The Kitchen Garden in Late Autumn

Late Autumn

The season for plants to grow is more or less over now; the annual crops will have finished and the biennial and perennial ones will become dormant in late autumn if they have not already done so. There is still a little life left though; there is one vegetable crop which will germinate if seed is sown, some of the soft fruit will still produce roots from cuttings taken early in the season, and all one- or two-year-old plants of soft fruit will continue to put out roots.

However, the cooling temperature and the regular decrease in the hours of day-light ensures a halt in the cycle of growth and a chance for the gardener to do what jobs can be done rather more slowly. Since most gardeners now only have weekends in which to deal with their plants, it is just as well that there is less to do. One of the major winter jobs which will be in full swing from now until the end of early winter is the annual digging, whenever the soil is fit to work, as well as preparing it for planting.

Another major job to be done and completed, if possible, in late autumn, is soft fruit planting (except strawberry). In fact, much of this season’s work is concerned with the fruit crops, since another job is the completion of the pruning, which is more easily done once the leaves are off the plants. Some pruning could have been finished in the summer, but the lack of time and difficulty of seeing the shoots clearly when in leaf makes it less convenient at that season.

The greenhouse will be in use for a few crops which are being blanched or forced; you may perhaps be trying lettuce there as an overwintering crop instead of outdoors under cloche and there may be some herbs in pots. All will appreciate some fresh air during the day, but, apart from ventilation, occasional watering, and removal of leaves from the roof glazing, the greenhouse will not need attention.

Jobs to do

Preparing the soil for outdoor sowing

In mild areas, it is worth sowing the longpod varieties of broad beans, to stand through the winter, but you will not need to prepare the soil for sowing other seeds. Since broad beans have large seeds, there is no need to try and reduce the soil to the fine tilth required by the tiny seeds. The autumn rains would make this difficult, so digging the soil as advised in early spring, raking it to remove the larger lumps and stones and to level it, will be sufficient.

It is still possible to plant soft fruit, except vines and rhubarb, at the beginning of early winter, so you can prepare the soil for this during the next few weeks.


Cultivating the soil by digging is a major routine job in the vegetable garden. It is most conveniently done in late autumn or early winter, partly because most of the ground is clear of plants and partly because leaving it until later in winter runs the risk of the ground being frozen, covered in snow or waterlogged.

There is a school of thought which advises ‘no digging’, the idea being that in Nature the ground is not cultivated; the necessary improvement or maintenance of the soil structure is carried out by worms, small mammals, insects and other soil fauna, provided an annual mulch of organic matter is put on. The arguments for and against both points of view are considerable and you may like to experiment with both techniques in your garden.

As far as digging is concerned, the type called single digging is the most useful and the easiest. It only involves digging the top soil out to a depth of the spade, putting-it on one side and then forking up the bottom of the hole or trench, and lastly, returning the top soil mixed with organic matter.

It is standard practice to mark out a strip, dig a trench across the width of the strip, barrow the soil to the other end of the area to be dug and fork up the bottom of the trench. Then make a second trench next to it and throw the soil from this forward into the first trench, mixed with manure, garden compost, etc. You can spread the manure over the soil before digging, or have it ready in a barrow and add it to the bottom or top of the trench, mixing it thoroughly with the returned soil.

Double digging repeats the process, but to a depth of the length of two spades’ blades; two trenches need to be dug, and two lots of soil removed for use at the finish. Half trenching, or bastard trenching, comes between the two; in that method the soil is dug to one spades’ depth, and the bottom is then forked or dug to the length of the tines or spade blade, but not removed. With both half trenching and double digging, manure should be mixed with all the soil which is loosened.

Half trenching can be used if you suspect a compacted layer is building up just below your usual depth of digging. Double digging can be used for heavy soils, for permanent crops, or for those soils which are shallow and need food and humus added to increase the depth of useful growing medium.

Sowing outdoors

The longpod varieties of broad beans can be sown outside, the sooner the better. You may have to cloche them in really cold weather, but take the cloches off if the temperature rises or the sun comes out, otherwise the plants will come on too fast, get soft and be severely frosted. Winter is not an easy time to get broad beans going; the most successful plants will be in the sheltered and milder gardens.

Planting outdoors

The main plantings will be of blackberry, currant, gooseberrv, loganberry, raspberry and vine. Prepare the plants by cutting any broken roots back to just behind the injury, and shorten a little any very long ones. The planting method for all these is more or less the same. A hole should be dug out at each planting site of sufficient width and depth to enable the roots to be spread out to their fullest extent, as naturally as possible. When planting has finished the soil mark on the stem should, in general, be at the same level as the surface of the soil in which the plant now is.

When you have put the plant roots in the hole, hold the stem with one hand and crumble the soil back over them with the other, shaking the plant occasionally so that the soil settles naturally round the roots and firming the soil as it is filled in. Finally, tread it down round the plant, add more soil so that there is not a hollow round it, firm this also, and then rake the surface lightly. Water in if the weather or soil is dry.

Although the main method is the same for all these, there are some slight variations for each fruit. For instance, you will probably find it easier to deal with raspberries by digging out a complete trench along the row and then setting the plants in it at the appropriate spacings, instead of making a separate hole for each plant.

Blackcurrants should be set in the soil so that the soil mark on their stems is 5cm (2in) below that of the soil level. This is to encourage more shoots to come from below-ground to make certain that they form a plant with several main branches. Red currants and gooseberries are always grown with a short, single trunk, or ‘leg’, and the difference between the two is due to the habit of growth and fruiting characteristics. Because of these characteristics red currants and gooseberries should have any suckers or buds rubbed off the roots; and buds on the ‘leg’ should also be removed.

You can plant rhubarb as well now, or in early spring.

It you took cuttings of fruit last autumn, or layered blackberries and loganberries, you can lift these now and plant them in their permanent positions. Raspberry suckers can also be chopped off from the parent plants, dug up and lined out in trenches.

More vegetable gardening jobs in late autumn …

29. August 2011 by admin
Categories: Kitchen Garden, Vegetable Gardening | Tags: , | Comments Off on The Kitchen Garden in Late Autumn


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