Dig it

With Fulke Andel


The autumn is now definitely here with the wind making it feel much colder. However, it’s a beautiful time of year, with the trees changing colour and the early morning mists swirling around. Sometimes it may seem pointless raking, when the wind blows even more leaves onto the lawn, but just think of all the lovely leaf mould you can make! It’s also time to start preparing for early frosts, by moving vulnerable plants into frost free environments.

Once your vegetable garden is clear, dig it over and incorporate compost. Dig over your kitchen garden as soon as possible so the soil can be broken down by the winter elements. This is especially important on heavy clay soils; it also makes life so much easier in the spring, with the frost having done all the hard work for you! If you are short of compost, it is better to treat a small area properly than spread it too thinly over a larger area. I’m fortunate in that I have 4 big composting pens. Each is capable of holding all the garden and kitchen waste generated during the year. It’s a lazy way of making compost but it works! Once I’ve cleared everything from the vegetable garden and the borders and this has gone into the compost pen, along with the grass clippings from the final cut of the year, I top the pen with the black sacks full of leaves that I’ve swept up from our Virginia Creeper (see below). No need to do anything, just wait for 4 years! Next year, I’ll be breaking into the compost pen for 2014. Looking forward to it already, I’m sure it will prove to be a fine vintage!

Don’t waste fallen leaves (the more astute of you will realise that this is the third time I’ve mentioned leaves!) – given time, they decompose into fabulously rich leaf mould – ‘nature’s soil conditioner of choice’! Here’s what to do…rake up fallen leaves and chuck them into black bin liners spiked with air holes – but remember to dampen the leaves first, or do the task on a damp day. Obviously you can make a simple frame with wire sides to hold leaves if you want, but black sacks work fine for me. If leaves are left to linger on the lawn for long, the grass will turn yellow. Leaf mould takes about a year to mature (2 in the case of oak leaves), makes a great top dressing for woodland plants such as rhododendrons and is an excellent and FREE home-grown substitute for peat. I keep mine for 4 years, by which time it’s broken down into really fine sweet smelling compost – ideal for sowing seeds in.

Start planning your vegetable garden for next year, remember the need to rotate your crops. If you’re going to sow Garlic or Broad beans now, you need to make sure you sow them in the right section of the vegetable garden! Below is a conventional crop rotation plan.


Our feathered friends will be starting to build their reserves for winter, so do please put out food and fresh water for them. Wildlife experts recommend that we feed the birds all year round, as they soon become reliant on the food we provide. However, their greatest time of need is during winter and spring, when their natural food sources are greatly depleted. Putting out food helps them survive the chilly winter months and ensures they are in good condition for the breeding season. Choose good quality wild bird seed, bird peanuts (remember to take them out of nylon mesh bags which can trap beaks and legs), suet and fat balls (these are great high energy foods and ideal during cold weather) as well as kitchen scraps such as crushed breakfast cereals, pinhead oatmeal, uncooked porridge oats, hard fats such as mild cheese, fresh and dried fruit, cooked potatoes and cooked rice. Bread is only an ‘empty filler’ so not ideal and remember never to put out mouldy food. Also do make sure your ‘feeding station’ has good, all round visibility and is well out of range of the scourge of domestic gardens – the cat!

A plentiful supply of clean water is essential for drinking and bathing; melt ice on frosty mornings with warm water, ensure the inside of your bird bath remains roughened and do remember to change the water regularly.


Jobs for the Month of October

Sow / Plant Broad beans – Spinach beet

Plant out Garlic – Autumn onion sets

Harvest The bulk of your crops should have been harvested by now. Lift root crops (with the exception of parsnips- they taste better after frost) and store Harvest apples, pears and grapes

Fruit Plant fruit trees and new strawberries; clear out old strawberry plants and weeds, position the newcomers a foot apart in rows wide enough apart to walk between, make sure the crowns just show above the soil, firm them in well and water regularly if dry.

Dig up and split old rhubarb crowns, replanting with a good dollop of manure under each plant.

Cut out the canes of blackberries, loganberries and tayberries which have fruited this year and tie in the new canes.


  • Plant spring flowering bulbs in tubs or directly into the garden
  • Clear up fallen autumn leaves regularly
  • Cut back perennials that have died down
  • Divide herbaceous perennials and rhubarb crowns
  • Move tender plants, including aquatic ones, into the greenhouse
  • Prune climbing roses
  • Order seeds for next year
  • Last chance to mow lawns and trim hedges in mild areas
  • Renovate old lawns or create new grass areas by laying turf

Seasonal Recipe

With the nights drawing in, and the weather turning colder, here’s a recipe for the quintessential comfort food – Apple Crumble. To serve 4 people, for the filling you’ll need:- around 850g of cooking apples (peeled and cored), half a lemon, 75g of golden caster sugar, 30g of butter. For the crumble you’ll need:- 150g of plain flour, 45g of golden caster sugar, 95g of butter, 1 tbs of water.

Cut the apples into 1 inch chunks and cover with the juice from the lemon. Heat the butter in a pan until it starts to froth. Add the apples and the sugar, occasionally turn the apples over until they are coloured and the sugar has started to caramelise. Empty into a baking dish,

To prepare the crumble, rub the butter into the flour. When it looks like breadcrumbs stir in the sugar. Then add the water and shake it – this makes the crumble form pea sized lumps.

Sprinkle over the apples evenly (don’t press it down). Bake in a preheated oven at 180 degree, until the topping is golden (40 to 50 mins.) Serve hot, with lashings of custard!

Readers Tips Check the underside of leaves of brassicas for caterpillar eggs and squish any you find. If you don’t, you’ll find your leaves decimated in a short period of time (see photo left)  N.S. Southgate

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