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This month in the garden - 2019

October in the garden

October feels like things are “back to normal” after the long summer. For those of you with school age kids, you may be welcoming the return to term time routine and you can structure your gardening time around the school day. Our rhythms can all adapt now to the shorter, cooler days. All those little plantlets that you sowed last month will be getting big enough to go in the ground. If you lost some, you still have time to sow more from seed. As long as they have put on enough growth before the cold weather starts, they will over winter giving you a harvest right through till early summer. Continue with direct sowing of carrots, radishes, beetroots, spinach and parsnips. Winter peas and habas go in now, as well as garlic. It's also time for asparagus plantlets. Throw a few calendula and nasturtium seeds around the veg garden too. They are great pest deterrents.

It's important to keep an eye on the water situation. With all the rain we've had recently, it's easy to fall into the mindset that watering is over for the year. However, the temperature has risen after the rain so pay attention, don't let things get too dry. You may have to water again before winter proper.

One of the principles of organic gardening is to feed the soil, rather than the plants. Green manures are a very convenient and efficient way to do this. Sown over the winter, green manures add fertility to the soil, improve it's structure, prevent erosion and act as a weed suppressant. Sow them now in any vacant beds and cut them before they flower in spring, leaving the roots in the soil. The plants can either be dug in or removed to the compost pile. Either way, you will be harvesting fertility. Leguminous green manure crops have nitrogen nodules on their roots so will add nitrogen to beds just in time for those hungry summer crops such as tomatoes and aubergines. Clover, field beans, vetch, lentils, rye, oats and alfalfa can all be used individually or as a mixture.

Tip: Round seeded peas can be sown in autumn and wrinkled seeded peas are sown in spring.

Reader's question: How do I stop voles chewing through the roots of my plants? They live under the mulch in my veg garden so the cats don't spot them. - Kate, Portugal
Voles can become a real nuisance in the garden. Since the cats aren't doing the job have you thought about getting a snake? Or an owl? I would suggest removing the mulch, to take away their cover, but I imagine that it's an integral part of your system so I'm sure that won't be a welcome solution. You could try creating a bare zone around the veg garden. Voles need the cover of long grass (or mulch) to move around so if you create a completely bare surround, at least 10 inches wide, they won't want to cross it. Apparently a trench, 12 inches deep around the veg patch is a good deterrent. But what to do about the voles already settled in to your beds? Castor oil is said to deter voles. Add two tablespoons to a watering can and water the ground around the plants. This is not harmful to the plants. Old favourites like chilli powder or garlic may also act as deterrents. Sprinkle powder around the base of your plants or make an infusion and water the surrounding soil with that. Try humane mouse traps baited with apple or carrot. You will have to take the voles far away to prevent them from returning, or just put them on the other side of your trench. Voles don't hibernate and their peak population time is the autumn so you may start to notice a natural decline soon.

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