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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!

Community Gardens

How community gardens can help your school or college

August 15, 2013
This is it... total growing space for Callan community garden

This is it… total growing space for Callan community garden

School gardens are appearing in playgrounds everywhere and children are learning about where their food comes from.

From September to June, centres around the country are providing horticultural courses for adults as an informal pleasure activity and to further their education. This generally works well as it can be difficult to juggle courses and home life during the summer months. There’s one major flaw with this practice however…  Continue Reading…


Community Harvest Fruit Projects

December 1, 2011

Community Harvest Fruit ProjectsLast week I headed up to Dublin to attend a Harvest Seminar organised by Green Home, a framework that are supported by the Environmental Protection Agency to support and advise householders on ways to protect the environment whilst saving money on their household bills.

Green Homes is an extension of the green schools programme and a really worthwhile initiative run by a very enthusiastic and committed bunch of people. (So do take a look at their site if you’d like to get involved.)

Back to the harvest seminar though, in the lead up to the European Waste Reduction week Green Homes organised a fruit awareness programme, encouraging local groups, schools and individuals to map then harvest fruit that is often wasted each year because people don’t have the time, energy or physical ability to harvest them, or just don’t notice that the fruit is going to waste.

This idea really appealed to me, particularly as I’m involved with community gardens and can see the potential to the community groups I work with.

So often, as you walk or drive around the towns, villages or countryside, you can see apple trees dripping with fruit that you know will just go to waste. At the same time supermarket shelves are stacked with perfectly shaped cardboard and cellophane packets of apples that have usually been imported from overseas. Is there not something slightly skewed about that? Food is being wasted, literally left to rot on the trees or ground, yet money is being spent on importing goods destined for our fruit bowls? Even today whilst shopping in Lidl (who are usually pretty good at stocking Irish goods) there were no Irish grown apples and yet they’re still in season. Thankfully other supermarkets such as Supervalu are stocking them, but shouldn’t it be the norm rather than the exception?

So Irish apples may not be as tasty as imports, but there are many uses for them apart from eating them in their raw format. At the Savour Kilkenny weekend the Futureproof Kilkenny group were pulping apples and handing out apple juice to passersby. It struck me then that if every parish owned a pulper/juicer wouldn’t it be a great excuse for a community harvest knees up (River Cottage style perhaps)?

Community Harvest Fruit ProjectsI’m really hoping that this event is just the beginning of something good, something that can grow and develop and be another step towards communities working together. I’m hoping that it will be a chance for people to learn about communities becoming more sustainable and at the very least, a darn good excuse to get together and have a bit of an old fashioned knees up.

Note: If you’re living in the Republic of Ireland and would like to participate in the green home scheme where you can monitor your household’s performance with the aim of reducing your environmental footprint, you can register your interest here.

Lifestyle, Vegetable Garden

Harvesting the garlic

August 19, 2011
Harvesting the Garlic in August

Harvesting Garlic Arno in August

Back in October last year I wrote a post on how to plant garlic. Today I harvested the bulbs.

They have a long growing season but once planted and all you have to do to care for them is keep the bed weeded – that’s it! They’re hardy (remember last winter) and survived our fluctuating temperatures and rain throughout the spring and summer without bolting.

I’m delighted with the results, loving the big bulbs and looking forward to eating home-grown tasty garlic over the coming months.

Having dug them up, the plants are now on a rack drying out thoroughly before I plait and store them.  In the meantime, we’ll be cooking some of the bulbs as we need them and keeping a few aside to split and plant this autumn.

Does anybody else grow garlic and do you have any favourite varieties?


Bimbling and harvesting in the vegetable garden – early June

June 12, 2011

Just in case anyone’s under the illusion that we have the perfect garden, this is a picture of the wild area in our veg patch.

One day it may turn into a pond but for now it’s the place where all the wildlife hides, the insects buzz and the children’s balls get lost.

I love it as much as the rest of the garden, particularly when all the creeping buttercups flower.

No washing drying today… up in the clouds

Today was a peaceful bimbling day – tidying up, not too much weeding, a bit of sowing, listening to mellow tunes in my own head space.

I transplanted some cauliflowers a week or so ago and already the slugs have found them. Looks like the night time patrol will be starting up again very soon.

The bed above is waiting for the winter cabbages to grow bigger before they’re planted out.

The bulbs on the onions that were planted to overwinter are swelling nicely too.

I love the leaf shape and colour of this Bordeaux Spinach, but we’ve yet to taste it… maybe this evening it will grace our plates.

All the action’s happening inside the polytunnel at the moment. Here we’re harvesting lots of peas, perpetual spinach, scallions, beetroot, french beans, courgettes and herbs.

I love working in here as the scent from the herbs is so delicious.

The rosemary brushes against the leg as it’s passed and the perfume from the dill, tarragon, chives and thyme fill the air when a soft breeze blows in.

The dwarf French beans have struggled but are producing pods now.

I took a gamble and sowed them early, and they’ve had a tough time of it… they took a real munching from the slugs and haven’t grown very big, but good to see some flowers now and I’ve sown extra to replace the eaten ones.

One bed in the tunnel is taken up with squashes.. a couple of courgette plants, a couple of cucumbers and this year an unknown variety of something.

