring and marking out your plot and some digging is a good idea to get going on now.  If you are on chalky soil it is best to wait until the spring to add manure as the winter weather will wash out all the nutrients.  If you are on a clay soil you can add your manure now and just leave it on top for the weather to break it down.

Harvest all your fruit and vegetables now.  Apples and pear should be picked by the end of October and your maincrop carrots and potatoes should be lifted and stored for the winter.

If you have foxgloves and wallflowers plant those soon for some early colour, wallflowers in May and foxgloves early June.  The foxgloves will love the shade and look great with their towering spires.

Vegetables:

Now is a good time to plant garlic, it likes a long growing season, so plant now outdoors but if you have heavy soil then you could plant your garlic by starting if off in a modular or cell tray.  Plant each clove separately and cover with compost.  You can keep it in a cold frame or glasshouse over winter and plant out in the spring.

Save seed from your runner beans and if there are any French beans left then cover them with cloches to keep off the early frosts.

There is still time to plant your spring cabbage and spring greens now.

The traditional way to plant spring cabbages is with a dibber; make a hole with the dibber for the plant, then insert the dibber again to one side and press the soil against the roots.  Plant the cabbages 30cm (12”) apart.  Give the cabbage a tug to make sure it is planted firmly, because brassicas get big and heavy they need to be planted in firm soil.  It is best to cover them with a cloche or fleece, if not the pigeons will get them.

You should be able to harvest the first leeks by lifting them gently out of the soil with a fork.  Continue to earth up the stems to blanch them (exclude the light).  Take a spade and mound up the soil around the sides of the plant – do this is stages as the plants grow throughout the winter.

Sow lettuces, such as ‘All Year Round’ and ‘Arctic King’ as well as mizuna, giant red mustard, rocket and other leaves.  If you put a cloche on them they should give you a few leaves over the winter. Salad leaves can be sown direct but I always start off lettuces in modules to give them a better chance.

If you have grown Globe Artichokes for the first time then it is best to cut off the flowers so that the energy goes into the plant.  If you are on an exposed site it is a good idea to protect the crowns with some straw as they can be tender.

Jerusalem artichokes make a really good windbreak, so planting them as a hedge is a really good idea for your allotment.  Try and find an allotment that is growing some and when they dig up their tubers ask if you can have a few to plant and start off.  You can start to harvest the tubers now when the tops begin to die down.

Dig up outdoor tomato plants and hang them upside-down in the greenhouse or poly tunnel to allow the fruits to ripen.  Any that don’t can be taken home and ripened in a drawer with a banana or used to make green tomato chutney.

You could also try sowing some mustard cress, radishes or winter lettuces in grow bags if you have some that you didn’t use in the summer and put them in the glasshouse or polytunnel.

Fruit:

Plants for free …..

Take hardwood cuttings of blueberries, currants, gooseberries, figs or grapevines, but make sure that they are healthy, virus free plants.

Find someone that has some healthy fruit and then ask if you can remove about 23-30cm (9-12”) of this years growth, you can see that it is lighter than wood made in the previous years.  Trim the base just below a bud, and then trim the top with a slanting cut just above a bud, removing the soft growing tip.  Make a hole by inserting a spade into the ground and then pushing it forward, insert your cutting with two thirds buried in the soil.  Make sure you keep your cuttings weed free, you can plant the cuttings into membrane such as Mypex, or just put them in pots, the only problem with that is they may dry out.  They will have rooted and by ready to plant out next autumn.

If you have apple trees apply grease bands to the trunks of the trees.  This will stop the wingless moth climbing up the tree to lay eggs.

Clean up your old strawberry beds now, cut down the foliage with shears and check the health of your plants. Remove any weeds and old runners.  Give them a good water.

If you have any plants that will be damaged by the frost such as pelargoniums or other tender plants, such as succulents, bring those under cover and store in a dry frost free place.  Just keep them barely moist over the winter.

This page was added by Melanie Matthews on 16/10/2011.