October's Gathering and Sowing

It’s a crisp morning; shafts of bright autumn light form beams across the tops of red cabbage, spent sweetcorn tassels and the tangle of dried sweet pea stems winding up teepees. In the distance the dusty green-house panes reflect a softer light, beyond which, I catch the colourful flashes of leggy zinnias and plump crimson tomatoes; nearly going over. The kitchen garden harvest is offering up something for every meal and occasion; a clutch of carrots that were all but forgotten about, sown in large black pots of sandy soil during the heady enthusiasm of early summer, have decided to resurrect and rally with recent rain; there’s a feeling of the ‘last hurrah’ in the vegetable beds before the winter decline and the retreat of dried stems back to their soil - their end, their beginning, the cycle of life.


There is ‘a time to plant and a time to pluck what is planted’. How wonderful it is to pluck at random; as you feel like it; as the outside world spins and twists itself into a pretzel - our precious green spaces are our own arcadians, no matter how big or small. An intimate and tended green balcony can feel wondrous and no less so than a walled garden or acres of hinterland.


What I love about tending a garden is all the whimsy and nostalgia is balanced with practical planning and physical movement, one makes the other sweeter - yes; digging, raking, hoeing, heaving, pushing will give you the workout. The tedium (for some) or finer dexterous skills (for others) of seed saving, cultivating, pinching out, tying in, weeding then come into play - the list goes on.


Without  further ado it’s time to start thinking about next year’s vegetable crops, to take stock of what worked for you this year, to consider planting something different and/or the same. Would you grow peas again, if so would you transplant them outdoors earlier than you did this year? I would. This year the weather caught me out. There are so many variables to consider in a vegetable garden. It really is farming on a mini-scale. The prolonged dry spell and holding back on water usage attributed to my peas getting a bad start. They thrived in their indoor propagation pots but that really was their moment! I also took a week’s holiday at the end of May; In the green chambers of my heart I knew that I was neglecting my newly transplanted baby pea shoots. In my experience pea ‘success’ boils down to them receiving tender loving care when they are nippers in the open soil; weed-free, nutrient-rich ground, frequent watering as needed and plenty of mulch around the base in order to hold in moisture. Two year old or more leaf mould is a super mulch and soil improver. I like to propagate my seeds in a mix of sieved leaf mould and peat free compost. Leaf mould is not too nutrient-rich and contains air particles which help the soil breath. The seedlings develop a strong root system in this mixture, which keeps them healthy against the threat of disease and pests. Once peas are established and away from the low perils of dry soil and competing weeds, they very near look after themselves, bar some tying in. Peas along with other climbing vegetables are a good choice for compact gardens, patios and balconies.


If you’d like to get ahead of some spring planting and have a sheltered spot that doesn’t get water-logged during the winter you could sow your broad beans now. Sweet pea seeds are collected, I have cleared the stems, that were growing up 2 trellis’ made from bamboo and old tennis court netting. The trellis’ are standing firm so they can stay, ready the next instalment of climbers.  I’m nearly finished weeding the soil and when I’ve done that I’ll mix in leaf mould and some fine horticultural grit. The ground doesn’t get water logged but I felt that my garlic and onion that overwintered may have benefited from more aeration in the soil so I’ll apply that learning to this soon-to-be broad bean site. Once that’s done I will sow the broad bean seeds directly into the soil and let them over winter. If all the horticultural stars are lined up I should be picking sweet young broad beans in may/June before the black fly season.

On the subject of climbing vegetables I have collected seeds from my favourite tomatoes that I grew this year. You can get more than enough seed from one tomato. Simply scoop out the seeds from the pulp, place them on a square of kitchen roll. The seeds will stick to the kitchen paper and dry out nicely. I then cut the paper into small pieces with about 6 seeds on each, pop them in an envelope, label them they will store well in a dry place until you sown them in early spring.. It’s a fun way to gather your own collection. You may also want buy seeds, there is nothing like perusing through online seed catalogues of a dark and wet wintery day, whilst visualising your green arcadia breathing new growth, life and succulent taste that will nourish your body and soul.