We dried and saved the seeds from a chestnutty flavoured squash purchased from an organic farm shop last autumn. Am thinking it’s a Blue Ballet but will have to wait and see… it’s looking very healthy though so fingers crossed.

A row of phacelia has been sown in front to attract pollinating insects inside.

To finish off my pottering, as a reward (as if I needed one after my peaceful day) some ripe strawberries were picked and shared. The runners from the outside patch were dug up and planted in the tunnel during the early spring producing the most exquisite flavoured fruit.


Cambridge Variety Strawberries
Still a few jobs to do, but feeling good for a catch up.
Vegetable Garden

Fairytale Fungi

October 12, 2010

Fly Agaric (amanita muscaria)

Is it just me or has anyone else noticed all the unusual mushrooms and toadstools this year?  Poking their caps through the  wood chip barks, the lawn and the hedgerows we’ve seen all sorts of shapes and colours.  I’m not an expert (at all) on fungi so have left them be, but these Fly Agaric really caught our eye.

They’ve been growing along the banks on the side of the lanes close to our house and are surrounded by folklore (including witches on broomsticks, Alice in Wonderland and good luck stories). They are however, poisonous and should be left well alone.

I found a great site with more information if anyone’s interested.

My own garden’s been slightly neglected of late due to a variety of reasons (school, children, visitors, house renovation, shopping, workshops etc, etc) so I haven’t been weeding much or sowing). We’ve been harvesting loads of veg though – tomatoes, cucumbers, sweetcorn, spring onions, kale and runner beans amongst other things.

Hope you’ve all been reaping the rewards of your work too?

Vegetable Garden

The Great Onion Harvest

September 6, 2010
31st May 2010

Ooooh, not sure whether to show you my onions or beans today…. onions I think as I harvested them all last week…..

Back in March I picked up a packet of Setton onion sets (small bulbs) from Heatons in Carlow.  I was a tad unsure about them as I usually buy my seeds/bulbs etc online or from garden centres.  However, on a whim I paid my €2.00, brought them home and planted them.

June 2010

Onions like to be kept as weed free as possible and they are last in my four year crop rotation, so were planted in the bed that last year housed the brassicas.  This is because the soil can build up eelworms (and other pests/diseases) if onions are grown in the same patch year after year. I didn’t manure the bed as I’d added a couple of barrow fulls before planting the broccoli.

So after what seemed like a slow start, they grew and the grew and they grew until the grew so much that I stopped them!

16 August 2010

You can tell when onions are ready to harvest as their tops start to die down and bend over. 

Although we’ve been using them fresh from the ground they were getting really big so I used a garden fork to ease them gently from where they’d rooted and then left them for a couple of weeks for the foliage to die down (almost naturally) before lifting them fully and drying them out (first in the garden and then moved into the polytunnel once the weather turned wetter.

 (Note: avoid bending the tops over to stop them growing as it increases the risk of rotting when they’re in storage.)

29th August 2010 – Onions drying in the sun once they’d been lifted

Once they’re fully dried out (the skins will feel like paper), I’ll hang them in bunches in the shed. I’m not great at plaiting onions (garlic’s easier as it’s smaller) but a similar effect can be achieved by wrapping them around string.  If you missed my Facebook link, here’s a great video on Garlic Braiding.

Last year we started to lose a few onions through rotting but managed to save them by trimming off all the bad bits then throwing the rest into a food processor, chopping them up and bagging them into meal sized bags and freezing them.  This turned out to be a great time saver as they could be placed straight into the saute pan from frozen!


Harvesting vegetable crops in early May

May 6, 2010

Harvesting vegetable crops in early MayGreat excitement in the Sewelly polytunnel & garden as veggies are almost ready for harvesting!

The peas and broad beans that were planted before Christmas are starting to appear so I’ll be digging out the recipe books soon as picking fresh produce always makes me want to try out a new dish.  This early harvest will help to fill the ‘hungry gap’ when the only other fresh veg we have to eat at the moment is purple sprouting broccoli.  I almost pulled it up after the snow as it was looking so downcast, but decided to give it a feed of fish, blood & bone and this is the result – five plants full of delicious florets (that were especially tasty in this evening’s stir fry). There are loads more tiny florets starting to appear beneath the large leaves in the next few days too.

The plan this year is to keep the polytunnel as productive as possible so that it earns it’s keep!

With that in mind we have shallots planted behind the peas & beans and the plan is to plant cucumbers once they’ve all been harvested.

I haven’t quite cracked full productivity yet though as the bed waiting for the tomatoes is still empty, and there’s a big space where the courgette is slowly growing.

My experiment of planting sweet corn early too hasn’t quite worked out – only three germinated (!) so I planted another packet last week in the hope that they’ll catch up soon now the temperatures are rising (there’s obviously a good reason why seed packets recommend a month for growing and late March wasn’t it).  The french beans have all germinated and are starting to grow rapidly too. We never had much success growing these outdoors as it just never seemed warm enough so hopefully will have better luck inside this year.

Meanwhile outside the strawberries are showing signs of flowering and the Red Duke of York first early potatoes are coming along nicely too.

I love this time of year!