The October Garden

This is the exciting time- trees are setting fruit, trees are bright with pale green leaves- it's a time to dream about the abundance in a couple of months. October is just too encouraging. The days are balmy, and you feel like you can cultivate the world.


Take a grip on yourself. Whatever you plant now you'll have to tend at Christmas. Three dozen tomatoes planted now mean a weeks bottling or freezing or saucemaking in late summer; 3 zuchinni plants will mean you're forcing them on your friends. The more you dig now the more you'll have to weed in a month's time.
Start small, and extend your plot week by week. That way you won't start more than you can tend.
Don't dig either. Sometimes I think humans have a sort of racial memory to dig- like kids digging in sandpit. Dig if you want to- but don't assume it'll make your garden any better.


Jobs for October
. MULCH! Now the weather has warmed up mulch EVERYTHING (with the possible exception of the cat).
. Mow! Even if the grass hasn't grown much the weeds need beheading.
. Deadhead bulbs - snipping the old flowers off now before they form seeds will give you more vigorous flowers next year.
. Feed summer bloomers and veg with liquid seaweed.
. Take hydrangea cuttings - cut off 30 cm pieces, trim off the lower leaves, cut the other leaves in half (to reduce moisture loss) and bury the ends about 10 cm deep. Keep in light shade till well established.
. Train climbing rose shoots so they are as horizontal as possible. If allowed to grow vertically they'll only bloom at the top, instead of putting out masses of new shoots for roses all along the branch.
. Pinch the tops out of basil plants to stop them forming flowers instead of leaves.

Jam Jar Flowers
BIG bunches need BIG vases. But small, lax-stemmed flowers like petunias, floribunda roses, a single bloom with a few green leaves - or one of those lovable tiny bunches clutched in a kid's fist - need small vases.
Many kitchen rejects make great vases for this type of bloom - old soy sauce bottles, mango pickle containers or even those little cream jugs you never do get around to filling up with cream. Even eggcups suit smaller flowers, like a nasturtiums or two or a couple of daisies.

 

What to plant now
The Spring flush exists. Things start to grow like they've been dreaming of it all winter. Things planted now will grow like mad.It's worth while, though, taking a close look at how much of each crop you plant.

Tomatoes. I only plant a few tomatoes at the beginning of the season- then more at Christmas and in mid February - this last planting provides vigorous bushes that survive late frosts.
Celery. Plant enough for the whole year.I find a dozen plants is plenty for stews and salads, as long as they're well fed. Don't pick the whole bunch- just the odd stalk as you need them. The more you feed and water them the more you'll get. Ditto silverbeet- a dozen vigorous plants gives us a couple of meals every week.
Carrots. I plant a year's supply now. They're slow growing, and easily swamped by weeds. Plant them thickly and pull out the tiny ones as you need them. Ditto beetroot. I don't plant turnips till late summer- hot weather ones are too strong.
Eggplant, capsicum, chilli- we make do with a couple of eggplant, a dozen capsicum and chilli every few years- but this depends on taste
Lettuce. I plant a dozen lettuce every week except in mid winter or when I forget. We go through lettuce binges, so sometimes there's a surplus that goes to seed. But nothing is ever wasted in the garden- overripe lettuce is just tomorrows mulch. If you only eat lettuce twice a week look for punnets of mixed lettuce- a variety of types like cos, mignonette etc that mature over about a six week period
Beans and cucumbers. Plant one lot now, then another as soon as this lot flowers.
Peas. Peas planted now will give pods at Christmas unless there's a heat wave. Peas won't set in hot weather. I plant ours on a trellis where dandelions shade their roots to keep them cool.In hot areas try growing climbing beans up an orange tree.(Feed them extra to make up for root competition- mulch them at least a hand's depth so they can make more roots up their stems.)
Corn. I plant a mass of corn now- the first lot of early corn I plant never ripens evenly, so there's no point staggering it till December. Then I plant a new lot every three weeks till early February. Later corn seems more likely to ripen all at once.try growing pumpkins through your corn- the young plants keep the weeds down and the old plants can ramble up the old corn stalks. Cucumbers also do well in corn, but need extra feeding or they do far worse.
Melons. Plant as many as you can, and train them up a trellis or over the fence. That way they won't be much work- you'll only have to feed and water the small section where the stalks are.

