The Kitchen Garden in Early Autumn

Early Autumn

Traditionally the season for harvest festivals, early autumn is a satisfying time when you can reap the results of the year’s labours and not bother too much about routine jobs. You should have a glut of vegetables to cut, lift or pick, either for immediate use or for storing in one way or another. Several of the root crops are stored in containers in garden sheds or put into clamps; other vegetables – and also fruit – can be deep frozen, bottled, or preserved by salting or drying. Seeds and leaves of herbs are usually dried but leaves can also be deep-frozen, in ice cubes.

The weather is likely to be warm and humid, with occasional rain, mostly calm and often sunny, a very pleasant time during which the gardener can generally relax his or her vigilance and leave the crops largely to their own devices. However, towards the end of the period, the night temperature can drop steeply and quickly towards freezing, so you should be ready with cloches, tunnels, newspapers and so on for safeguarding some of the newly germinated crops and those which are coming up to maturity. The latter are generally those being grown out of their normal season, since you are trying to prolong the crop, so they may need a little fussing over.

However, in some years this can be a very wet period, with constant rain. If this is the case, the weeds will grow very fast and it is essential, whenever there is a day without rain, that you get them thoroughly cleared, otherwise next spring will be a nightmare, and your over-wintering crops will be poor and stunted.

The general work such as watering, feeding, training, thinning, spraying and so on will diminish considerably, but as many vegetables come to an end, the remaining stems, roots and leaves should be dug up and composted, the ground raked and either prepared for a new over-wintering crop or left to follow for a few weeks, keeping an eye on the weeds.

Jobs to do

Preparing the soil for sowing and planting outdoors

There are only half a dozen or so vegetables which are worth sowing at this time, and only one fruit – strawberry – which can be planted, so little soil preparation is necessary.


Vegetable and herb seeds which can still be grown are: borage, cabbage (spring), endive (Batavian), lettuce, lovage, onion, radish, savory (winter), turnip (for spring greens). If you want lettuce as early as possible next spring, now is the time to sow it and over-winter under cloches; select a hardier variety, such as the cos (Romanic) kinds.

Borage germinates very easily and will even flower during mild periods in winter, so you can often go on using fresh leaves until the end of early winter. This is the latest period for sowing summer radish, endive and turnips for tops. The last named is likely to be rather a hit-and-miss crop, a matter of filling up a space that would otherwise be empty, or of augmenting a rather sparse programme of fresh spring vegetables.

Onions sown in early autumn should provide mature bulbs in mid and late summer next year and spring onions in late spring. However, they are not an easy crop to grow successfully unless you have a sheltered garden; if you can sow the Japanese varieties in late summer, you are likely to have more success with them. The ordinary autumn varieties sown at this time should be sown a little more thickly, as germination may not be as good and the seedlings are likely to be more vulnerable. For successful overwintering, the young plants should be about 15cm (6in) tall by the middle to end of mid autumn. Keeping them thoroughly weeded is especially important.


The only planting that can be done at this time is that of strawberries, as early in early autumn as possible, choosing a time when the soil is moist and rain forecast.


The seeds sown in late summer will need their first or second thinning now and they include: angelica, cabbage (spring), caraway, chervil, coriander, lettuce, lovage, radish, spinach, spinach beet, Swiss chard (seakale beet) and turnip.

Seeds will be less quick to germinate at this time of the year and less quick to grow; you may find that some, particularly Japanese onions, are not ready for thinning until the beginning of mid-autumn.

If the cabbage have been sown where they are to grow, they can be thinned progressively to a spacing of 30cm (12in), but if in a seedbed, thin to about 13-15cm (5-6in) and expect to transplant later this season. Lettuce, which are to be cut later in autumn, should be thinned to a 23-30cm (9-12in) spacing.


lettuces grow well in autumn if protected by cloches, such as these Chase barn cloches During early autumn, you should be ready to put cloches over various crops, to maintain warmth round them and ensure that they mature. Such crops include lettuce, French (kidney) bean, pea, summer radish, carrot, beetroot; also kohlrabi, parsley and endive may need cloching if they are being a little slow, perhaps because of unseasonable chills or late sowing in mid-summer. Strawberries which were de-leafed in late summer can be covered at night to start with and then during day as well, once the blossom has set and there begins to be a nip in the air. The perpetual-fruiting kinds will be the better for protection as well, but the alpine varieties, being so hardy, can be left without cover and will still ripen in mid-autumn. There are many different kinds of cloches available, from your local nursery or garden centre. Glass and various kinds of plastic materials are used for glazing: height and width vary and you will find something suitable for most crops.


Endive is a good, tasty, salad vegetable, provided it has been properly blanched, otherwise it has a bitter flavour. Exposure to light produces this unpleasant taste so plants must be covered completely. The curled varieties should be dealt with first, as they will not stand cold weather; they are simply covered with a plate or saucer, depending on their size, to blanch all but the outside leaves. Do this when the plants are completely dry, make sure there are no slugs lurking in the centre and then cover the plants with cloches. Blanching will take about two to three weeks. Alternatively, to blanch the whole plant, cover with a clay pot and stop the drainage hole with putty or similar material so that it is light-proof.

Batavian (lettuce-leaved) endive takes longer, about four to six weeks to blanch. All the leaves are gathered together so that the outside leaves surround the inner ones and are tied together at the top or secured with a rubber band. Then the cloche protecting them is itself covered completely with black plastic sheet.

