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Vegetable Garden

Seven jobs for your autumn vegetable garden

October 2, 2014

7 jobs for the autumn vegetable garden“And all of a sudden it was autumn”

The words from the social media stream of Foxglove Lane, one of my favourite photographic blogs, captured the almost overnight change in our weather. Our wonderfully long Indian summer is coming to an end. The leaves have started to flutter down in the autumn breeze and the hedgerows are giving us hints of the glorious shades that will soon adorn the landscape in their fall displays.

In the laneways the hedge cutters are busy trimming and tidying and thankfully those around us are doing so with sharpened blades that don’t leave the branches scared, torn and naked. The hedgerows are looking trim and tidy, ready to take the weight of snow that may befall them and the regrowth that springtime will bring.

7 jobs for the autumn vegetable gardenIn our homestead Mr G has been busy clearing out sheds so he has room to cut and store firewood and make space for workshop repairs, a never-ending pastime when you live in an old, rescued farmhouse.

And the garden… I’m beginning to despair at the lack of time I’m managing to find in my own. I do know however, this is a temporary glitch, soon I’ll be able to spend some precious hours inhaling the scent of soil and vegetation, preparing the garden for winter, hopefully before the rains come.

If you’re growing vegetables and are wondering what you could be doing outside now in the autumn days to ready it for winter, here’s seven jobs you could be getting on with. I keep adding to them, this was meant to be a list of five, and of course there’s plenty more, but I might frighten myself if I begin to list them all…

7 jobs for the autumn vegetable gardenSeven Jobs in the Autumn Vegetable Garden

1. Pumpkins, Courgettes and Squash

7 jobs for the autumn vegetable gardenThe days and nights are still warm but that could change, quick as a flash. Keep a close eye on your squash plants and the weather forecast as members of the squash family are frost tender. If you haven’t already done so, cut the stems of any plants that aren’t producing fruit and stop them growing. Small fruit are unlikely to amount to anything at this stage so its sadly time to get rid of them too. It may seem harsh but it will allow the plant to put all it’s energy into developing the remaining fruit on the plant. For more information on growing, harvesting and caring for squash, the RHS have a very useful information page here.

Courgettes will be coming to the end of their season and you may have noticed some whiteness on the leaves. This is likely to be powdery mildew and can be treated by removing the worst of the infected leaves from the plant and spraying the rest with a solution of 30% milk to 70% water. Don’t forget that plants have a natural lifespan and many will be starting to die off at this stage anyway so it may just be time to let nature take her natural course.

7 jobs for the autumn vegetable garden2. Clear away dead plants and debris

Now’s a great time to get outside and clear away all the debris of plants that have finished growing. Compost anything that’s not diseased, tidy away canes and netting. Clear away dead leaves away from plants such as the brassica that will be overwintering.

3. Cover the Soil

Once you’ve cleared away all the old plants and vegetable debris from around your garden, you may be left with beds of bare soil. If you’re not planning on planting any vegetables to overwinter, it’s a good idea to cover the soil with well-rotted manure or compost then cover them with black plastic or cardboard to prevent the nutrients leaching out during the winter months and polluting water streams. This will not only feed the soil over the winter months but prevent weeds growing too.

If you don’t have access to manure or compost, most garden centres and online stores now sell green manures that can be sown and left to grow until the springtime before being dug into the soil before planting season begins again.

7 jobs for the autumn vegetable garden4. Start Collecting Leaves

Leaves are a valuable source of nutrients and will rot down to create leaf mould that will turn into a wonderful soil conditioner. It’s a good idea to keep leaves separate from your compost area. Sacks can be purchased to keep them in or make a leaf mould bin using four fence posts and some chicken wire. The Secret Garden blog explains leaf mould in more detail and why it makes sense to collect our leaves.

5. Look After Your Rhubarb Patch

I spotted some very useful tips from the Real Men Sow blog recently that will tell you how to look after your rhubarb patch in the autumn. If you haven’t done so already, stop harvesting, let the leaves die down naturally then mulch heavily with well-rotted manure. Don’t cover the crowns completely is it may encourage rot to set in. Tending to your rhubarb now will make sure you get a good crop of stalks next year.

