September 2010


Updates from September 2010.

Vegetable growing in September 2010 – Keep weeding, sow winter salads

Moister soil, cooler nights, shorter days – summer is turning into autumn quite quickly now. At least we have had some good rainfall here, 65mm between 22nd and 26th August. Soil is still dry at deeper levels but plants have greened up well and celeriac which I had not watered at all is looking impressively perky.
There is some blight on outdoor tomato plants, a whole month later than last year and the tomatoes are beautifully sweet.

Brassica plants have survived the dry conditions and now look healthy, without too much caterpillar damage. My forum has some observations on caterpillars, which can be troublesome in September.

But another major pest of brassicas, the flea beetle whose little holes have been more present than usual this year, is now becoming inactive – so late sowings of rocket, mizuna, land cress and leaf radish should have clean leaves. It is also a good time to sow spring onions and lambs lettuce outdoors, until about 10th. Seed is slow to germinate so you will be repaid in full if you have kept on top of weeds and not allowed any to seed; otherwise these seedlings are quickly smothered by chickweed, thistles, fat-hen, grasses and so forth.

Experiment

Dug bed on left, undug on right: where chicories are growing in front was peas

Dug bed on left, undug on right: where chicories are growing in front was peas

The dig/no dig experiment is having an interesting year, here is a photo of some growth as it stands now.
Harvests to date are slightly heavier on the two undug beds – 37.1kg compared with 33.4kg off the two dug beds.

Dealing with weeds

Be in no doubt that vegetable growing needs clean soil, and any slackness with weeds will result in many hours of extra effort in months and years to come. Don’t be beguiled by people who say they are allowing weeds to grow to ‘help wildlife’ or to ‘let nature do her thing’ or whatever their reason may be for not wanting to keep soil clear and growing lots of food. If you are dedicating an allotment or plot to growing vegetables, then apply yourself to that and do it well. There can be plenty of wildlife amongst the vegetables in a well tended plot, just as there is also plenty in the huge number of road verges, cemeteries, gardens and hedgerows. But don’t confuse them – a vegetable plot is exactly that.

This patch was grass and weeds a year ago, mulched three times with cardboard, raspberries planted December, compost spread in April, four squash plants set out in May and almost no weeds have grown. Thorough preparation is the key.

This patch was grass and weeds a year ago, mulched three times with cardboard, raspberries planted December, compost spread in April, four squash plants set out in May and almost no weeds have grown. Thorough preparation is the key.

I also hope that allotment societies are applying this important principle when allocating or taking away allotments, because there is nothing more exasperating than keeping a soil clean of weed seeds, only to have them blow or even just fall in from a neighbour’s ill tended allotment.

I would advise anybody who is struggling to keep on top of their weeds to crop less ground next year. Do less and do it better: it is really surprising and impressive how much can be grown in a small, well tended plot. Some kind of raised beds are often helpful in demarcating the area which needs looking after – but again, I urge you to keep weeding because I am often amazed at how gardeners leave one or two groundsel or fat-hen to seed and cause so much trouble later, when it would have been SO EASY to pull out those few plants. Especially when they were small.
That is a golden rule of vegetable growing – hoe or hand weed when seedlings are little, because you then save a LOT of time and effort later on, as soil stays much cleaner and it becomes easy to sow seeds, without having to worry about weeds smothering the vegetable seedlings.
Moreover, compost and manure can be spread at any time, on clean soil, so that fertility is always improving. Better growth of vegetables then helps to discourage weed growth by shading the soil. You can create a virtuous circle like this.

Sow now

Returning to this month, September is the time for sowing many winter salads to grow indoors, whether in soil or in boxes of compost or pots or whatever you can manage. Salads need less volume of soil or compost than other vegetables but will grow for longer if given plenty. I plant mine in soil that was manured for tomatoes, basil etc in May, and I aim for all the September sowings to crop from November until late April, just with a lull in the middle when it is really cold and dark.

Polytunnel salads in March this year - they were all frozen many times throughout the winter; mainly mustard Red Frills, chervil and winter purslane

Polytunnel salads in March this year – they were all frozen many times throughout the winter; mainly mustard Red Frills, chervil and winter purslane

Good timings are as follows, with a few days leeway either side. Later sowings than given here will start to crop later, sometimes not before February, and may be harder to establish  in open ground, as growth slows in October and slugs cause more trouble to tender plants.

First week: endive, chicory, spinach, chard, coriander, chervil, winter purslane, pak choi
Second week: endive, chicory, lettuce, spinach, chard, coriander, chervil, winter purslane, any oriental salad such as mustards, pak choi, leaf radish, mizuna, mibuna, tatsoi
Third week: Oriental salads, coriander, winter purslane,
Fourth week: it is best if sowing is all done by now, but leaf radish and mizuna are still possible and if you are growing through winter in a greenhouse or conservatory, it is feasible to sow most salads until month’s end, for harvests mainly in late winter and early spring.

Charles with some of the Flavorcot apricots from a five year old tree

Charles with some of the Flavorcot apricots from a five year old tree

I do all my sowing in modules and seed trays in the greenhouse, for planting in tunnels in early to mid October as summer crops finish in there. All salads are planted at 22-25cm spacing (9-10”) so as to have room for picking off their larger leaves over many months, also for their roots to have space to grow. By March the plants are really well established and become extremely productive, at a time when fresh, green salad leaves are so much appreciated.

So it is worth making some extra effort now at sowing winter salads, for all the benefits which lie ahead over many months. And meanwhile there is some summer fruit to enjoy.

Update 12th September

This is the great season of abundance, with many fruits and vegetables to harvest. It is a bountiful September so far; even a late planting of Cupidon dwarf beans (sown 14 July, planted 29th after beetroot) is now offering some lovely pickings of long, thin beans.

But a troubling new arrival here has been the leek moth, the first time it has damaged more than the odd leek. It looks as though up to half, maybe more of my leeks, are being quietly and invisibly chewed by the small caterpillars, almost out of sight. Firstly one notices a slight shredding of small, inner leaves; then on closer inspection, a small and pale green caterpillar – almost a maggot – can usually be found tucked into the smallest heart leaves, unfortunately eating the ones which have the most significant effect on future growth.

All around this neighbourhood there are reports of similar damage. And nobody has a remedy, except to cover the leek patch in mesh next July, so that moths cannot reach the newly planted leeks. Always assuming that a first flight of moths in May has not caused damage to plants in the seedbed. Oh joy, leeks used to be quite easy. Do you have any better ideas? (please post them on the forum).

I am thinking to leave my leeks in place and hope that when the caterpillars have finished eating and then pupate onto some outer leaves, I can at least find and squash them, and then I hope the leeks can grow again.

On a more productive note, the first overwintering salads have been planted outside (spinach, chicory, endive, with mustards and winter purslane to follow) and I shall place a cloche over them in late October, after (I hope) it will have rained properly.

Spring cabbage plants are in the greenhouse and will be set out at month’s end. Something has been eating some salad leaves in my greenhouse, of small endive plants, and mousetraps with cheese have caught the culprits, four large ones in two nights. They are flooding in out of the fields now and it is worth trapping them now before they move on to eat some later sowings of beans, or squashes brought in to dry in October.

Space is being cleared in the tunnels for some plantings of pak choi, ruby chard, red komatsuna and parsley, all to last the winter. I simply pull out plants of basil, melon etc, then tread the soil down firmly, water thoroughly, dib holes and pop in my plants.

The melon harvest was amazing, 6-7kg off each plant of both Emir F1 and Sweetheart F1, but the leaves died off before full sweetness could be achieved – we were just too short of sunshine in August. However the melons are still very tasty!