Now it's October, it’s wonderful to have longer, warmer days. Motivation to get your hands dirty is far more likely when you can get out into the sun. Harness that energy and get busy planting vegetables and herbs for the season ahead.
Plenty of crops can be planted now. Just be mindful that, in some areas, night temperatures can still plummet to freezing point, which can affect frost-sensitive crops. So, plant with your climate in mind; there is no point putting energy and effort into crops only to have them turn up their toes because it’s still too cold.
For those that are growing crops from seed, good on you! It’s such a rewarding and very cost-effective way to grow food. Do ‘check in’ on seedlings on a regular basis, especially if you are starting them off inside. If seed trays are in a sunny window, on warmer days the growth rate can speed up quickly, so what were tiddlers one day can be leggy and spindly a week later. On hot days, you will notice that seed-raising mix dries out faster, so keep the fluids up to your plant babies.
Harden off seedlings
Young seedlings grown indoors are fragile in the early days and some cannot cope with the transition to being planted directly outside without going through a hardening off process. Hardening off helps young plants get acclimatised to life outside. Begin this by placing seedlings outside, out of direct sunshine, during the day and bringing them in at night. Over a week or so of doing this the plants will become tougher and stronger, and less likely to suffer from transplant shock.
Only plant quality seedlings
Be tough and only plant the best seedlings. Avoid planting anything unhealthy that has pale leaves or that is leggy or floppy as stressed plants rarely flourish. Why waste your valuable growing space on plants that are not up to scratch from the outset?
Sometimes there may be more seeds in a packet than you have room for. Link up with a friend to do ‘crop swaps’ and share seedlings. It could be a neighbour, a fellow school mum or someone in your family. Swapsies are fun, rewarding and save money too. Often, sharing means you get to grow something a little different that you may not have tried before.
Keep on top of weeds
Not only are weeds unsightly, but they also compete with seedlings for valuable moisture and nutrients – so why water weeds? Weeds attract insect pests like aphids, green vegetable bugs and whiteflies, so keeping on top of them will help limit crop damage.
CROPS TO PLANT NOW
The thought of enjoying fresh juicy sweet corn fresh from the garden motivates me every year to get my seed sowing started early. Corn readily germinates from seed and can either be sown directly into the ground or started off in trays. When planting directly in the ground, be aware that birds love the seed and will readily dig it up! So, either plant plenty (so the birds can get some) or cover the area with netting to keep the birds away while the seed sprouts. Seed germinates in a couple of weeks.
Sweet corn seed can be sown in punnets or trays and planted out once the seedlings are a reasonable size – think finger length. Ready-grown seedlings are widely available in the shops. Be careful with young plants as they are sensitive to frost, so if you are in a cooler region, hold off planting seedlings outside until later in the month or cover young plants with frost cloth for a few weeks.
Allow 30cm between plants; if you sow seeds too close together, you may end up with smaller cobs due to competition between plants for food and moisture.
Avoid planting corn in single rows; instead, sow it in blocks. Corn cobs are wind pollinated, so the pollen needs to move from one plant to another. If you plant corn side by side, you make it easier for pollination to occur.
Tomatoes are such a rewarding crop to grow, and homegrown toms simply taste better. It’s hard to match the flavour in tomatoes from the greengrocer or supermarket. I enjoy tomatoes for months on end in summer and autumn. If I am lucky, some varieties may hang on into May and sometimes June. My favourite ways to enjoy them are fresh in salads, on toast, in pasta, roasted, dried, in soups and by turning them into relish and chutney.
Excellent bang for your buck, beans come in a range of sizes, types and colours. They are easy-as edibles to grow and, once they are established, they go on to pump out a steady amount of produce for a prolonged period. Many can crop for a good three months, making them exceptional value for providing a regular source of food.
Beans enjoy a free-draining, fertile soil; however, they loathe frost and cold temperatures, so if you are frost-free now or have an indoor covered area, go for it and plant out seedlings. But if winter chills are still hanging about, sow seed in trays and plant out next month.
Dwarf beans are ideal for planting in tubs and containers as well as in the garden. Butter beans are mid-sized varieties that produce masses of yellow stringless beans. Climbing beans need a bit more leg room and something sturdy to climb up. Runner and snake beans are very quick growing, and quickly cover a space. To extend the harvesting period, stagger planting by sowing more seeds once a month. Regular watering is important; if the soil dries out for prolonged periods, the plants will stop producing beans.
Put your windowsill to work
Microgreens and sprouted seeds are the quickest of all crops to grow. For microgreens, half fill a tray with seed-raising mix, sprinkle seed evenly across the surface and lightly cover with more seed-raising mix, then water and place somewhere in a bright position to germinate. Once the seedlings are up, which can be in a matter of days, the leaves can be harvested at any point. When picking, cut the stems above the soil line to avoid getting the seed-raising mix in the leaves and shoots.
Protect your crops from white butterflies. These white-winged warriors will begin to show up now the weather is warming. The best form of defence is to cover plants with fine nets or white mesh covers to prevent the butterflies from landing to lay their eggs.
Brassicas are their main targets: think cabbage, cauliflower, kale and broccoli.
Companion planting can act as a preventative too: rosemary, mint, thyme and sage deter white butterflies. Derris dust can be applied regularly as well to deter them. This fine talcum-like powder needs to be applied on a regular basis to be effective. Derris dust is an organic insecticide derived from the barbasco plant. It controls many chewing and sucking insects, including white butterflies; however, be mindful that it can kill beneficial insects as well.