6. Harvesting

7 jobs for the autumn vegetable gardenGrab what you can when you can! I’m pining for some time to preserve all the fruit and vegetable growing in my garden but have given up stressing about it. Berries (including hedgerow berries) can be frozen flat on trays then bagged up, ready for some quieter time during the winter months for jam and juice making. Apples can be washed, peeled, sliced and basted with lemon juice before freezing flat on trays, then bagging up. Runner beans can be blanched and frozen in handy sized bags and courgettes will keep for a while in a cool, dry shed. (Whatever would we do without a freezer?!)

7. Plant something new

Just because we’re approaching winter, doesn’t mean we can’t grow anything. Now’s the time to plant overwintering onion sets and garlic cloves. Oriental salad leaves grow well in our climate as well as winter spinach and hardy peas.

If you’d like more than seven things to get on with in the vegetable garden, check out the Garden Tips page on the tab above for a month by month guide, as well as some handy, free downloads. Oh and if you can think up any upcycling ideas for a pile of old bicycles, be sure to let me know!

Vegetable Garden

Warning: Beans Don’t Like Their Roots Disturbed!

June 12, 2013
Healthy French Beans

Healthy French Beans

Have you ever heard the expression

“beans don’t like their roots disturbed”?

Well it’s true, they really don’t.

The photos accompanying this post show some dwarf French beans that were sown directly into soil in our polytunnel. This week I moved a few plants that were crowding the sweetcorn I’d sown them with (part of the Three Sisters companion planting).

Disturbed French Bean

French Bean that’s been moved

Within an hour the beans were looking poorly and several days later they still haven’t recovered. Hopefully I won’t lose them completely but it will be interesting to see if and how much the move has set them back.

French Bean that's been transplanted

French Bean that’s been transplanted

It’s not just beans that get upset. All members of the legume family can sulk if moved. Continue Reading…

Vegetable Garden

Three Sisters Companion Planting

November 27, 2011
Beans, Corn and Squash - Known as Three Sisters Companion Planting

Beans, Corn and Squash – Known as Three Sisters Companion Planting

Three sisters is a type of companion planting in the vegetable garden that the north Americans have traditionally used for over 6,000 years, both symbolically and beneficially.

Passed down through generations, the stories are that corn, beans and squash are sacred gifts from the Great Spirit. The planting season is marked by ceremonies to honour the three sister spirits.

Beans, Corn and Squash - Known as Three Sisters Companion PlantingAlthough we didn’t follow the traditional three sister planting to the letter in our own garden (I planted the seeds in blocks and not up and around each other), I can say without a doubt that we harvested bountiful crops of all three vegetables during 2010 when we experimented with this planting

Traditionally the beans are planted at the base of the corn stalks which are then used to support the growing bean stems.

The leaves from the squash shade the roots of the corn and beans and help to retain  moisture. The also suppress the weeds and their prickly stems discourage pests. Also the roots from the beans are nitrogen fixers which benefits both the corn and the squash.

This method is quite different from the commonly grown rows of vegetables used in crop rotation, as here the vegetable families have been juggled up, but it works. Their growth habits and nutritional requirements are quite different but complementary to each other.

I’d certainly recommend giving this method a try to look forward to using it again in my own garden.

Vegetable Garden

Pea and bean crops – do they contain enough nitrogen to benefit anything else?

April 4, 2011

Pea and bean crops - do they contain enough nitrogen to benefit anything else?I just thought I’d share this fabulous photo taken by one of the Goresbridge Community Gardeners, who captured a picture of nitrogen nodules on a field bean I took along to show the group last week.

Over the winter months I’ve been growing field beans in one of my veggie beds as a green manure. Green Manures are used as a means of adding organic matter back into the soil, and are particularly handy for people who’re growing veg and don’t have a ready supply of organic matter (compost or manure).

As members of the legume (pea and bean) family, they’re able to make their own nitrogen and are known as nitrogen fixers.  Legumes store it in little nodules (as can be seen here) and once the nodules have separated from the plant or the plant decomposes, the nitrogen is released and is available to other plants.  Plants from other vegetable families get their nitrogen from the soil, usually from plant debris (or from fertilisers).

