I really like the autumn, it’s a beautiful time of year, with the trees changing colour and the early morning mists swirling around. There is a distinct smell to autumn that reminds me of my time as a schoolboy, hunting out conkers. Sometimes it may seem pointless raking up leaves, when the wind blows even more 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.
Don’t waste fallen leaves – given time, they decompose into fabulously rich leaf mould – ‘nature’s soil condition-er of choice’! Here’s what to do…rake up fallen leaves and chuck them into black bin liners spiked with airholes – 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 3 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 the 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
- Autumn onion sets
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.
Plant fruit trees and new straw- berries; clear out old strawberry plants and weeds, position the newcomers a foot apart in rows wide enough apart to walk bet-ween, 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 tay-berries 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
- 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
Plant ‘Sugar Rush’ wallflowers in a tub and keep by the front door. They’ll flower during milder wint-er periods, filling the entrance to your home with that delicious, distinctive, wallflower scent. C.P. Pontarddulais
Whilst visiting Kate Probert (owner of L’Amuse Chez Kate, one of South Wales’ finest cookery schools), I quizzed her regarding a simple recipe using mushrooms – which are abundant at this time of year. She’s provided me with a delicious recipe for ‘Oeuf en Cocotte’ taken from her forth-coming book. It uses dried porcini mushrooms which you can obviously substitute with fresh mushrooms.
To serve 6 you will need: 6 large eggs, 25g of porcini mushrooms, prepared as per the packet instructions, 25g of butter, a finely chopped shallot, half a clove of garlic crushed, 100 mls of marsala (or sweet sherry) 100mls of vegetable stock, 300mls of double cream, a few drops of truffle oil (optional).
Drain, squeeze and roughly chop the mushrooms (discarding any liquid). Melt the butter in a pan and add the shallot and garlic stirring until soft. Add the mushrooms and cook until excess moisture has evaporated. Add the marsala, and let it bubble until it reduces by half. Then add the stock. When cooked through, season to taste and set aside. Grease 6 ramekin dishes with butter, place some sauce in the bottom and crack an egg into each. Place the ramekins in a tall sided tray and fill the tray with warm water until two thirds up the side of the ramekins. Place in a pre-heated oven at 160 degrees C for about 15 mins until the egg whites are just set. Pour over more of the mushroom sauce and add a few drops of Truffle oil to each. Serve with toast ‘soldiers’ – absolutely delicious!