Composting, clearing and collecting are the buzzwords for October (not forgetting the carving of the Halloween pumpkin of course!) but there’s still things to sow and grow so you’ll reap the bounty come spring
Provide free bird food. You don’t have to buy expensive bird food this autumn, simply leave seeds heads on flowers, especially sunflowers, or pop windfall apples and pears onto your bird table. Dinnertime leftovers such as dried fruit, cooked rice, grated cheese, and the remnants from the bottom of cereal packets will also provide rich pickings (or should that be peckings!)
Open a garden hotel. Give a cosy home to lacewings by putting a roll of cardboard inside a plastic bottle with the end cut off and then stuffing this with straw. Or, design a ladybird hostel by punching holes through the lid and sides of a margarine tub and fill with straw. Stick short lengths of drinking straw through holes in the top and tuck on its side under a shrub.
Sow stir-fry veg. Fill large pots and containers with soil and thinly sow: pak choi or Chinese cabbage for baby leaves during autumn and winter; Chinese Celery for soups and stews – a slimmer, leafier version of celery that’s very hardy; Choy Sum, which hails from Hong Kong with juicy green leaves and flowering shoots; or Mizuna, also known as Kyoto Greens, a Japanese, peppery, cut-and-come-again ‘lettuce’ that’s incredibly easy to grow and very hardy.
Plant bare-root fruits. Bare-root apples, apricots, cherries, crab apples, damsons, figs and gages can all be planted now – but check the rootstock to ensure it will grow to the right size for your space. Dig a hole no deeper than the roots and place the plant in, refilling with soil. Firm and water in to banish air pockets.
Sow over wintering peas and beans. Sow Aquadulce Claudia broad beans and peas such as Douce Provence into short drills for overwintering. The won’t need cloches but fine nets are good to prevent the birds pecking them up, and you should get a nice early crop when the weather picks up in the spring.
Dry your French beans. If you’ve run out of time to harvest French beans, don’t despair! Climbing beans such as ‘Borlotto Bean Lingua di Fuoco’ are wonderful young and green, but even better dried. Take down the plants and hang up in a shed until the pods turn crisp, before extracting the beans.
Pick fennel. A mid-June sowing of Florence fennel should be fattening up by now so harvest before changes in the weather (and light) make them bolt. Slice small bulbs into salads or roast with tomatoes and potatoes, and leave the ‘stump’ in the ground for feathery cut-and-come-again foliage.
Sow garlic. Save stacks on shop-bought garlic by sowing your own bulbs, such as Provence Wight, now. Break into cloves and slot individually into the ground around six inches apart, in rows 12 inches apart. Weed carefully as they grow and harvest once the leave turn yellow and droop.
And finally, one way to deal with that glut guilt…
The bulbous base of Florence fennel infuses a glorious aniseed flavour to dishes, and, combined with beans and the last of your tomato harvest, it makes a simple but sensational Mediterranean stew.
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4 and in an ovenproof dish combine six peeled tomatoes, 2 washed and sliced leeks, 2 fat cloves of chopped garlic, 1 large sliced fennel bulb, a really good glug of olive oil, a measure of Pastis, such as Pernod, 2 bay leaves, a handful of fresh thyme, and season.
Mix well and set aside to let the flavours mingle. Cover and bake for 30 minutes and then add 500g (1lb) cubed potatoes, 400g (12oz) can butter beans (or your own fresh or dried French beans), 250ml (8fl oz) veg stock and 250ml (8fl oz) white wine. Bake for another 40 minutes, remove the herbs, and serve warm with a scoop of green pesto.