Hartley Magazine

All the latest news, hints, tips and advice from our experts

Matt’s diary – October 2011

Little did I know, when writing last month’s diary, expressing my hopes for an ‘Indian Summer’, it would manifest itself in record breaking temperatures at the end of the month and 29.9C at Gravesend on the first of October! It has thrown plants into confusion, I am not alone in having fruit trees, like the ‘Nashi’ pear in the picture and Delphinium’s in bloom – some gardener’s are even reporting hellebores in flower. It has been a welcome blast of sunshine after a poor summer but if temperatures suddenly plummet, it could catch us out, too!

Nashi Pear

I have scarified the lawn but will leave any seeding and repairing until later this month, depending on the weather, preferably after we have had some rain. The soil surface will be warm and with added moisture of a typical autumn, it will be the ideal time to over-sow bare patches and level out hollows.

Start raking leaves from the lawn once they start to fall, rather than leaving to form a thick mat and the grass underneath will die. A rotary mower is ideal for the job if they are dry, chopping up the leaves and increasing the speed of decay. Cover ponds before the leaves start to fall, you can use the same netting that you use for your raspberry canes in summer.  Leaves should be composted in a wire frame, at least a metre cubed, try and separate leaves if possible, as ‘Holly’ and other tough evergreens or ‘Walnut’ take longer to rot down than beech or ‘Hornbeam’.

It is a good time to check tree ties so that the bark of trees and shrubs are not damage by rubbing during winter winds. I re-tied the fruit cordons in my front garden a couple of years ago using a product with a wire core and soft exterior, I’ve found that they need checking regularly. If left too long, (as one or two have been!) the exterior cover perishes and the wire cuts into the bark. Another product, made of flexible plastic tubing, is fiddly to tie but expands freely, so there is less chance of damaging the bark, if you don’t have time for regular maintenance.

Once the greenhouse has been cleared of tomatoes, there is still time to sow winter salads in greenhouse borders or under cloches or fleece, like ‘Four Season’s’ and ‘Valdor’ lettuce,  ‘Corn Salad’, ‘Chicory’ and ‘Lamb’s lettuce. One very productive group for sowing and growing over winter are the ‘Oriental Vegetables’, which I am trying for the first time on a large scale. Most can be harvested at different stages in growth, from small’ cut and come again’ leaves to maturity – even flowering! I sowed Kai-Laan or Chinese Broccoli, Mibuna including a red streaked variety, Komatsuna and a ‘Colour Crunch Mix’ of Pak Choi with gold, yellow and red leaves, broadcasting some and sowing others in rows to grow to maturity. All are very cold tolerant but the leaves are of higher quality when they are sown under cover. Happy gardening! Matt.