Thursday, October 27, 2011

Autumn in full force

Dark, chilly mornings, piles of leaves on every street, birds appearing in back gardens again.  After a few warm and sunny weeks, Autumn has definitely arrived.

Assuming that your garden didn’t float off during last weekend’s downpours, there are still a few things you can sow now before nature locks down for winter.

·         Onion Sets – you can get these in any garden centre at the moment, usually at around €2 for fifty sets.  Dig over a piece of ground and plant them just below the surface and a few inches apart.  Plant them the right way up – with the tiny roots at the bottom and the pointed bit at the top.  The sets will sprout and a shoot will appear, and then cease growing for the winter.  When the warmer and brighter days arrive in February (hopefully!) they will start growing again.  The benefit of sowing autumn sets is harvesting much earlier onions than spring-sown sets or seeds.  There is an element of risk however, as the sets can be damaged by extreme temperatures, or pulled up by hungry birds.  If the latter happens, just replant the sets and they will soon recover.

·         Garlic – plant garlic exactly the same way as onion sets.  Divide the bulb of garlic into cloves and plant these out, again a few inches apart and right way up.  You can plant supermarket garlic, but this creates a risk of introducing diseases like onion rot (which you definitely don’t want) into your soil.  Also, much of the garlic in Irish shops is imported from China, and is bred for long storage rather than taste.  You can buy garlic in a garden centre that is specially grown for our cool damp climate, and treated against diseases.  Don’t worry about the cold - garlic actually needs a period of deep cold and frost to stimulate the bulb to split and divide.

·         Broad Beans – a bit of an allotment secret this one.  Broad beans don’t store well and so are rarely sold in shops.  They’re delicious when eaten as small beans, lightly cooked with a little mint.  If sown now, they will be ready to eat in May or June of next year, well before french beans and runner beans are ready.  To plant, buy a packet of seeds (the crimson flowered ones are my favourites), and sow each one in individual holes in a row.  They are strong sturdy little plants and survived even the worst snow and ice last year.  Sowing in the autumn also means that the plants are less likely to be attacked by aphids than spring sown beans.

the last of this year's brilliant courgette crop

Aside from sowing the last crops, I have been starting the process of putting the allotment to sleep for the winter.  The courgette and pumpkin bed was the first to be cleared; the very last tiny courgettes picked, the old plants composted, and green manure seeds sown over the bare surface.  The idea of green manure is to sow a crop which will create ground cover (and therefore prevent weeds) and also add essential nutrients like nitrogen to the soil.  The crop is sown in autumn and cut down and dug in just before flowering in spring.  This is my first year trying green manures, so it will be interesting to see how effective they areI’m growing mustard, crimson clover and phacelia, all available for a couple of euro from

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