October Gardening Guide – Cool Climate
What to Plant in October?
Tomatoes: Cool temperate gardeners are obsessed with tomatoes in October. There is no need to rush your planting, especially if your seedlings are happy in their pots. The best time to plant is when the soil has warmed up a bit (look for self sown tomato or sunflower seedlings emerging), and when the risk of a late frost is nearly nil. In a cold, frosty area, choose varieties like cherry tomatoes or yellow taxi that are early or short season varieties, to ensure they’ll ripen. If you’re in a warm spot, then go for it (you probably have already) and enter the race to tomato glory by Christmas!
Beans: Around about now we stop planting peas or broad beans, and swap over to beans as the legume of choice. Beans growing up a tepee can be surrounded by plantings of zucchini or pumpkin that will spread out below them. It’s always nice to poke a few sunflower seeds into the soil in the centre of tepee too – they will grow up and out the spokes, getting support, and the beans can happily twine around the big sunflower stems.
Sweet corn: Another summer staple that can go in as the soil warms up – remember to plant it in blocks (around 3 x 3 plants is minimum) rather than a long skinny line. The pollen is heavy and wind-borne, and a block design helps maximise the chance of pollination.
Capsicum, chilli and basil: These all enjoy the warmer months, so they can go in soon. If you have a warm spot, you can try eggplant, rockmelon and even watermelon, for fun!
The weeds tend to make a surge of growth in spring, and all the overwintered brassicas, rocket, silverbeet, celery and leeks get all feisty and send up flower stalks. This means that you have a large amount of biomass for compost fodder, just when it’s a great time to use up the last of your old compost around new plantings of pumpkins, zucchinis, sweet corn and friends. Conveniently this will clear out space to build new heaps that will process quickly in the warmer days.
Feed everything that you’re planting with a combination of slow release food such as compost, manure and mulch. Also apply an occasional dose of liquid fertiliser – such as comfrey or compost tea, fish emulsion, or seaweed solution.
Mulch will help slow down weeds and feed the soil ecology, but we don’t usually rush to put it on until November when the soil has definitely warmed up.
Weeds, Pests and Disease
There is a litany of disease and pest problems that can appear as the weather warms . . . some serious and some merely pesky.
Powdery mildew can affect the growing tips of some susceptible varieties of apples. It’s good practice to remove infected growing points, and thin the canopy somewhat to encourage air movement which inhibits spore production of this fungus. If your tree is badly affected each year, you can either spray in winter and spring with fungicides (nurseries will give advice) or be ruthless and pull the trees out and replace with less susceptible varieties. There are various home remedies for powdery mildew, all somewhat effective.
Black aphids can multiply astonishingly rapidly on new growing points on some cherries, especially the self-fertile variety Stella. It’s worth inspecting your tree every few days at this time, as the aphids can go from a single “mother” to an intense infestation really fast. They will stunt new growth, and in severe cases can cripple a young tree completely. Spray and wash off with slightly soapy water (and gloves, ick!), and/or spray the affected areas thoroughly with pyrethrum. Be prepared to wage war again after a few weeks, and potentially several times through the early season.
Cherry slug will also appear soon on the leaves of pear, cherry, quince and some plum trees. This is the grub of the sawfly, and mostly damages leaves. On big trees it’s unsightly but not too consequential. On young trees it can be problematic if it skeletonises most of the leaves, robbing the tree of its photosynthetic surfaces. Control can be by finding and squishing them (also ick!), or careful spot spraying of a Yates product called ‘Success’ that has a biological control agent.
Codling moth has begun its life cycle around apple and quince trees. You can buy pheromone traps to hang in the branches, which lure the adult male moths to their death. A small jar of port or muscat (doesn’t have to be your best!) hung in the tree will attract the female moths to a sticky end. And wrapping some hessian or vinyl around the lower part of the trunk can trick the larvae into settling there to pupate. You’ll need to unwrap your trunk wrapping every few days and squash any pupae you see, otherwise you’re just helping them on their way to adulthood.
Harvest and Preserve
Ironically with all the spring growth around, we are smack dab in the cool temperate “hungry gap” at the moment, when many of the winter grown things are finished, and the newly planted things are just getting going.
But some spring favourites come to the rescue: artichokes, broad beans, asparagus, peas, spinach – all fine inputs to a wonderful spring risotto or frittata to use up the eggs that the chickens are pumping out relentlessly.
Permaculture Principle #10: Use and value diversity
Planting in guilds of complementary plants can be a great way to use and value diversity.
The ‘three sisters’ is a planting guild devised by native North American peoples many years ago. They planted corn, beans and squash (members of the cucurbit tribe such as pumpkin and zucchini) together in a group, so that each plant provided benefits to the others. For example, corn grows tall, and can provide a climbing frame for the beans. The beans enrich the soil by hosting nitrogen-fixing bacteria in their roots. The pumpkins spread out their large leaves at lower levels, supress weeds, and keep the soil shaded and cool, which is good for the corn.
This well-designed grouping of beneficial relationships is great in theory, but a little harder to make work in practice. We often plant two of the three sisters together, for example pumpkins or zucchini on the sunny edge of a block of corn or climbing beans. This year I’m trying climbing beans on their own trellis, with blocks of corn on either side, and pumpkins at the base of the corn on the sunny side.
Other happy companions include carrots with spring onions or leeks, planting a row of each works well. The different vegies exploit different niches in the soil and aerial space, have complementary feeding requirements, and help to deter each other’s pest organisms.
Another famous combo in both the kitchen and garden is tomatoes and basil. You need to plant the basil around the edge of your tomato patch, or they’ll get swamped and shaded as the toms grow tall. Capsicum and chili are also closely related to tomatoes, and quite like being interplanted with basil too.
Christina can be found online at www.fimby.com.au