sowing Now is the time to sow autumn crops, such as overwintering onion sets (Japanese onions), broad beans and perhaps peas, but with the latter, you should calculate whether it’s really worth your time, trouble and expense. Consider whether your soil is likely to be waterlogged through the winter (although this won’t affect your broad beans). Your onions should be all right, the beans might get through, but we have found our winter peas never survive. For an early crop next year, we prefer to use conventional seeds and sets we sow a few in pots early in the year and put them under glass or in a cold frame.
Preparing fruit trees
New fruit trees need to be ordered now, and you should also prepare the ground for their planting. Apples, pears and cherries will need a hole dug 18in square and to the same depth. If you’re planting trees in lawns or meadows, loosen the soil in the bottom of the hole, chop up the turf and put it in the bottom, then fill it with a half-and-half mixture of well-rotted garden compost and soil. Don’t use large lumps of manure, as they can leave air pockets around the roots when they break down. If you prepare your holes now, the compost mix will be settled and ready by the time your trees are delivered.
To dig or not to dig
When harvesting root crops, consider whether to prepare the vacated ground using the no-dig method. Ours might be described as ‘semi-no-dig’ and began when, one wet winter, we couldn’t finish the usual digging. The following spring, we found that the untouched plots were much drier than those that had been dug. Since then, we’ve experimented by covering some plots with sheets of black plastic, but we found that they keep in too much moisture. Alternatively, you could ridge up your plots, using the same method as for your potatoes so that the ridge drains well and is easily workable in the spring but this is almost as much hard work as the digging. We’ve had the most success when we clear the crop and any weeds, and then cover the surface with
compost or manure and leave it alone until spring. No digging!
The one time we could do with an early frost is for the sake of our dahlias we would much rather lift them while the weather and ground conditions are still pleasant. Once the frost has blackened the foliage, cut the stems down to 3in above the ground, lift the tubers (with their labels) and remove the soil from the roots with a water jet. Let them dry overnight, then put them in moist peat or coir in poly bags. That way, they won’t now lose too much moisture during storage, and this will give them a much better start in the spring. If you grow several varieties, bury a label under each when planting out the tubers, as well pushing one into the surface nearby. The latter can get dislodged when hoeing, and once the leaves turn black, it’s hard to recall which colours went where.
Philip Maddison is head gardener at Harrington Hall, Lincolnshire (www.harringtonhallgardens.co.uk)