How to grow, eat, preserve…. in October

The back-to-school energy of September and the joys of an Indian summer slide swiftly into the gloved hands of October. Jumpers are pulled on, there’s murmurings of hot custard and spiced fruit crumble, and we’re readying the garden to be ‘put to bed’ for Winter. That’s not to say the garden, nor the gardener, is dormant at this beautiful time of year; while the growing is certainly tailing off, we’re busy harvesting, storing and preserving, and stopping to admire the deep russet and marmalade hues of the Autumn dahlias and chrysanthemums.

In the vegetable garden

The squash and pumpkin growing are finally ready; our favourites are the ghostly grey blue Crown Prince, belying its bright orange flesh beneath and the reliably fruiting Red Kuri, better known by its common name, Onion Squash. You can tell when squash is ready for harvesting as the leaves start to die back to reveal the fruits beneath. There’s no need to harvest all at once, many of them will happily stay in the ground through October and November; if it’s very damp the slugs will come a’munching so it’s a good idea to protect each fruit on a bed of straw. Squash and pumpkins can be happily kept throughout the winter months - after a week or so of ‘curing’ in a sunny spot to harden the rind - and then stored in a dry, dark place. The Crown Prince is one of the best flavoured varieties with a velvet smooth texture and is firm friends with chilli, sage, cream, and smoked bacon. The onion squash is wonderful roasted whole with the lid sliced off and filled with brown butter, cubes of melted taleggio cheese and a grating of fresh nutmeg. 

Jobs for October

  • Harvesting pumpkin, squash, kale, cauliflowers, the last of the French beans, beetroot, carrots, kohlrabi, celeriac, fennel, chard, lettuce, sweetcorn, and tomatoes.

  • If you have a greenhouse, finish harvesting the tomatoes, aubergines and chillis. They won’t be doing much growing now, perhaps just a little ripening. Make green tomato chutney with any unripened fruits.

  • Harvest plums, apples and pears.

  • Collect fallen leaves and store in bags for leaf mould.

  • If you’re clearing beds, now’s a good time to mulch them with leaf mould, manure, or compost over the winter months. Or think about growing a green manure, such as fast-growing mustards, over winter to cover the beds and then dig in the nutrients next Spring.

  • Lift and store crops such as beetroot and carrots - either left in the ground or lifted and stored in damp sand in crates, and kept in cool, dry dark place.

  • Divide rhubarb plants and sow winter salad leaves and herbs, if you have a glasshouse, or somewhere under cover.

In the cutting garden

When planning a cutting garden, it’s important to think about seasonal interest and colour to, ideally, work through every season. The dahlias potted up in March are still giving so much colour and vibrancy to the garden. The pollinators are particularly happy with the velvet-petalled singles such as ‘Waltzing Matilda’ and the Bishop varieties, while the tubers we left in the ground last year, and heavily mulched over winter to protect them, are now over five-feet tall and producing a delightful display of colour, form and texture. This may be because our site at Water Lane is so well protected from the elements, as the tender tubers are normally dug up and stored over winter as they rot so easily in the ground. The colour baton is seamlessly passed from dahlias to chrysanthemums. Slightly sturdier in form than dahlias, which are still so hugely popular for growers, florists, stylists and weddings, chrysanthemums are due more praise than they currently receive. There are hundreds of varieties, colour, and form, and for longevity in the vase they can’t be beaten. Try chrysanthemum ‘Avignon Pink’, with its vintage nude pastel colouring is similar to the wildly popular ‘Café au Lait’ dahlia. We’re sure this chrysanthemum will soon take the floral world by storm.

Jobs in the cutting garden

  • Lift dahlias once they have blackened and withering in the frost; or cut down and mulch if they are in a warmer, sheltered part of the garden.
  • Sow sweet peas now for an early crop next summer. Sow now, over winter under cover, ready for planting out early spring.
  • Transplant September sown hardy annuals, ready for planting out before the first frosts. It’s still possible to sow some hardy annual seed early in the month too as a head start on next spring such as ammi, larkspur, oralya, cornflower, calendula, corncockle, stocks, cynoglossum and snap dragons which all have the potential to survive the winter.
  • Plant shrubs and perennials while the soil is warm and not too wet.
  • Plant forced hyacinths, muscari and narcissus for Christmas flowering.
  • Plant snowdrops, crocus, alliums, and fritillaries for Spring flowering.
  • Order and plant bare root roses.
  • Leave seedheads in place for wildlife and winter interest. Dry a few heads upside down for dry flower arrangements.
  • Bring pelargoniums into the house or heated greenhouse to protect them over winter.