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September in the Garden

The garden and the gardener breathe a sigh of relief as the days start to shorten and the nights cool down. It’s a welcome change when the rain finally comes. The summer veg will continue to produce for some time yet so continue to harvest tomatoes, aubergines, chillies and peppers, pumpkins and beans. It’s also time to start getting the winter garden planted up.

Direct sow coriander, parsley, rocket, spinach, Swiss chard, beetroot, carrot, radish, parsnips and chick peas. Oriental salad leaves and mustards can be direct sown too. Fennel, leeks, lettuce, celery and celeriac can be sown in seed trays.

The brassicas that were sown in seed trays last month should be ready to go in the ground in the middle of this month. Get the beds prepped and get the plants into the ground as soon as they are big enough. It’s a good idea to cover the young plants with net or agricultural fleece to protect them from shield beetles and grass hoppers that are usually plentiful at the end of a dry summer and can do serious damage to your crops. The covers will also defend your plants against the dreaded swede midge that eats out the centres of the brassica plants and turns them to a smelly mush. Don’t despair if you do get caught out by the swede midge – the bugs will die off when the weather turns cold and the brassicas can often recover and continue growing to give you a harvest. You may end up with four small heads of cabbage and cauliflower instead of one big one, if the bugs ate out the centre but the kale and sprouting broccoli can make an almost full recovery.

September is a good time to have a review of the garden. Were you happy with your harvest? Did you have too many aubergines or too few tomatoes? Were you happy with the varieties you grew? Have you saved seeds from your best performers? Its a good idea to make notes now to help you plan next year's garden. Was the space a manageable size and did you have enough water for it? People often ask me how much water specific plants need. That's a difficult question to answer. The more important question is what is the ability of the soil to hold moisture. It doesn't matter how much water you give to a plant that is growing in dry, compacted soil. It will never be enough. The key to a successful summer garden is water retentive soil. Take note of any areas of your garden that were dry over the summer and strive to add as much organic matter as you can to these areas over the winter – compost, manure, wood chips or leaf mould can all be used to build the soil. Air is also important so work over the beds with a broadfork or a standard garden fork sinking the prongs as deep into the soil as you can and moving them gently backwards and forwards. This will allow air and moisture to enter and is much more beneficial in the long term than rotovating or digging over.

As we build resilience in our soil, we must also build resilience in our communities. The long talked about food shortages are not yet upon us but the cost of living is rising and most people are starting to feel the effects of that in their daily lives. Rather than live in a state of worry and fear about what you will do if the food runs out, focus on growing as much as you can but also on supporting others who are growing food in your area. You can do this by getting to know your local farmers and growers and making a commitment to buying veg from them. Better to get to know who they are and where they are now rather than to wait until the shops are empty.

Archive of previous articles here.
For more information on seed-saving and SEEeD, the Órgiva-based seed-savers' association, see https://seeed.es.

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