The branches now sit bare, the days are shorter and the nights are cold. The plot is empty but the pantry is full. The pace of things on the plot has certainly slowed down, but there are a few things you can be getting on with over winter.
Tidy up your plot
Some parts of your plot may have become unruly, but now the majority of crops have finished now is the perfect time to catch up. Trim back any hedging or brambles that may be on your plot, dig up the overgrown strawberry patch, weed the border and tidy and touch up the shed.
Plan your plot
Your plot is now a blank canvas, so plan where and how many plots you want for next year. Order your seeds and bulbs, get sowing and propagating and make some raised beds if you wish. Now is the perfect time to refresh and redesign your little patch.
Create habitats for animals
Bug hotels, hedgehog houses (although by now they should be hibernating), bird boxes, solitary bee houses and even piles of leaves are all fantastic things to have on the plot. Place these in a quiet patch on your plot where the animals will not be disturbed.
Cut back your autumn fruiting raspberries
Autumn fruiting are much easier to prune than the summer fruiting. If this is the first year of having your bushes, then you will not need to prune. Leave them to get established. Simply cut back all of the canes to ground level after they have finished fruiting.
Clean your tools
Your tools will need refreshing in time for the spring season. Use a scrubbing brush to loosen and remove any soil and dirt from the metal part of your tools, try to avoid getting the wooden handles of your tools wet. Use wire wool on the blades of more delicate tools, such as secateurs and loppers. You can also sharpen your tools using a sharpening stone or a drill attachment.
This year, we have grown some more unusual types of squash. Naturally, as it is autumn, we decided to make a tasty soup with a couple of them.
One large Uchiki Kuri, around 450g when peeled
One large Patty Pan, around 550g when peeled
80g Courgette, peeled [optional]
Three white onions
One red onion
Four cloves of garlic
One vegetable stock cube
Salt and pepper to taste
Sprinkle of nutmeg
Sprinkle of cayenne pepper
Half a teaspoon of cinnamon
This will make enough for four generous portions and takes approximately 45 minutes to prepare and cook.
Slice and dice the onions and crushed garlic and place them in a pan with a splash of oil to caramelise. Whilst the onion and garlic are cooking, roughly cut your squashes into cubes [2cm across].
Crumble the stock cube into 500ml of water, or you can use homemade vegetable stock if you would prefer. Put the squash and the water into the pan and simmer on a medium heat for 20 minutes or until the squash is soft.
Add the onion into the mixture and pour into a blender or food processer and blend until smooth. Once smooth, pour back into the pan and bring back up to heat. Once the soup is warm through, stir in the butter and add the seasoning.
No cream is needed for this recipe, but you could add it at this stage if you prefer. If you do not have a blender, you can use a masher (metal is the best for the task) but the soup will be of a chunky consistency.
The landscape is now awash with hues of yellow, orange and red. The golden hour comes earlier each day and Jack Frost is at our door waiting to come inside.
Harvest your apples and pears for storage
Apples and pears can last for months if they are stored correctly. When choosing the fruit to store, make sure that it is not blemished for bruised. Wrap each apple in newspaper and store in a cool, dark place. Pears do not need to be wrapped. The fruit can either be stored in a tray or on a shelf, but make sure the fruit is not touching one another. Check your fruit regularly to see if any have deteriorated and remove them, so that they do not cause the rest of the fruit to spoil.
Remove nets from your fruit
Fruit bushes and strawberry patches should be un-netted now so that the last of the fruits can be picked off and any little critters can escape. Now is also a good time to cut back our fruit bushes and tidy the strawberry patch.
Gather leaves for leaf mould
Leaf mould is a fantastic source of nutrients for your soil, so now is the perfect time to utilise this resource. Gather leaves from around your plot (make sure no creatures are preparing to hibernate!), shred or cut the leaves and leave in a composter for 6-12 months.
