Autumn Gardening Chores

Autumn is my very favourite season. Golden leaves against a blue sky, crisp evenings and mornings. Red apples and rosehips. And an irresistible urge to be out in the garden, weeding and planting and raking and feeding before the winter rains.

As you can see, I have cleared out much of the summer jungle from underneath the apple tree.

Here is the 'before' photo. Now I can see the windfalls, and use them before they spoil, and I'm hoping that the evil codling moth will not be finding as many hidey holes to over-winter, and that I will be able to defeat them at last..

I have done a little autumn planting - spinach, Tuscan kale, broccoli, lettuce. I am starting to be confident planting seeds, and have stopped feeling like I need to run out to the garden centre constantly to buy seedlings. One less plastic throw away in our lives. But the down side is having to be three or so weeks more organised in planting. I have improved in that this year, but 'could do better' (that was written on most of my report cards). I also hate planting seeds in punnets, much preferring to direct sow into the garden or in pots. So much less faffing about. Here's how I go about it.

First I feed the whole bed. My theory for feeding the garden is: organic matter (sheep manure - not very nutritious, but marvellous soil conditioner, making it friable and crumbly. Always put sheep manure under a mulch, or it will turn into little hard, impermeable bullets on top of the soil), a couple of nutritious, delicious soil foods (I go with blood and bone, and pelletised chicken poo. I think that covers most nutritional needs), and dolomite lime for 'sweetness' (alkalinises the soil) and calcium. Then top with mulch (I use pea straw because it is cheap and abundant here).

Once the bed is fed, I make little pockets of extra goodness with a mixture of organic potting mix, compost, and extra plant food (same as above). Then I plant a few seeds per pocket, because a little insurance is always a good thing.

Here are some seed pockets in my newly cleared and fed garden bed. I am trialling some more edibles in the front garden. This will be a graceful grove of Tuscan kale (I hope). The classic planting pattern for ornamentals is groups of three, five or seven, to give a natural, but full look. I will try this with veg instead of perennials this year. I am thinking classic English-type border, with vegetables. It may work. Or not. That is the excitement of gardening!

Here are the baby kales.

I ring them around with the pet-safe snail pellets, which I renew every couple of days, then collect the empty snail shells with glee. I wonder what happens to them? Do they dissolve, or spontaneously combust? After their first true leaves appear (the crinkly ones above), I water the seedlings with a mixture of seaweed concentrate and fish emulsion. The seaweed strengthens the roots and cell walls, the fish provides nitrogen for growth. Repeat on all seedlings every two weeks. After a couple of weeks I thin the seedlings to two, then one strong seedling.

These are baby Chinese cabbages. How adorable are baby plants? You miss so much when you only buy seedlings. There is one clear winner here for surviving seedling candidate. Sometimes you just have to shut your eyes and point. But be strong. You have to thin to one seedling, or none of them will grow to a decent size. Plants need space. These are growing in the half wine barrel at the top of the page. I put the pot under the tree so I could have food plants that weren't competing for space with the tree roots, as here. This is such a brilliant way to grow little delicate plants. They are a little protected from the weather, under dappled shade in the summer, safe from snails, who haven't discovered there is food up there yet. The only drawback is gravity. This cabbage's brother was completely flattened by a ripe, red apple yesterday.

Here is the broccoli I planted a few weeks ago, now thinned to one plant per pocket. When I planted these, there was a Tommy Toe tomato plant still bearing prolifically, growing up the trellis. When I finally cleared it, maybe two weeks ago, I carefully covered the little broccoli seedlings with jars to keep them safe, cut down the tomato plant piece by piece, and cut off the plant at groundlevel with secateurs, so that the baby broccoli wouldn't be disturbed. This also has the advantage that the tomato roots will rot in the soil, and feed the broccoli. Tiny gardens have their own challenges and advantages. I have now planted three lettuce plants behind, and will be planting snowpeas up the trellis.

More jobs. Most vegetables and fruits like lime, as it allows them to access other nutrients in the soil. At this time of year it is time to be feeding pome fruits (apples and pears) and stone fruit with a good few handfuls of lime. Also essential for happy garlic, brassicas, broad beans, spinach, indeed, most winter veg. I feed with dolomite lime, which looks like fine, grey gravel, because it is a very mild, stable lime which releases slowly over time.

