Autumn Seasonal Tips by Jim Morgan

As vegetable crops are harvested, leaving swathes of bare earth, it’s time to decide on a winter strategy. Doing nothing is quite attractive, but there are better options. On my allotment site, some just go for covering large areas with weed-supressing woven plastic sheets. That looks neat, and will keep the ground warmer for spring planting, but doesn’t help improve soil fertility. Winter green manure crops will improve soil fertility and structure. It’s too late for red clover, phacelia or winter tares now, but for humus and nitrogen-fixing, a mix of vetch and cereal rye can be planted to end October, or field beans into November.  A search through green manures at www.kingsseeds.com should give you a low cost match for your soil type and needs.

An alternative is to top-mulch. Almost every scrap of organic material from my garden goes into a shredder (or I may just run a lawnmower over it). Then it goes on to the allotment.  In most areas this allows a “no-dig” approach as the worms do all the work. The principle is that once initially dug and mulched, the soil is never compacted again. Just always keep your feet to the paths between the beds! My soil is near-clay on top of chalk so it has taken a couple of years to improve, but I’ve noticed the worm count and crop yield have gone up hugely since starting this. And the weed count has really reduced with little effort from me.    

I think that the allotments that impress me most – especially in winter - are those that clearly are producing crops all year round.  That means planting seeds at the right time of course, but what should be planted right now?

Shallots and garlic are traditionally planted in September/October. Spring onions such as “White Lisbon” and white onions such as “First Early” can also be autumn-planted. The bulbs can be pushed down through top mulch into the soil underneath. In the photo most of the mulch has long gone, but there were still only a few weeds.  Be prepared for losses as some onions may bolt into flower in the spring. Also expect a battle with the slugs and snails in wet spring spells. Mulching seems to reduce both of these problems

Broad beans planted in bare earth or pushed through mulch in October/November have over-wintered successfully (though mulch gives more protection). They produce an early crop before the black-fly swings into action. This past year I tried “Red Epicure” for the first time, both overwintered for the earliest of crops, and also as a main crop. The verdict from the chief cook was that no other broad bean comes near it for flavour.  

Other seeds for planting in September/October include spinach such as “Missouri” and lettuce “Black-seeded Simpson” and “Winter Density” all available from Kings. The lettuce is fully ready from March, when not much else planted now will be available, but leaves can be taken from all these much earlier. Particularly if planted after mid-October, these plants will do best in a cold frame, or with at least some protection such as cloches or a sheltered, sunny spot.