Get ready for winter
It might be mid-October but that doesn’t mean it’s time to lay down tools. Instead, here are 10 very good reasons to get busy in the garden this week . . .
Photographs: Richard Johnson
Katy and Lady Sudeley apples
Cloves of Garlic ‘Marco’ ready for planting
SPICK AND SPAN . . . It’s time to get those vegetable beds in tip-top condition for the winter. Start by lifting, storing and clearing away finished crops, before chopping up the spent foliage and recycling it in the compost heap. The same goes for weeds (unless they’ve set seed, in which case I nip the seed-heads off, bag them separately and bin them).
Once upon a time, the traditional advice given to gardeners was to dig beds over in autumn and leave the bare soil exposed to winter rains and frost, but this causes erosion and leaching of nutrients. Instead, clothe bare soil with a mulch of seaweed, compost or manure (some gardeners like to cover these with a further layer of black plastic), or grow an overwintering green manure; nitrogen-fixing field beans can be sown until the end of October (available from thesecretgardener.com) and then dug back into the ground in spring to feed the soil.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT . . . Keeping in mind crop rotation, get sets of overwintering onions in the ground now for a usefully early ‘gap’-filling crop that can be harvested next June. Plant these sun-loving bulbous vegetables 15cm apart, in rows 30cm apart, and into well-prepared, weed-free, free-draining soil that hasn’t been freshly-manured, positioning the sets pointy tip up so that they’re barely peeking above soil. Suitable varieties include the bolt-resistant ‘Radar’ and ‘Shakespeare’.
KEEP THE VAMPIRES AWAY . . . Now is also the perfect time to plant garlic (another member of the allium family, which likes the same growing conditions as onions). Softneck varieties suitable for over-wintering include ‘Marco’, ‘Cristo’ and ‘Thermidrome’, all of which produce fat, flavoursome bulbs. Plant the individual crescent-shaped cloves 15cm apart and in rows 45cm apart, pointy tips up and covered by a 3cm layer of soil.
GOODBYE SUMMER . . . Those balmy September and early October temperatures mean that late-summer flowering perennials and annuals have been performing spectacularly well for months now. But if it hasn’t already arrived, frost is surely only just around the corner, meaning it’s time to move tender plants under cover. As for dahlias, unless you are one of life’s risk-takers and/or live in a mild area, then lift them as soon the first hard frost has blackened their leaves.
Cut away the dead foliage to about 15cm above soil level, gently dig up the fleshy, sausage-shaped tubers and label before washing off the loose soil and placing them upside-down in a frost-free shed for a couple of weeks to dry out. Once they are dry, pack them into crates and cover with an insulating layer of dry compost before placing them somewhere cool and dark, but frost-free. Those who like to live dangerously can leave tubers in the ground and protect with a deep mulch of manure or compost.
THE EARLY BIRD . . . Order bare-root fruit trees, bushes, canes now while stocks are high, so that you have the widest choice. Specialist Irish stockists include Irish Seed Savers (irishseedsavers.ie), Fruit and Nut (fruitandnut.ie), Woodkerne (woodkerne.net), and Future Forests (futureforests.net). Remember that while bare-root plants can be planted anytime from November until late March, some nurseries will take orders now but not deliver until spring.