September

This is the traditional month for harvesting, when we’re rewarded with copious amounts of fresh produce from the garden – harvest, taste, cook and enjoy.

Potatoes and tomatoes may be hit by blight, but many other crops should be fine. Get in early and exploit the beginning of the month to catch up on your winter veg plan and have a think on how you can make wildlife more welcome into your garden.

Sow, plant, propagate

  • At the beginning of the month sow cauliflowers and turnips for winter or spring greens.
  • Last chance to sow leafy vegetables such as mizuna and mibuna, as well as winter lettuces such as Winter Density and Rouge d’Hiver, cress, rocket, corn salad, sorrel and winter purslane. Sow in the ground or in containers ideally in a protected area and spread some compost – this will feed the soil and help keep it warmer throughout autumn and winter. Use cloches where necessary.
  • Plant out spring cabbages and /or sow winter lettuce in a suitable spot outdoors, either in the ground or in containers, ideally in a protected area.
  • Japanese onion seeds can be planted now. Protect them with netting if birds start pulling them out.
  • Sow hardy spring onions such as white Lisbon now.
  • Sow green manures where you’ve got empty spaces – fast growing mustard or broad beans. The latter will complement your salads from October onwards with lovely bean tops and side shoots. They can then be dug in when the soil warms up in early spring.

Harvest

  • Apples, pears and some plums will be ready now – given that everything is really late this year you might still have time to forage for cherry plums.
  • Autumn fruiting raspberries will continue fruiting up until the first frost probably next month. Eat raspberries and blackberries on the same day they are picked. Alternatively make a refreshing smoothie, bake a cake, make jam, or wash and freeze them for later.
  • Beans, cucumbers and courgettes all need regular picking to make sure they crop for as long as possible.
  • As soon as your tomatoes go red pick them to encourage them to ripen. Towards the end of the month pick the rest of your outside green tomatoes and store in paper bags with bananas. The bananas release a gas which will help the tomatoes turn red.
  • Pick young kale, chard and spinach leaves.
  • Main crop potatoes are ready to harvest now. Many of us had blight on our potatoes and already cut the foliage to the ground. If you haven’t, chop all the foliage to the ground straight away and leave the potatoes for two weeks before digging them up.
  • Harvest sweetcorn just before you want to eat it to enjoy its freshness and juiciness – it is normally ready when the silks at the top turn brown or black.
  • Lift any onions you have still in the ground.

Fruit jobs

  • Take hardwood cuttings of currants and gooseberries and insert in the open ground.
  • If planning to plant fruit trees this is the ideal time to prepare the soil for autumn planting – single or double dig if necessary and ensure that the soil is in good condition.
  • Strawberries – cut off most of the leaves to allow the plants to put their energy into their roots. Pot up runners and replace any strawberry plants that are older than three years, as that’s when they start becoming less productive;
  • Summer fruiting raspberries and hybrid-berries: unlike autumn fruiting raspberries, summer fruiting varieties produce fruit on one-year-old canes. After harvesting, cut back all canes which have produced fruit to ground level. Select 6-8 of the strongest young canes which haven’t fruited this year and tie in. Cut back the rest of the young canes to ground level.

Jobs to do

  • Watch out for the second brook of cabbage caterpillars. Pick them as soon as you see them and check thoroughly for any hole in your netting. Even a few will defoliate your brassicas and leave you with very sad skeletons.
  • Gather seeds – always mark some vegetables for seed and when ready place them in paper bags with details of variety and collection date. Hang in a cool dry place.
  • Get rid of any leaves with powdery mildew to avoid it spreading even further.
  • If you have time work on your compost. By now at least part of your compost should be ready and some of it should be partially rotted. Spread what is ready on your beds as you clear them or put in bags or containers for use at a later stage. Return the partially rotted material to the bin and continue adding new waste throughout the autum and winter. Don’t forget to cover with a carpet or other material to speed up the composting process.
  • Plan a mini-meadow – even a very small area could contain a myriad of flowers and be an extremely valuable habitat for wildlife, particularly pollinators. Be mindful of our chalky soil.
  • Order or source your well-rotted farmyard manure: now is the perfect time!
  • Go to Apple Day up at Stanmer Park in September to taste an incredible variety of apples and find out how to plant and look after fruit trees.

Top Tips

Pumpkins and storing your harvest

  • Pumpkins are ready when they have turned colour, usually from green to orange depending on variety.
  • You can tell they’re ready if they sound hollow when tapped and the pumpkin’s skin and stalk have hardened.
  • Leave the pumpkins for as long as possible before harvesting them – if the weather is good hold off harvesting until towards the end of September or early October, but pumpkins are killed by frost so be sure to harvest before the first frost.
  • To give pumpkins the best chance of ripening in the sun, remove the leaves shading the fruit. Raise the fruit off the ground by placing flat stones under them; this will stop the fruit rotting on moist soil.
  • To help pumpkins last through the winter place them on a sunny windowsill or greenhouse to ripen and cure for 2 more weeks after harvesting.
  • Leave potatoes in the sun to dry for a few hours before storing them in a cool dry place.
  • Dry and hang your onions in a cool dry place – you’ll then be able to enjoy them for months to come
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