The vegetable garden in autumn - a lot to do.

The vegetable garden in autumn - a lot to do.

In most regions, the clement weather at the beginning of autumn prolongs the life of certain crops that are sensitive to frost. But with the abundant rainfall, the ground is often waterlogged and the excess moisture at root level is definitely one of the enemies of most types of vegetables. In short, it is really time to do a little work in the vegetable garden!

If you still have squash that you haven't picked, pick them now and store those that aren't damaged in a dry and frost-free location. Take the opportunity to get rid of plants that are harbouring parasites or disease. The same applies to the remains of tomato and bean plants and all the annual crops, which can't be left in the ground. Do the same with weeds (you know, the ones that we now call plants in the wrong place): these often harbour aphids or other parasites which decide to spend the winter there. There is no point offering shelter to those who will become your enemies next spring. Remove stakes and other supports, clean them and store them in a dry place.

So what do you do with this ground that is lovely and clean now but also quite bare? It isn't a good idea to leave the ground without crops, especially in a damp climate where the soil is heavy and poorly drained and tends to be even more compacted. You can spread manure after digging; this is the traditional approach for the winter months and it allows the organic material to decompose slowly.
If heavy frost is expected, turn over the top 10 cm of soil. This will destroy the larvae of pests hidden underground. This is particularly effective under hazel trees and gooseberry bushes.
In regions where the weather is a little more clement, there is still time to sow some green manure (mustard or vetch): the ground isn't cold yet and the plants will establish themselves during the autumn, vegetate during the winter and you'll just have bury the stems and leaves next spring. The advantages of this approach are twofold: you avoid the run-off from rainwater which washes away the bare soil and you provide a fertiliser that decomposes gradually until spring, while improving the structure of the soil at the same time.

In terms of crops, if frost isn't expected yet (it is still mild in most parts of the country), leave carrots, turnips, pears and cabbage in place. If there is a risk of heavy frost, place a layer of straw over them to stop the soil from hardening and threatening the harvest. You can also store carrots and turnips in containers filled with sand in a dry and frost-free place: they are susceptible to excessively damp soil. In the case of cabbages, remove them from the ground them and lay them on the soil with the prevailing wind behind them.

Don't forget to mix your compost in order to spread the moisture evenly. Then, don't touch it during the winter: a hedgehog will no doubt come to nestle there to escape the freezing weather…

Think about placing bird tables close to your vegetable patches: the little perching birds will also love the larvae and other insects. By getting them used to visiting the spot, they will be more efficient this spring when the small creatures reawaken and become, for these birds, their fresh food.


Caroline Géneau