 

Harvests
Like September, this is a month that tells you how good your garden planning was last year.
We'd have had peas if the wallaby hadn't eaten them, and young dandelion leaves if the wombat hadn't shat on them (the leaves are probably still quite edible but I don't fancy them). Keep picking the tops out of silver beet that goes to seed so they'll keep cropping till the new lot are ready. Pick brussel sprouts as soon as they form so more grow.
We feast on asparagus for three months of the year- at least twice a day. If you don't have any plant the seed now- there is a new type of the market that will give you a few spears next spring, and a lot the year after. Put in some artichoke seed too (most seed companies carry both seeds- ask at your garden centre.)
Artichokes are a type of thistle. If you don't have artichokes peel a few thistle buds- or toss in sow thistles buds that aren't prickly. (these are sometimes called dandelions- the sort you puffed at the seed heads to tell the time- but dandelions have only one flower per stalk, while sow thistles have several. the leaves are good like silver beet too, till hot weather comes and they turn bitter.)

 

Potatoes and Onions
Keep last winter's spuds as cold and dry as you can to stop them sprouting- an old method used to be to bury them in a pit of dry sand, then put a cover over it. If you've got them inside keep them away from fruit- fruit produces ethylene which will set the spuds sprouting.(On the other hand if you want the potatoes for planting, stick them near a case of oranges or apples.)
Early onions should be appearing mow- flat white lovely ones.Home grown onions have have a taste of their own as well as adding flavour to other things.Eat them as small as you want them- there's no need to let them get big and die off for fresh eating.

 

Fruit
Loquats are the first spring fruit- fat yellow berry like fruit. They've gone out of fashion lately- maybe because they don't travel well (they blemish) and you can't buy them at the supermarket. Most people now don't think something's edible if you can't buy it in plastic trays.
Try kumquats. Real kumquats are small but sweet- not like the calamondins most people know as kumquats.We have to grab our kumquats from the bower birds- as soon as they finish off the kiwi fruit they're into the kumquats (then they start on the apples). (A note though- our bower bird flock hasn't increased in ten years- though the food supply has- just grow more for the birds as well.)
Don't dismiss kumquats as ornamental- many are sweet enough to eat like small mandarins- and even the sour calamondins are good peeled and cooked with honey or sugar or a sweet red wine.
Raspberries are best in spring and autumn. If they start to rot make sure you pick them every day- rots like the sugar in ripe raspberries and leaving ripe ones on the canes may infect others. Spray every day with chamomile tea too.
Rhubarb crops all year except mid winter, but spring rhubarb is best- tender, not coarse, with a better flavour. Feed your rhubarb a lot if you intend to pick it often- short stalks means it needs more nourishment.
Stew rhubarb in orange juice. The amount of sugar you add depends on taste, and the sweetness of the rhubarb- rhubarb varies.

 

