As seasons change I am often asked about the next steps in the growing calendar. Whatever the size of your growing space, the principles are the same: Autumn is the time of harvest: of ‘putting the beds to bed’, enjoying the fruits of your hard work, feeding yourself, your soil and others. It is my favourite time of year, when traditionally we share produce with the OSO Arts Centre, Paddock Pop-up and Castelnau Community Centre as part of the RHS Big Soup Share. On hold this year, we hope to see it back in 2021.
Keeping a Balance Particularly in an urban area such as ours, it is important to maintain a balance between healthy soil, healthy plants and consideration for the life cycles of our pollinators and other creatures that rely on the mini-ecosystems created by food growing. For example, onions and artichokes left to complete their life cycle and produce those fantastic architectural seed heads are not only such a joy but provide vital food sources for late pollinators and shelter for mini-beasties.
Herbs Late August/early September is really the last chance for cutting back herbs including lavenders, sages, thymes, and rosemary for several reasons: Pruning now helps keep them from getting woody and lets cuts heal before winter. Harvesting, drying and freezing now is the best time to keep all the flavour and of course there is nothing quite like the burst of summer scent added to soups or gravy for your wintry roast dinners! Remember to leave a few plants unpruned for the pollinators.
Tomatoes Maximise rapidly dwindling ripening time by continuing to pinch out new side shoots, stopping any new growth, and removing some leaves to expose the fruits to what is left of the summer sun…. we are heading into fried green tomatoes and green tomato chutney time so please do let us know your favourite recipes!! Remember to remove tomato fruits from plants you are adding to your trench and put them in our compost bins or you will have a field of tomatoes in the spring.
Potato Fruits Many have asked if the tomato-like fruits that sometimes appear on potato plants are edible. ABSOLUTELY NOT! Potatoes belong to a super interesting plant family (Solanaceae) that includes tomatoes, aubergines, datura, and nightshades. Many plants in this family contain toxic alkaloids and it is important to be sure you know which part of which plant is edible. One member of the family that somehow seems to appear uninvited in allotments from time to time and should be removed immediately is Thorn Apple (Datura stramonium).
Composting As our growing project keeps growing, so does the amount of green waste. Here are a few ways we can make best use of this valuable natural resource and reduce strain on our limited space.
Soil Before heading out to buy compost and mulch, why not dig a trench 30 – 60cm deep and about 30cm wide in an area of your growing space and fill it with the ‘green waste’ that you are clearing? Lay down the thickest material at the bottom, things like cut up sunflower and corn stalks. Follow this with peas, beans etc. If you leave it open, the material will soon wilt down and make space for even more so there is no need to pack it down. When full, cover with the soil you dug to make the trench and hey presto: you are feeding your soil, making use of your green waste, helping keep the compost bins from over flowing, saving your back – and saving money! Particularly in a confined growing space like a raised bed, it is vital to keep your soil healthy, and so satisfying to know that you are doing the best you can for your soil and next season’s crops.
Bins: Autumn is also the time to sort out the compost area. At Vine Road, this means we will be clearing the remaining material from Bay One and sifting to make seed compost for next year. Once full, material from Bay Two will be overturned into empty Bay One and left until Autumn 2021. Material from Bay Three will be overturned into empty Bay Two and be our compost resource for the Spring 2021 growing season. Empty Bay Three will then be our new working bay. Simples!
Wormery: A wormery is great fun and great for your soil. Ours is well looked after and kept fed by one of our growers and her children. We will be using some of the accumulated worm casts to inoculate the beds with beneficial microbes and nutrients created by the action of the worms, an added boost to the soil’s health. When the weather gets colder, we move the wormery inside the polytunnel for a bit of extra warmth until Spring. You can find out more about wormeries here
Leafmould Leaf-raking is another fantastic autumn activity and free source of quality material that can be used as a mulch or sieved for seed sowing. Leaves raked in Autumn will be stored in large sacks and generally be ready for use in two years.
Hot Composting: is an effective way to compost more woody and bulky material. We are hoping to be able to add this to our composting regime, so watch this space!
Next month we take a look at growing in the polytunnel.
Sharon Morgan September 2020