October: The Circle of Life

Plan, plan, plan – the key to a GIYer’s life, as Michael Kelly discovers while still clearing up the last of this year’s harvest.

There’s always a moment in every GIYer’s year when things pivot from a focus on the current year to preparing for the next. It always amazes me how suddenly it happens (and how early – I mean we’re still in peak produce mode from this year’s growing). I was clearing a bed the other day in which I grew squashes, pumpkins, sweetcorn and beans this year – harvesting the last of the produce, getting the dead/dying plants onto the compost heap, and turning over the soil with a fork to clean up the beds.

As I worked, I started to think about what would be growing in the bed next year. In the potting shed I have a notebook in which I plan my crop rotation – that sounds more organised than it really is. My ‘planning’ involves no more than a basic sketch of the veg patch so I can map out a five-year rotation with the patch divided into five areas, one for each major veg family (based on the easy-to-remember mnemonic ‘People Love Bunches Of Roses’ for potatoes, legumes, brassicas, onions, roots). So everything simply moves around for 2015 with the brassicas going where the legumes were this year and so on. It’s a pretty straightforward way to keep the veg patch fertile and reduce the prevalence of pests and disease (the essence of a productive, organic plot).

Anyway, having worked out broadly what’s going to go where next year, I found myself standing in the veg patch imagining what will be in each location, and thinking about the soil requirements and the work to be done on each area over the winter. As you can imagine, I had long since lost sightaof the job I was there to do. The focus has moved on again and another year of growing suddenly beckons.

Check list for October

To Do

Pot up herbs to grow inside over the winter. Continue to lift crops that have finished harvesting and clean up the beds. Sow over-wintering green manures. If you are going to cover empty beds down with manure for the winter, the earlier you do it the better. Try and find a good source of farmyard manure if you don’t have your own – cow, horse, pig, sheep and chicken manure are all great sources of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium for your soil. Cut autumn fruiting raspberry canes down to the ground.

Sow

You can sow hardy varieties of peas and broad beans later this month for an early spring crop but only do so in well- drained soil. In the polytunnel get a crop of cauliflower and carrots going over the winter. Plant selected varieties of garlic and winter onion sets.

Harvest

Depending on the weather, the harvest may well continue into October – pumpkins, squashes, courgette, apples, pears, etc. It’s the last hurrah, however, for peas, beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, aubergines, peppers and chilli-peppers. Continue to harvest wild mushrooms, elderberry, blackberries, sloes, carrots, potatoes, parsnips, swedes, celeriac, turnip, beetroot, celery, marrows, leeks and cabbage.

Tip of the month – Seaweed foraging

To some it’s just a slimy mess, but to GIYers (and a growing legion of followers who covet it for its health-giving properties in the bath and kitchen) it’s an invaluable way to return nutrients to the soil each year. There are, however, some ‘dos and don’ts’ when it comes to seaweed foraging. The main thing is that you should never pull seaweed off the rocks. Remember that seaweed is a plant, and just like any other plant, if you pull away its root, it will die. Instead, use a scissors and cut the plant, leaving about 6-8 inches behind, so that it will grow back. If we follow these simple guidelines, there will be plenty of seaweed to go around. For good reading on seaweed foraging and recipes check out Sally McKenna’s Extreme Greens.

About GIY
GIY is a not-for-profit organisation that aims to create a healthier, more sustainable world where people grow their own food. We inspire and support people to grow food more successfully by bringing them together to share advice, tips and ideas. There are approximately 50,000 people involved in the GIY movement in Ireland, which is proudly supported by Woodies DIY. For more information check out www.giyireland.com.