Other Jobs
Broad beans don't set seed in hot weather- mulch them thickly now to keep the soil cool. If they start getting spots on their leaves you've probably got a potash deficiency- throw wood ash on the plot for next year.
. Let excess or old broad beans dry in the pod- then keep them to add to soups and stews later.
.chop up vegies gone to seed and stew them into a rich vegetable stock- either have it for lunch or freeze it.A friend grates them up, adds wheat germ and bakes them into crisp dog biscuits.
. many veg like carrots and celery that have gone to seed can be eaten simply by peeling away the tough outer membrane- the centres will be soft and sweet.
Plant green manure crops that can be slashed and ready for January plantings of winter vegetables- broad beans (cut them at flowering, don't wait for pods to set) or sunflowers, buckwheat or even radish if you pull them out before the bulbs form.
Plant passionfruit vines, and chokos now, before it gets too hot- though they can be planted at any time as long as they are well established by winter, and kept mulched and watered.
Mulch strawberries and rhubarb now, and cut off any rhubarb heads going to seed. Mulching now prevents leaf disease later.
Buy young chooks now- they'll lay through till next spring.If you don't raise your own chickens try buying alternately black, white or red ones, to 'colour code' each year - or leave different colour roosters with the females each season.
If you're chooks aren't laying well check their water- fresh running water means more eggs, a stagnant puddle may keep you hens alive but they won't thrive. Hens won't lay in very hot weather either- scatter branches over the chook run for some shade- and plant some trees, preferably ones like mulberries, tree lucerne or avocados that can provide chook food.
Chooks are paranoid creatures. they can be scared of anything that flies over them and anything that chases them- from kids to foxes. Scared chooks don't lay as well. Chooks were once jungle birds, living in the broken light in the undergrowth. If you want secure, non paranoid chooks stick branches, old corn stalks etc over their run so that the light below is shifting and semi shaded. They'll feel less vulnerable no matter what is around.

 

Pests
No matter what pests are bugging you, try not to do anything about it for at least two weeks- see if natural predators will starts doing the job for you.
Put out codlin moth lures now to see if you need to start spraying. Put out fruit fly traps if you have any fruit or fruit like vegetables near ripening.
Look for snails. Snails love spring- the lizards that keep them in check are still sleepy. (Frogs do a good job snail killing too). Try cup of bran or old muesli, a quarter cup of derris, moistened with molasses. Place bits in an old margarine container with a gate cup out of it, so that rain won't wash the bait away. Derris makes snails and slugs froth up and die. Dogs and cats et. al. can eat this amount of derris without being rushed to the vet.

 

What to Plant in October

Hot climates
Food plants: Choko, lemon grass, sweet potato and passionfruit vines, Jerusalem artichokes, paw paw and Cape gooseberry seeds. Also the seeds of artichokes, basil, beans, beetroot, capsicum, carrots, celery, celtuce, chicory, cucumbers, eggplant, endive, fennel, tropical lettuce, melons, okra, parsley, peas, peanuts, pumpkin (not in humid areas), radish, rosellas, sweet corn, tomatoes and salad greens like mizuna and mitsuba.
Plants for beauty: Seeds or seedlings of ageratum, alyssum, amaranthus, carnations, celosia, coleus, cosmos, dichondra, echinops, erigeron, gaillardia, gazania, gloxinia, gourds, hymenosporum, impatiens, nasturtiums, phlox and salvia.

Cold and Temperate
Food garden: Seed potatoes, sweet potatoes, choko, strawberries; seeds of artichokes, asparagus, basil, beans, beetroot, broccoli, burdock, cabbage, capsicum, carrots, cauliflower, celery, celtuce, chicory, collards, coriander, corn salad, cress, cucumbers, eggplant, endive, fennel, kale, kohl rabi, leeks, lettuce, melons, okra, parsley, peanuts, pumpkin, radish, rosellas, salsify, scorzonera, sweet corn, tomatoes, turnips, salad greens like mizuna and mitsuba, and zucchini.

Flower garden: Achillea, ageratum. alstromeria, alyssum amaranthus, aster, balsam, bellis perennis, bells of Ireland, brachycome, calendula, candytuft, Canterbury bells, carnation, celosia, clarkia, cleome, coleus, coreopsis, columbines, cosmos, delphinium, dichondra, echinacea, echinops, erigeron, euphorbia, foxglove, gaillardia, gazania, globe amaranth, gloxinia, godetia, gypsophila, helichrysum, heliotrope, hellebores, honesty, lavender, marigolds, nasturtium, petunia, phlox, Flanders poppy, portulaca, rudbeckia, salpiglossis, salvia, scabious, sweet william, viola, zinnia and snapdragons.

© Jackie French