What to plant in autumn for early summer harvests
It’s already that time of year where everything slows down drastically in the garden. Days are feeling short, night time temperatures have dropped and our first frost date is just around the corner. I have also noticed harvests slow down considerably over the past couple of weeks. I now find that I am able to get away with going to the plot as little as once a week. This is just as well because with the short days it becomes increasingly difficult to make a trip during the week.
Still, we are enjoying a handful of tomatoes coming from the greenhouses, plus the last of our autumn raspberries. It also feels like our cosmos and dahlias have finally come to life and are flowering in abundance. Enjoy these last few days/weeks of these flowers in your garden, because once the first frost comes much of it will unfortunately come to an abrupt end.
Winter is a great time for a bit of down time and recouperation as a gardener. There are still plenty of jobs to be done, but nothing feels as screamingly urgent as it felt during the summer. Still, there are a couple more sowings you can make before the depths of winter hits.
October is a great time to plant your garlic for overwintering. By planting your garlic in the autumn, you can enjoy an earlier harvest next year. I love doing this because it helps to keep the ground full over winter, and widens my options for succession plantings after. Garlic is easy to plant directly in the ground. Furthermore, frost is supposedly supposed to help the garlic divide into cloves.
There are two main categories garlic falls under: hardneck or softneck. Softneck are generally supposed to be easier to grow and store well. Meanwhile hardneck produce fewer, larger cloves but don’t have such a long shelf life.
If your garden suffers from allium white rot, Elephant garlic may be a more reliable option for you. Elephant garlic is much more closely related to the leek family than the garlic family, making it far less susceptible to this fungal disease. Elephant garlic is definitely the most impressive looking garlic to grow. To grow larger bulbs, grow for two years from seed (they produce nodule like seeds that often fall off and stay in the ground when you harvest them, so you can just let these grow for two years should any pop up).
Plant garlic cloves directly in the ground, with the pointy bit facing up. I prefer to use a dibber for planting to minimise soil disturbance. If planting elephant garlic, a long dibber which has a wider tip will be needed. Mulch the ground with compost or well-rotted manure.
During November is a great time to plant broad beans. Make sure you choose a variety suitable for overwintering. I grow the variety Aquadulce Claudia, and have enjoyed fantastic crops. Some people prefer to start broad beans off undercover in pots, but I’ve always planted them directly. Planting them directly exposes them to higher risk of being eaten by rodents or birds, but it is a much quicker method. We’ve used diluted urine (yup! You’ve read that right!!) to water the broad beans in, and then continued to water them once a month until the seedlings are a good 4-6 inches (10-15cm) tall. Cover young plants with netting to protect from birds.
I don’t tend to mulch the bed before planting broad beans. This is a personal choice because I struggle to have enough compost for my entire plot. Because beans are nitrogen fixers for the soil, I find them a lower priority for using compost.
Finally, November is a great time for sowing field beans to use as green manure. Field beans are the same family as broad beans, although they are often less palatable. The variety Wizard, is supposed to be a more palatable variety, should you wish to grow them on to enjoy a crop too. Again, much like broad beans, field beans may need protection from birds and rodents.
I love planting green manures where I know the ground will be kept bare over the winter months. Having something planted helps reduce nutrients leaching from the soil in adverse weather and can prevent the soil becoming compacted. I cut the field beans to the ground a few weeks before I plan on using the space. Using this method minimises soil disturbance. You can then throw the plants on your compost heap, so it’s a win-win!