Tidy up perennial veg

Easy

Words: Martyn Cox

Lofty perennial vegetables, such as Jerusalem artichoke and globe artichoke add a sculptural touch to kitchen gardens for much of the year, but by now plants will be looking a little scruffy.

Cut the tall stems of Jerusalem artichoke to within 30cm of the ground when the 10ft stems start to collapse and the leaves begin to turn yellow. This plant spreads readily and will easily outgrow its allotted space – harvest the knobbly roots regularly to keep it within bounds.

Architectural globe artichoke needs some extra cosseting. Chop back stems close to ground level and protect the crowns from frost by covering plants with a loose layer of leaf mould, garden compost or composted bark.

 

Plant a patio fruit tree

Quite easy

Words: Martyn Cox

Those with small gardens often give fruit trees a wide berth, thinking that they need a lot of room to grow. Most do. But there’s an ever increasing range grafted onto dwarfing rootstocks that are perfect for planting now in pots or the ground.

If you love apples try Croquella a compact new variety that produces lots of crisp, red-skinned fruit while Sibley’s Patio Quince forms a compact, bushy tree that bears full-size fruit in autumn.

Plums were once the preserve of large orchards, but chose a ‘Victoria’ grown on a semi-dwarfing Pixy rootstock and it will only reach 7ft tall (keepers-nursery.co.uk). Elsewhere, look out for compact cherries, quince, pears, peaches and apricots. Plant in 45cm diameter pots filled with a soil-based compost, such as John Innes No.3 or into well prepared soil.

Sow broad beans

Medium effort

Words: Martyn Cox

Sweet, tender and succulent; freshly picked broad beans are a million miles away from those ‘bullets’ many of us remember from childhood. To enjoy harvesting your own in late spring, sow seeds of winter hardy varieties in a sunny, sheltered spot. Plant seeds 5cm deep and 20cm apart, in staggered rows 20cm apart.

During very cold weather, cover young plants with a low polythene tunnel or a sheet of horticultural fleece. Plants will need supporting as they grow – knock a stake into the ground at either end of the row and run twine down either side, at 30cm and 60cm heights, to shore them up. Super Aquadulce and Aquadulce Claudia are both reliable, while compact The Sutton performs well in pots.

Grow garlic

Easy

Words: Martyn Cox

Whether you want to pep up your food or have a problem with vampires, plant some garlic and you’ll be tugging up some big, fat bulbs in a few months time. It’s dead easy to grow and will thrive in plots, borders or pots.

Start with proper seed garlic bought from a specialist supplier and not the stuff you’ve bought from the supermarket to use in the kitchen. Among the best to try are Solent Wight, Early Purple Wight and Picardy Wight.

Carefully split open bulbs and separate the cloves – keep the largest, the rest can be used for cooking. Make small holes in the soil, 20cm apart, and plant cloves so that the pointy tip is just beneath the surface of the soil. Alternatively, fill a 30cm pot with John Innes No.3 compost and make shallow holes, 10cm apart, around the outside. Plant as before. Keep moist and harvest next summer.

Early carrots

Medium effort

Words: Martyn Cox

Most carrots would turn to mush if you tried sowing seeds at this time of year, but not Early Nantes. It’s considered to be the first true autumn sowing carrot – its 15cm long, cylindrical-shaped roots are cold resistant and ready for lifting in spring.

Prepare the ground before sowing. Remove weeds and turn over the soil, breaking up any large clumps. Rake to leave a fine finish. Make 1cm deep grooves in the soil with a garden cane, spacing rows 30cm apart. Sow seeds thinly along the base and cover with soil. Water the area well with a watering can fitted with a rose – seeds should germinate within 10 days.

When the seedlings are about 2cm tall, thin out rows to leave carrots 10cm apart. Cover with fleece or a low polythene tunnel to protect them from the worst of the weather.

Treat your rhubarb

Medium effort

Words: Martyn Cox

Apart from a dilapidated old shed and a pile of rubble, the other artefact you’re likely to inherit with an allotment plot is a big clump of rhubarb tucked away in a dark corner. It’s renowned as a plant that thrives on neglect, but give it some attention and you’ll be rewarded with bigger, better stems.

