Gardening Diary October Week Two


Two rather unusual root vegatables which always find a place in my garden, when the seed merchants have seed to offer, are salsify and scorzonera (sometimes called black salsify). It is rather surprising that they are not more widely cultivated, for they are easy enough to grow and make a tasty dish. Both are members of the Compositae family. The roots of both should now be ready for use and can be lifted as required. Some gardeners store them in boxes of sandy compost in a cool, well-ventilated shed, but I have never found this really-necessary. I dig them as I need them right through the winter, leaving a few salsify plants for their delicious spring foliage next April. Indeed, they are better used quickly after lifting, for the roots are deep and you are almost sure to damage some of them. Then, like dandelions, they bleed. Salsify is the more attractive vegetable of the two, although when well cooked, both have the quality of melting in the mouth and have a pleasant flavour. But preparing scorzonera for the table is a nightmare for all but the most dedicated cook. The roots, which are long, slender and coated in a hard black skin, have to be boiled first and then peeled while they are piping hot—no easy task. Alternatively, the skin can be squeezed off. Salsify are much more straightforward. The roots taper like parsnips, which they resemble except in size, and are cooked in the same way. Scorzonera roots do not taper and they are extremely difficult to lift without snapping them off.

Another similar root is the horseradish, which can also be lifted now, although it, too, may also be left in the ground until needed. Some gardeners dig up a supply and store the roots in boxes of sand for the winter, but the crop is one that few bother about. Remember that once horseradish becomes well established it is extremely difficult to get rid of. The best place for it is in an otherwise unused corner of the garden.

The first crops of trenched celery, as distinct from the self-blanching varieties, should now be ready, but leave celeriac a little longer, as the roots will still be growing vigorously.

When asparagus foliage begins to turn colour, as it soon will, it is time to cut it down. Trim almost to soil level and clear away any weeds at the same time. Fork over the bed lightly, being careful not to dig too close to the roots. Then cover the whole bed with a mulch of well-rotted farmyard manure, garden compost or, ideally, seaweed. Asparagus revels in a dressing of seaweed, so if you live near the coast make the most of your good fortune. Also, cut down the stems of globe artichokes and remove any dead leaves, and similarly clean up the Jerusalem artichokes, once the leaves start to wither.

As far as harvesting is concerned, much depends on the weather. I have known years in which gales have ruined beans, cucurbits, and sweet corn early in September, with frosts later in the month completing the devastation. In other years all these crops were still flourishing in mid-October. But even in a favourable season the end must now be very near. Be ready to clear away the debris when the inevitable happens. Put diseased material and any woody matter on the bonfire; everything else can go on the compost heap.

Be sure to cover everything vulnerable with cloches or frames. I am thinking of such crops as lettuce, radishes, endive, green onions and other salad plants. Brassicas can be covered lightly with dry straw or bracken. It is still possible to pick what may be termed the herb salads, meaning herbs that naturally succumb to the winter but which will stand a certain amount of frost. Examples are borage, fennel, chives and sorrel.

Autumn-sown peas are a crop which will have at least a 50-50 chance of success so they are worth trying. Sow at any time from now to about the first week of November, carefully selecting a suitable variety, such as Fehham First, Meteor and Pilot Improved, all of which are round-seeded.

Take particular care to protect against pests, which will still be active. I still use the old precaution against mice, soaking the seed in paraffin with a little red lead added, just before sowing. Remember that red lead is poisonous. There is often a build-up of the mouse population to near plague proportions after a warm summer. Cover the rows with netting as the seeds germinate, to protect against bird damage.


With only two or three weeks to the start of the traditional autumn-planting season, now is the time to prepare for planting. Because fruit crops generally occupy the ground for a number of years, the opportunity to improve the land is very limited; therefore, the ground should be well prepared in advance.

Dig out completely any deep-rooted weeds like docks, nettles and thistles. Manure should be dug in, the soil tested for acidity and nutrient content, and any deficiencies of lime and fertilizers corrected. It is advisable to give the ground time to settle before planting.

Allows a minimum period of four weeks between the application of manures and planting, and one week between fertilizer application and planting. If lime is required, use nitro-chalk or basic slag as one of the fertilizers, otherwise do not apply straight lime until some weeks after planting. Peach leaf curl disease, which can attack peaches, almonds, nectarines and occasionally, apricots, is spread by spores—seed-like, wind-borne organisms that overwinter beneath the bud scales of dormant buds. Past experience has shown that leaf-fall spraying with benomyl or a copper fungicide, followed by two more sprays in mid- to late winter and early spring will help to protect crops subject to this ailment. Peaches and nectarines grown indoors rarely suffer from this disease.

Continue to inspect all your crops in store. Nuts which were spread out to dry a while ago should now be ready for storing. Pack the dried nuts in salt and place them in glass or earthenware jars.


Include some herbs among the items you take into the greenhouse for the winter, as they more than pay for the small amount of space they occupy. In addition to thyme, parsley and sage, I make a point of including several pots of chives, lifted from the open garden. Outdoors the plants will die down in winter, but under glass or indoors they can be persuaded to continue to produce foliage, and a few leaves of chives make all the difference to a winter salad. Another useful herb is savory. There are both summer and winter varieties, but for greenhouse use try summer savory, which has the better flavour, sown sometime this month.

02. October 2013 by admin
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