Dig it – October

With Fulke Andel

Gardening advice for the new (and not so new) gardener

Having been caught out with lack of seeds and compost earlier this year, I’ve made a concerted effort to make sure I have everything ready for next spring, just in case we find ourselves in a lock-down situation.

Yellow Geum flowers

I haven’t bought any more than normal, just made sure I have everything I need. I’ve also taken stock of the plants in the borders – what’s performed well and what hasn’t. Despite ensuring the conditions are right for plants, they can be fickle in how they settle in and perform. So, some plants like Geums that were overcrowded, have been split and replanted and some like the Hollyhocks are headed for the compost bin. This has now generated some space that I can look forward to filling – it’s given me a great excuse to browse through catalogues over the coming months.

Once you’ve cleared your vegetable garden, dig it over and incorporate compost/manure. Do this 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 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 and die back, so it’s important to clear them. Leaf mould takes about a year to mature (2 years in the case of oak leaves), it 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.


Year 1 Year 2 Year 3 Year 4
Plot 1 Legumes Brassicas Roots and Onions Potatoes
Plot 2 Brassicas Roots and Onions Potatoes Legumes
Plot 3 Roots and Onions Potatoes Legumes Brassicas
Plot 4 Potatoes Legumes Brassicas Roots and Onions


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


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


  • Plant fruit trees and new strawberries; clear out old straw-berry 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, re-planting with a good dollop of manure under each plant
  • Cut out the canes of blackberries, logan berries 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

Readers Tips

When planting bulbs in tubs, plant them in aquatic pots (pots used for planting aquatic plants in ponds). When the display is over, you can lift them from the tub in the pot and plant in the ground with minimum disturbance. Freeing up the tub to be replanted far earlier than waiting for the foliage to die back.

J.R. Reynoldston

Seasonal Recipe

Here’s a recipe for mushroom soup (serves 2) – although available throughout the year, mushrooms are at their best during the autumn. You will need 45g butter, 1 medium onion, roughly chopped,1 garlic clove crushed, 250g mushrooms finely chopped, 1 tbsp plain flour, 500mls hot chicken stock, 1 bay leaf, 2 tbsp single cream, Salt and pepper, A small handful flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped, to serve (optional).

Heat the butter in a large saucepan and cook the onions and garlic until soft but not browned, around 6 to 8 mins.

Add the mushrooms and cook over a high heat for another 3 mins until softened. Sprinkle over the flour and stir to combine. Pour in the chicken stock, bring the mixture to the boil, then add the bay leaf and simmer for another 10 mins.

Remove and discard the bay leaf, then remove the mushroom mixture from the heat and blitz using a hand blender until smooth. Gently reheat the soup and stir through the cream, season to taste, scatter over the parsley and serve.


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