Green manures from the legume family are therefore great to grow before anything from the brassica family (cabbages etc) as the big leafy green crops will relish the additional nitrogen and are unable to make it themselves.

*It might surprise many gardeners who are familiar with crop rotation that botanists now believe that the root nodules accumulate half of the total nitrogen and that it only becomes available to other plants when the nodules are removed from the plant.  This only happens when the plant is severely stressed from shade or drought or when the root dies.

Also, when the plant is young about 40% of the nitrogen is in the roots with the rest in the foliage and stems. Once the plant has flowered the reserves of nitrogen in the roots drop to 3-6% with 8-10% in the leaves and stems. The remaining 70-90% is stored in the seeds and seed pods.

What this means for most of us hobby gardeners is that the roots of the pea and bean crops that we have allowed to flower and fruit for the cooking pot are unlikely to be of any nutritional benefit to the veg following them in our crop rotations as is currently believed…. green manures are the key.

* Source Chris Beardshaw – How Does Your Garden Grow

Vegetable Garden

Broad beans – a great crop for beginners

January 21, 2011
Broad beans - a great crop for beginners - hardy with a good success rateBroad Beans (Vicia Faba) also known as Fava Beans, are not usually available in supermarkets so home-grown pods are often the first many of us will ever try.
It’s the beans that are nestled inside the velvety pods that are usually eaten, although young beans that are no thicker than a finger can be cooked in their pods.
Larger beans must be shelled before they’re cooked, and can then be eaten hot or cold.
Big mature beans should be shelled and after they’ve boiled, the tough outer skin removed and the small beanlet inside can be mashed with butter (you’d need the patience of a saint to do that very often!). We usually dish them up with dinner and remove the beanlets ourselves.
We’ve always grow Broad Beans in our garden as three of us love to eat them cooked (I usually steam them) and the two girls love them raw.
They’re a very easy first veg to grow and ideal for beginners. They’re also very hardy and most varieties can be sown outside from October/November or February to April.
They germinate at much lower temperatures than most other vegetables and we tend to sow them here in or around February, depending upon conditions, making them our first legume crop (pea/bean) of the year.

We usually plant the seeds straight into the soil about 2.5 cm (1″) deep but they can be started off in modules in December, ready to plant out in February. It’s also a good idea to place stakes around the perimeter of the crop which will help to prevent the stems snapping in the wind (they’ll support each other).

Broad beans like well-dug, previously manured soil so are an ideal crop to follow potatoes. Once they’ve all been harvested, if they’re disease free chop the stems off at soil level and compost, leaving the nitrogen fixing roots in the soil to help the Brassica type crops (cabbages etc) that might follow them.


Things to watch out for ……. if you plant broad beans in the Spring, one day you may wander into your garden and find that the tops of them are covered in blackfly, who adore their sweet flavour. Sometimes just spraying them hard with the hose is enough to remove them, or pinching off the tops of the plants as soon as you notice the little black aphids.  A garlic spray works wonders on them too but will have to be repeated regularly.

We try to encourage beneficial insects into our garden that will prey on the predatory aphids, but hoverfly and ladybird larvae never seem to be around at this time of year when we need them!
Chocolate spot …… this is a disease that’s particular to broad beans and one we’ve suffered on every crop grown here. It is what it says … chocolate coloured spots that appear on the leaves, and then spread to the stems, flowers and pods, potentially leading to the plant’s death.

It’s caused by a fungus (Botrytis fabae) that thrives in damp, humid air and can overwinter on the remains of previously infected plants. For this reason it’s a good idea to get rid of old, infected plants rather than composting them. The good news is that it usually affects the pods last of all so whilst they remain unaffected (or infected), they’re still fine to eat.

Spacing the plants well, about 25cm between each plant – will help with air circulation and may prevent or delay infection.

So why not give Broad Beans a chance? They’re a great crop for grow your own newbies as their success rate is high, which all helps in raising the confidence levels.