When the mammoth leaves start to die back, chop the stems back to ground level with secateurs. Spread some well-rotted farmyard manure or garden compost over the root area to lock in moisture but leave the crown exposed to the elements.

If a plant has outgrown its allotted space, lever it from the ground with a spade and hack into several smaller pieces. Replant a healthy portion in the same position.

Blackcurrants

Medium effort

Words: Martyn Cox

For masses of eye-wincing, juicy blackcurrants next summer, you should prune bushes into shape now.

Start by removing any spindly shoots then shorten branches that grow away from the bush at a sharp angle. Now it’s time to get heavy. Remove a quarter of two year old branches (they’re a grey colour) with secateurs, along with all the older, black coloured branches – cut them flush with the ground.

While you’re trimming keep an eye out for any extra large, distorted buds. These contain hundreds of microscopic mites that will eventually weaken the plant. Pick them off by hand and consign to a dustbin, not the compost heap.

If you buy a blackcurrant this autumn, plant 5cm deeper than the nursery soil bark on the stems to encourage more buds to form underground. Prune all the branches back to one bud from ground after planting to help the plant establish a good root system.

Compost heaps

Nice and easy

Words: Martyn Cox

Give your compost heap some attention to ensure you’ve got lots of lovely crumbly compost for mulching newly planted crops or for improving soil when digging.

Compost breaks down quickly during warm weather, but it can slow down to a snail’s pace over autumn due to cooler temperatures and wet weather. To keep it in good shape, cover exposed heaps with a thick piece of cardboard, offcut of carpet or a square of landscape material. This will help to maintain temperatures suitable for the material to rot and prevent rain flushing out beneficial nutrients.

If you’re clearing old vegetable plants from the garden, remember to chop the stems up finely before thoroughly mixing them into compost heaps with a fork.

Start a strawberry bed

Easy

Words: Martyn Cox

Early autumn is a great time to plant strawberries for a feast of mouth watering, sweet, juicy berries next summer.

Bare-root runners will establish quickly in warm, moist soil, forming a strong root system before winter sets in that will enable plants to burst into life next year. They’ll do best in a sunny, sheltered spot.

To ensure they get off to a flying start, remove any perennial weeds from the ground then dig in some well-rotted manure. Plant runners in rows, spacing them about 30cm apart.

Strapped for space? You can plant strawberries in pots filled with multi-purpose compost. Among the best for taste are Mara des Bois, Marshmello and Sonata.

Tackle peach leaf curl disease

Boring but important

Words: Martyn Cox

Peaches, nectarines and almonds seem to be martyrs to peach leaf curl, a fungal disease that affects vigour and growth of fruit. It’s easy to spot: leaves become puckered, twisted and blistered, while pink patches on the surface turn white as spores develop.

If your tree displayed these symptoms, spray with Vitax Bordeaux Mixture or another copper-based fungicide before the foliage falls. Spray again twice, two weeks apart, in late January and early February.

If plants are grown against a fence or wall, protect with a simple polythene rain shelter. This will prevent any fungal spores that are overwintering on bark or buds from coming into contact with moisture and germinating. When planting a new peach, go for a disease resistant variety, such as Avalon Pride, Red Haven and Rochester.

Plot preparation

Hard work

Words: Martyn Cox

If you’re planning on creating a new vegetable patch on a piece land that hasn’t been touched for some time, give it some attention so you can start growing plants in earnest next year.

Start by removing weeds. Brambles, nettles and other perennials are best lifted entirely with a fork, while annuals can be chopped in two at ground level with a hoe. Next, turn it over roughly with a fork, removing large stones, roots and other bits of rubbish as you go.

Finish by digging it more thoroughly. Dig up a clod of soil, turn it over and drop back into the same hole. Chop it up and repeat, working methodically across the bed.

Protect brassicas from birds

Medium effort

Words: Martyn Cox

Kale, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and other brassicas are treasured over winter, supplying tasty pickings when there’s little else about. But leave them unprotected and they’ll soon be clocked by ravenous pigeons that will quickly strip the leaves to a skeletal outline.

