October in the Backyard Vegetable Garden.

October is probably one of the busiest months of the year for the gardener.  You can either sow or plant most of your vegetables from now onwards.  Sow seed for those more tender crops such as the heat loving courgettes, cucumbers, tomatoes, chillies, capsicums and beans indoors to plant out later.  Labour weekend at the end of the month is the traditional big gardening weekend in New Zealand so have some plants ready to go out then.

October at a Glance.

  • Sow: Peas, beetroot, swedes, turnips, lettuce, carrots, parsnips, parsley, onion, broccoli,  cabbage, cauli, leeks, silverbeet – and more!
  • Sow under cover in a warm space: tomatoes, capsicum, pumpkin, courgettes, cucumber, celery, sweet corn, beans
  • Plant: Punnets of brassicas, celery, peas, leeks, silverbeet, lettuce, potatoes, asparagus.
  • Cultivate: Keep any weeds at bay with regular hoeing and mulching. Liquid feed growing plants at least fortnightly especially your garlic crop.
  • Harvest: Broad beans, silverbeet, asparagus, lettuce, parsley and any other over wintered crops.

I saw some gorgeous pictures of my friend Carolin’s vegetable garden in Waimauku,  just north of Auckland, and it reminded me how we are probably about a month behind here in the south. However, to balance that our we can grow tulips, asparagus and peonies – all a little better suited to this cooler climate.

I am still covering my tender young silverbeet and lettuce – not just to protect from the frost mind you, but from the occasional almost military-like forays into the garden by my motley crew of hens.   They are all finally laying so we are enjoying eggs everything.   My wee granddaughter, Elderflower, is a bit of an outdoors girl and is up here when she can with her gumboots on and out helping to feed the chooks and collect the eggs. 

Potatoes!  Get them planted – even if you only have a small space available – get a row of early spuds in for Christmas. I m a fan of family traditions and if you don’t think you have any (or they are the source of bad memories!) then create some for your family.  Having freshly harvested new potatoes or peas on Christmas Day is a great one.  In our family, my father in law, Colin, is in charge of the spuds and various grandmas in charge of the peas.  Potatoes can go in as close as 30 cms apart for early crops.  Once the leafy part emerges you can start mounding up but just get them in the ground and if yours are already up, keep them mounded up while they are growing to get more cropping space and to protect from the light.  I grow peas for the pure pleasure of eating them straight from the vines.  If you have children around this is an excellent way to introduce them to the pleasure of growing (and eating) in the family patch.

Traditions get created around family members – associating birthdays with various crops in the garden.  We start eating strawberries on Penelope’s birthday 30 October and don’t get our Christmas tree until Ra’s birthday in December.  This year we added a new one. Max turned 8 on the 27th of  September when I noticed that a crop of asparagus spears had popped up.  So now I can remember when the asparagus is ready to eat.  The rule with asparagus is to leave them the first season – just let them do their thing. The next year, you can harvest one or two spears and then leave.  After that, harvest them by cutting down where they emerge from the ground and eat them straight away.  They go beautifully with the fresh eggs being produced a few metre’s from where they are growing.

We are so lucky now in having access to punnets of plants. Something they didn’t have in the old days where you mostly grew everything yourself from seed, or purchased field grown seedlings wrapped in newspaper from the store.  I know this because I have been re-reading my old copy of the Yates Garden Guide my mother gave me when I suddenly became a gardener virtually overnight when I first got married and moved into married quarters on Hobsonville Airbase in Auckland.  That’s another story for another blog but I have been enjoying the rather archaic and authoritarian tone to the guide with its sometimes very stern instructions.

I do buy punnets still as they give us early access to plants  and I can get the first lot in the ground while having another crop coming on from seed.  Succession planting has a couple of meanings but I use it to mean the practice of staggering your sowing or planting over the growing season. We do this for a number of reasons, but mainly so that you don’t have your crops all maturing at once. You want to avoid that in the family vegetable garden especially with crops you can’t store or preserve.  A good rule of thumb is to sow or plant every 4-5 weeks or so.  If you have raised plants in trays, sow the next lot of seed the same day you plant out your seedlings for example.

Whether you sow or plant – just do it. Enjoy the beautiful spring weather and gently sunshine and get those hands dirty.

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