Blanching endive - use a plate for curly endive, a clay pot with the hole blocked, or a cloche covered with black plastic

Earthing up

Winter celery can be given its final earthing up soon after the beginning of early autumn. Tie the stems together at the top and then add soil so that only the tops of the leaves show. The soil should be smoothed and evenly sloped so that rain runs off it; the plants can then be left until wanted for lifting, from the time of the first frosts onwards. Earthing up should be done gently, so as not to constrict the plant. Do not put fertilizer on the soil used: it could damage the stalks.


There is only one crop that need be treated with a top-dressing, in early or mid-autumn, and that is rhubarb. A prolific producer of leaves and stems, it needs equally prolific quantities of humus and nutrient and will make best use of the humus if applied during the next few weeks.


This job has almost come to an end; only the greenhouse crops will have sufficient growing time left for it to be worth feeding them. Cucumber, pepper and tomato can have liquid feeds until they finish, or until the end of the month, whichever comes first. Both melons and aubergines will be or have been harvested.


This also will apply mainly to the greenhouse plants, though sometimes in the first two weeks or so of early autumn, the weather can be quite dry and the seedlings and young plants will need help with moisture. A fine spray is best for the seedlings. The soil for the strawberries and the runners if dry should be soaked the night before planting.

Weeding and cleaning up

Many crops will finish this season – some will already have been pulled out – including aubergine, broad bean, French (kidney) bean, summer cauliflower, summer cabbage, self-blanching celery, pea, spinach and spinach beet, Swiss chard (seakale beet), and sweetcorn. Tomatoes should finally be picked by the end of early autumn and, if green, put to ripen in warmth; the haulms can be consigned to the compost heap, as can those of the maincrop potatoes when the crop has been lifted. If the fruits of melons and squashes have all ripened, their stems and leaves will also make good compost, but marrows often go on cropping well into mid-autumn and it is worth leaving the plants in the ground.

With quite a lot of space becoming free at once, it will be a matter of roughly levelling the soil after the crops have been dug up, eliminating any weeds and leaving well alone, unless you have planned for some overwintering crops to be sown or transplanted into these cleared patches. But nature abhors a vacuum and they will fill up with weeds while your back is turned; get the seedling weeds out while they still look as though they are not worth bothering about. Otherwise wet weather will be on you and, unless you like working in the rain, there will be few chances to deal with them before next spring, when you will be more concerned with the start of your new season’s crops.

Compost heap

Early autumn is another period, like spring and early summer, when the heap grows very quickly and, because of the quantities of green material put on to it now, and the relative warmth of the weather, will rot well, until the end of early autumn. After this, as every living organism slows down and prepares for the winter, the heap will itself become dormant until about the middle of late winter.


As in late summer, the soft fruits – blackberry, blackcurrants, grapes, raspberry and strawberry – should be defended against our feathered friends (feathered fiends, according to some gardeners). Brassicas and tomatoes, too, should be fortified against aerial attacks.

Treating pests and diseases

Cabbage white butterflies will still be very much in evidence, laying quantities of eggs, and their caterpillars can still shred the leaves of brassicas into delicate lace. Grey mould in the greenhouse, on peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes and mildew outdoors, on many plants, may still be present, but it is not really worth spraying them at this stage; hand picking is usually sufficient to keep these diseases under control.

There may still be some red spider mite, whitefly and greenfly around indoors, but slugs and snails are likely to become real pests again, on lettuce, endive, celery and some of the root crops, such as potatoes, carrots, turnips and celeriac. On these, they follow after a primary injury or infection.


There are various ways of storing crops, as well as a surprisingly varied assortment that can be preserved by traditional storing, rather than the modern method of deep freezing, which is not, in fact, suitable for all vegetables and fruit and, in any case, involves a large outlay.

Chives grow best in a warm border with some shade. They make a good edging for a vegetable plot.Potatoes, carrots, beetroot and turnip can all be lifted now for storing indoors in cool but frost-free sheds, rooms or cellars. All should be cleaned of soil and any top growth remaining, and allowed to dry in the sun for an hour or so. Beetroot should have the leaves and stems screwed or cut off to leave a length of about 5cm (2in); carrot and turnip growth can be cut oft much closer to the crown.

Dry peat or sand can be used as the storage material and the roots put in layers, alternating with the peat or sand, heads to tails. Finish with a layer of packing material and then a lid which fits tightly so that no light (or mice) can get in. Use roots that are firm, uninjured and free from disease.

Potatoes are treated in the same way, but can go straight into the container without peat or sand; they must be kept completely dark, otherwise they turn green, and/or produce sprouts.

If you have very large crops, or no suitable storage building, you can clamp all these. Clamps consist of a conical or rectangular heap of vegetables built up on a thick layer of straw with a shallow trench dug out round the base of the clamp. The vegetables are covered with a layer of straw and then with soil which has been smoothed down with a spade so that rain runs down and off it, rather than into it. At intervals a plug of straw is left sticking through the soil to allow for ventilation. Crops will keep perfectly well in these clamps, even in frosty weather; of course the thicker the layer of soil, the more frost-proof are they. When frost threatens, remove the straw plug and replace with soil.

Onions are easily stored. Clean off soil and cut off roots and tops, leave to dry in the sun and then string together. Lastly, either put them in single layers in trays or hang in dry, cool and dark conditions, until needed. Treat shallots and garlic in the same way.


A new crop which can be harvested during early and mid-autumn is that from your vines; depending on the variety, grapes can be picked during the next six weeks or so. If you had cloches over them, however, you may have picked a few already. If they are for wine-making, they should be left on the vine longer than those for dessert, so that as high a sugar content as possible is obtained.

29. August 2011 by admin
Categories: Kitchen Garden, Organics | Tags: , | Comments Off on The Kitchen Garden in Early Autumn


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