October in the GIY Garden
It hardly seems possible but it’s already October, and appropriately enough this week I was out in the veg patch harvesting our pumpkins and squashes. The commercial food chain hasn’t really caught on to the stunning diversity of pumpkins and squashes that can be grown and savoured. Supermarkets have a depressing reliance on the ubiquitous Butternut squash and almost a complete absence of pumpkins other than the giant ones for carving for a few short weeks in October. It’s one of the great joys of GIYing therefore to be able to grow squashes and pumpkins of all shapes, sizes, colours and flavours.
I managed to grow about 30 fruits this year, ranging from the petite striped Delicata squash (handy cylindrical shape) to the eerie pale blue Crown Prince (the sweetest squash I’ve ever grown), to the supremely practical Baby Bear (high yielding small pumpkins) to the stunning red giant pumpkin Rouge Vif d’Etamps. I reckon that’s down about 15 on the number I grew last year which could be a result of comparatively less fertilty in the bed where I grew them this year or the miserable weather in July. Never mind, 30 fruits is a good result and (using one a week from November on) should see us through to April of next year. Thanks to their thick skins, pumpkins and squashes store very well – I store mine on top of the dresser in the kitchen which looks like a halloween display for about 6 months of the yeas as a result. Some years we’ve been eating squashes as late as April the following year. That makes them a very valuable crop.
It’s good to have them harvested and safely in out of the veg patch where they would be vulnerable to night time frosts (when they arrive). But on the downside, they looked absolutely stunning in the veg patch which suddenly seems rather dull by comparison. You can pick and eat pumpkin and squashes straight away fresh from the plant, but to store them for the winter, the fruit needs to develop a tough outer skin. It can be hard to know when they are ready to pick and it’s an important decision. Pick it too early and the fruit may lack flavour. Leave it too long and the the first frost will turn them to mush.
A good rule of thumb is to wait until they have developed a deep rich colour, the skins are hard and the leaves have died back. Leave about 10cm of stalk on the fruit, and then leave it for a further 2 weeks to ‘cure’ somewhere dry and sunny – I leave mine on the shelf in the potting shed. The potting shed is now a glorious place to be – a stunning array of fruits of all shapes, colours and sizes. I know we should leave them be, and eat at a time of the year when there’s a scarcity elsewhere – but, I couldn’t resist making the squash salad below from a little Delicata squash and how delicious it was..!
The Garden in October
Pot up herbs to grow inside over the winter. Continue to lift crops that have finished harvesting and clean up the beds. Sow over-wintering green manures. If you are going to cover empty beds down with manure for the winter, the earlier you do it the better. Try and find a good source of farmyard manure if you don’t have your own – cow, horse, pig, sheep and chicken manure are all great sources of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium for your soil. Cut autumn fruiting raspberry canes down to the ground.
You can sow hardy varieties of peas and broad beans later this month for an early spring crop but only do so in well-drained soil. In the polytunnel get a crop of cauliflower and carrots going over the winter. Plant selected varieties of garlic and winter onion sets.
Depending on the weather, the harvest may well continue in to October – pumpkins, squashes, courgette, apples, pears etc. It’s the last hurrah however for peas, beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, aubergines, peppers and chilli-peppers. Continue to harvest wild mushrooms, elderberry, blackberries, sloes, carrots, potatoes, parsnips, swedes, celeriac, turnip, beetroot, celery, marrows, leeks and cabbage.
Tip of the Month - Storing Pumpkin and Squash
Once cured, store your squashes and pumpkins in a dry place, temperature around 15 degrees. Don’t stack them on top of each other, as they can rot where their skins meet – you want lots of air circulating around them. Kept like this they should keep for 4-6 months (keep an eye on them). The longer you can keep them the better because they are an incredible treat in the depths of winter – slicing in to a vibrant orange pumpkin is a great antidote to a grey, cold winter.