Natives, citrus, blueberries, don't want lime, because they prefer an acid soil. The blueberries and citrus will appreciate a handful of iron chelates per plant, which allows them to take up the nutrients they need from the soil. If any of the leaves start turning yellow with green veins, that is a definite sign that they need more iron. Feed acid lovers with pine needle mulch and coffee grounds to keep their soil acid without chemicals.

Citrus will be putting on lots of new growth now, which is lovely. Because of course, at the beginning of autumn you fed the trees with lots of lovely plant food (sans lime), and weeded them and mulched them well, all ready for them to grow lots of delicious lemons..

Except that in a few weeks there will be frosts, which may kill off that delicate new growth. Now is the time to act, watering them with seaweed extract every fortnight to strengthen the new little leaves, and give them some protection against frost. If you live somewhere warm and frost free you can feed them now, but don't feed if you are expecting frost in the next month, because the new growth may not survive. I have some frost damage every year, but only tips of outside branches. I leave the sad, blackened growth until spring - it also protects the rest of the plant, as those tips just keep on re-freezing.

Well, that should keep us all off the streets this week. I will be ripping out the last tomato and bean plants, and putting in garlic, broad beans, snow peas and spinach. Hoping the weather will hold for just two more weeks until they get a bit established. And next year, maybe, I will get to the planting earlier..

What is going on in your garden? Are you somewhere warmer this autumn, or just coming into spring? Are there any autumn jobs I have forgotten?


Finally coming into spring here. It's very late this year. I'm inspired by all your edible gardening, and with this in mind we've ordered some fruit bushes for our 'ornamental' pots and I'm thinking about other stuff we could fit in too. Hubby's got loads of seeds planted for the allotment - hoping for a better year than last year's wash out of a summer!
Heather said…
Wow. You really know what your are doing in terms of which plants need what feed and when. I'm not that knowledgeable.

The only things I have planted from seed that have grown nicely is carrots, radishes, cucumbers, and some herbs. Otherwise, I haven't had too much luck. I hate to thin out the seedlings. It is some weird aversion I have. I know they need room to grow one healthy plant, but when I look at all the life growing it makes me sad to kill the others. What is wrong with me? I'm such a weirdo.
GretchenJoanna said…
I wish I could come and walk around your garden with you, because there is nothing I love better than to tour other people's gardens - but this was almost as good!
It's well and truly autumn here! I just finished pulling out the last of the pumpkin vines last week and all my winter veg has been planted, a few varieties of lettuce, purple broccoli, purple cauliflower, lime green cauliflower, cabbages, broad beans, garlic, leeks, and peas!
Jo said…
Everyday, hoping your allotment comes up trumps this year. I would LOVE an allotment, that is such a great British tradition. One of the reasons I garden in pots and every corner of the garden, is that I just don't have the space for 'proper' veg gardening. It's all a fascinating challenge though, to stretch the envelope and see what can be done. What fruit do you have in pots? I have lemons, cumquat, non-producing olive (so far), and a Chilean guava. Oh, and a fig tree which just gave me its first glorious, gooey sweet figs. Oh, the joy!

Heather, I read about gardening constantly, and everything that seems relevant, I write down in my gardening book. It is the only area in my life that I am completely OCD. My family think I am quite mad. I HATE thinning seedlings. It seems so cruel. But I think there is an element of ruthlessness in a gardener. I am very gleeful at the death of snails, slugs and codling moths. You're not a weirdo, just clearly more kind than ruthless! Not a bad thing.. Well done for growing carrots. I planted lots of seed last year for the first time, but only one came up because the seed was old, and it was swamped by everything I had planted on top. Failure. One year I will have enough space somewhere to try again.

GJ, I wish you could come and walk around my garden with me too. Tours of gardens are the best. I always invite myself into other people's vegie gardens. No shame!
Jo said…
Wow, Nathalie, you are totally on top of the winter veg. I love your front yard vegetable parterre. If only I had thought of doing that before I planted all those trees ten years ago..

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