Scarecrows, strings of CDs and other devices aimed at frightening birds might work at first, but the best way of protecting crops for the long term is to cover them with netting. Sheets of the material can be placed over rows of plants and held in place with pegs or canes – make sure there’s no gaps or a wily bird will find its way in. Alternatively, buy some cloche hoops and make a low tunnel drape with netting

Asparagus

Hard work but worth the it

Words: Martyn Cox

Loved by gourmets for its sweet, distinctive flavour, the perky young shoots of asparagus are never better than when eaten within a few hours of cutting. Shop bought spears, especially those that have travelled half way around the world to be here, are a poor substitute. So, if you’ve got the space, prepare beds for planting bare-root crowns in April.

Asparagus will grow best in an open, sunny site, but will tolerate dappled shade. It is not particularly fussy about the soil type as long as it is well drained – if your soil is heavy, try growing in raised beds. Prepare the ground by removing weeds and digging in plenty of garden compost or well-rotted farmyard manure.

Already growing asparagus? Cut down the ferny growth now it’s turning yellow, leaving 5cm stumps above the ground. Remember to wear gloves to protect your hands against the barbed stems. Finish by hoicking out any weeds.

Lifting and storing

Satisfying

Words: Martyn Cox

Autumn is the time to enjoy the fruit and veg of your labour as many of the crops that have been developing for months are ready for harvesting.

Main crop potatoes, parsnips, carrots and onions can be prised from the ground, while pumpkins, squash and cauliflowers can be cut from plants. Ripe pears, apples, quinces and medlars will twist easily from the branches of trees.

Squirrel some vegetables away to provide food over winter. Keep potatoes in paper sacks, carrots in the wooden trays lined with sand and onions in net bags suspended from the ground. Apples and pears will last for ages if placed in slatted trays, ensuring individual fruit isn’t touching. Store in sheds, garages or another cool, frost free place. Check crops regularly to ensure they’re healthy and eject any showing signs of disease.

Grow herbs inside

Pretty easy

Words: Martyn Cox

Do you feel tempted to buy those puny pots of herbs from the supermarket, so you’ve got some fresh leaves to pick over the next few months? Don’t do it. Although many traditional herbs naturally die back in the autumn, you can trick some into producing new growth. Try this on mint, chives and lemon balm:

Lift a large clump, split apart and place a section into a small pot filled with multi-purpose compost. Cut back growth to just above ground level, water and stand on a light kitchen windowsill. Fresh growth will appear in a few weeks.

For parsley, sow seeds thinly across the surface of a shallow container and cover with a 1cm layer of compost. Water and put in a sheltered spot outdoors. Seedlings will appear within a month or so.

Extra early peas

Medium effort

Words: Martyn Cox

Peas are usually sown in spring for pods that are ready for picking in summer, but if you live in a mild area try sowing seeds of special varieties now and you’ll be rewarded with an extra early crop.

‘Meteor’, ‘Feltham First’ and ‘Douce Provence’ are known as first earlies, a.k.a tough nuts, which are able to cope with cool winter temperatures and mature far more quickly than other varieties of pea.

To grow, space seeds 5cm apart in the bottom of a 5cm deep flat bottomed trench. Cover with soil, water and the seeds should germinate within two weeks. Although hardy they still need a bit of protection of winter – cover young plants with cloches over winter and early spring. Pods will be ready for picking by mid-May.

Sow winter salads

Easy

Words: Martyn Cox

If you’re a fan of mixed salad leaves you might have already put your packets of seeds back in the cupboard following the arrival of lower light levels and temperatures. Well, hold your horses – there are a number of zingy blends that will grow just as well during the shorter days of autumn and winter.

One of the best is Winter Blend a vibrant mixture of scarlet and blue curled kale, mustard red thrills, rocket and mizuna. To raise your own, sow seeds thinly across the surface of a large pot and cover lightly with compost. Water and place in a greenhouse, porch or on a light windowsill.

When seedlings are about 2.5cm tall, thin out so they’re about 7cm apart. Keep compost moist, but not soaking wet to avoid fungal diseases.