Plant your spring bulbs
Many blubs need a cool period to produce plenty of flowers in the spring. Plant your spring blubs in pots and borders to ensure a wonderful display. If you are planting your bulbs in a large pot, you can layer the bulbs for continuous flowering.
Pick and harden off your pumpkins and squash
Your pumpkins and squash should be ready to pick by now. Cut them off the vine and leave them in the sun, cold frame or greenhouse to harden. The harder the skins are, the longer they will store for in the right conditions. Pumpkins and squash can be used in a plethora of recipes and are quite versatile, but personally I like to use them in soups. You can check out a couple of my pumpkin soup recipes here.
Here’s what you can sow in October:
– Round seeded peas – Broad beans; most varieties – Cauliflower; All Year Round, Snowball, Orkney, Gypsy – Swiss Chard; Bright Lights – Sweet Peas; most varieties – Poppies – Lupines
The air is a little crisper, the leaves are falling and the days are shorter. Autumn has arrived. The allotment is still producing a high yield of produce, even if it is slowing down in parts.
Plant your onion and garlic sets
If you want to get your onion sets planted before Christmas, now is your last chance. If you miss this window, you won’t be able to plant any until the following March. You can plant garlic alongside your onions, garlic grows best when it has been exposed to colder temperatures.
Turn your compost heap
Turning over your compost is important, it allows for the decomposing matter to become aerated, thus speeding up the composting process. Oxygen is the most important ingredient in your compost, if your compost has become too compacted it will not rot down very well. Turning your compost will also help any excess moisture to drain away and create fresh air pockets.
Concentrate on ripening your fruit and veg
Many fruits and veg; such as tomatoes, pumpkin and squash, will be at the end of their fruiting life and may need help ripening the remaining fruit. Remove any new shoots and small fruits that won’t ripen in time. This will divert the energy back into the plant and help ripen the fruit.
Prune your summer raspberries
Your summer raspberries will have finished fruiting soon. Once they have finished, cut back any canes that have bore fruit. Tie in the strongest remaining canes, as these will fruit next year. Remove any excess shoots from the base of the plant. It may also be a good idea to create a support structure for your raspberry bushes, now is a great time to do so as you don’t have to worry as much about damaging the plant and fruit.
Sow sweet peas
Just as this years sweet peas have finished putting on their show, its now time to prepare for next year. You can sow your sweet peas from September onward. Sowing seeds this early on will ensure early blooms and a longer blooming season overall.
Here’s what you can sow in September:
– Radishes – Winter Imperial lettuce – Spinach – Broad beans – Turnips – Red and white onions – Garlic, most varieties
Remember to adjust your sowing times based on your climate.
Hard to believe that we have had the allotment for over a year! It really has flown by and I’m so proud of what we have managed to achieve in that time; but what have we learnt over the last year… and a bit?
Enjoy the little things
The first tea of the morning, the second bloom of the season and the last ripe tomato. Sometimes it really is just the little things you need to enjoy. Whilst there is always plenty to do on the allotment, remember to take time to enjoy what you have created. Listen to the birdsong, watch the sunset and relax.
Always sow extra
Sometimes, germination can fail and you may be caught short. It is always best to over-sow what you’re planning to grow in case of any failures. The older the seeds, generally the lower the rate of germination will be. I have sown old seeds that have germinated perfectly well, as well as brand new seeds with no germination and grown in the same conditions are one another.
Seeds can be quite finicky though; if your seeds do not germinate then examine the conditions you grew them in and adjust them for the next time. If by luck they all germinate, you can always give the plants away to family and friends; or just grow more than you intended to!
You’ll find shortcuts
Work smarter, not harder. In the beginning, if you were a complete novice like myself then almost everything you do will take forever. As time goes on, you’ll find your own way of doing things. This relates back to “there are no rules.”
Every season has its own lessons, nothing is ever the same and we learn and grow from these experiences. We are always adapting our methods and routines to become more resourceful. An allotment is a place that grows along with you.