Your September fruit and veg jobs

The race is on to ripen up as many tomatoes as possible

And it’s very much a month where the show must go on. Damp mornings and darker days are a reminder that summer has started to head for the exit but so many crops haven’t really noticed yet and are still soldiering on and filling our kitchens with fresh food. With lots of plants ready to harvest and heavyweight crops and tree fruits reaching a grand finale, it is one of the most exciting months of the year to grow your own.

More fruit and veg advice:

Keep plants productive

The race is on to ripen up as many tomatoes as possible

Enjoy more beans

Runner beans and climbing French beans should keep cropping well all month if you’ve been picking the pods regularly when young and tender. French beans are at their peak of freshness if they snap cleanly when you try to break them in half. Runner beans are best picked when the pods are slender, flat and light green in colour, with no visible signs of the beans inside the pod.

To keep these plants growing strongly, avoid letting the soil at the base of the plant dry out, which is easily done at this time of year. Soil is still warm and temperatures can stay above 20°C for long periods. It’s not too late to add more mulch to the soil at the base, after a good rain or a thorough soaking, to help conserve moisture.

If you’re growing them in pots, keep adding a half-strength high potassium liquid plant food to your watering can once a week all month. Strong winds and stormy weather can shorten the life of climbing beans, so make sure they are in a sheltered corner if you are growing them in pots.

Get the biggest tomato crop possible

There is the potential for a lot more tasty tomatoes this month, especially if you are growing them in a greenhouse. Keep watering all tomato plants weekly, with a high potassium liquid plant food, and don’t let them dry out at any stage. It is easy to take your foot of the gas at this time of year but keeping up the food and water regime for the rest of the month does a vital job. It helps prevent skins from cracking and the bottom of the fruits from developing blossom end rot, which are symptoms of sporadic watering.

This month is also the time to start removing leaves to allow maximum sunlight to ripen the remaining fruits. If you’ve got bush tomatoes, thin them out by removing leaves that are obscuring fruits. For cordon tomatoes, remove the lowest couple of pairs of leaves as well as any covering the fruits. Make sure tomatoes growing in pots on the patio are moved to the sunniest possible spot for the rest of their life, to get as many ripe fruits as possible.

Growing Greener

Leave windfall fruits in the garden to allow wildlife to feed on them. Butterflies will devour the juice from windfall plums, and blackbirds and fieldfares will feast on fallen apples. If the ‘tidy gardener’ in you can’t bear to leave the fruits at the bottom of your trees, move them onto a bird table. 

Gathering your crops

Freshly-picked autumn raspberries in a bowl

Freshly-picked autumn raspberries in a bowl

Harvest maincrop potatoes

Dig up any remaining potatoes that are still in the ground without delay. Potatoes are a little bit like a ticking time-bomb once all the foliage has died down. They’re not going to get any bigger but they could fall foul of getting waterlogged and rotten, or eaten by slugs if left for too long. Push a digging fork deep down into the soil on a dry day and slowly lever it up to see what sort of a harvest you have.

Dry potatoes store for a bit longer than ones lifted when wet. Inspect each tuber and discard any that look as if they’ve been burrowed into by something tiny (wireworm) along with any that are bruised or damaged. I always like to dig over each row of potatoes twice because it’s easy to miss a few the first time round.

Pick apples

Have you heard people use the phrase ‘low hanging fruit’, referring, not to harvesting from a tree but instead to something in life that is easy to achieve? I’m not sure that it’s the best metaphor though because in the case of apples, the most attractive, large, ‘low hanging’ fruits can be the biggest disappointments.

Why? Because it’s so tempting to try and pick these luscious looking specimens too early. Eyeing them up on the veg patch every day and not picking them can become something of a battle of wills, like asking a three-year-old not to eat a sweet that’s in front of them.

Keep telling yourself though that if the fruit doesn’t detach from the tree with the gentlest of twists when you cup the fruit in your hand, then it’s not ready. Don’t pull it hard to try and convince yourself otherwise! If you don’t want to eat or cook the fruit straight away, store them in a cold, airy place indoors, ideally in trays, wrapping each one individually and not storing them on top of each other.

Harvest autumn raspberries

Picking fresh, sweet raspberries in autumn feels like a bit of a cheat. Not only do you have to do very little in order to end up with delicious fruits but the timing feels too good to be true. They start ripening this month and I’m still picking a handful of fruits on misty mornings in November, when all the sensible advice is to stay indoors and put the kettle on.

Make sure you check the plants daily because the fruits tend to spoil quickly if not picked at their peak of ripeness, when the berries will easily fall from the plant when gently pulled. Give the base of the plant a good soak in dry spells this month, to encourage good fruiting. Raspberries are surprisingly tolerant of drought and poor soil but they’ll produce a much better crop if not allowed to dry out.

Thrifty tip

Dig up clumps of chives and parsley from the garden and pot them up to bring indoors. This will give you a handy supply of fresh leaves to snip at during winter without having to fork out for those tempting but ultimately very short-lived pots of herbs that are sold in the supermarket.

Plant your herbs into pots of multi-purpose compost, mixed with a handful of garden soil, and keep them on a sunny windowsill.

Starting some new veg

Sow broad bean 'Aquadulce Claudia' towards the end of the month

Sow broad bean ‘Aquadulce Claudia’ towards the end of the month

Sow broad beans

It might only seem like five minutes ago that you were picking broad beans but a new crop for next year can be sown towards the end of this month. Sow them direct in the soil, or if your soil is very heavy, you’re in a cold area or you’re worried about mice gobbling up the seeds, hedge your bets and start them in 5cm pots or Rootrainers kept in a greenhouse or cold frame.

The advantage of sowing now is that you can end up with a broad bean harvest a few weeks earlier next year than if you sow in early spring. Autumn-sown broad beans are also likely to be more robust than spring-sown ones, having had months to get their roots established. There’s also something rather comforting about nurturing a summer crop in autumn and watching its progress in winter. Varieties recommended for autumn sowing include ‘Aquadulce Claudia’ and ‘The Sutton’.

Sow spinach direct for a late crop

For me, spinach is a constant companion on the veg patch. It’s there to be picked on Christmas Day (being out in the garden beats having to pretend to find cracker jokes funny) and it’s there for a harvest in the heat of summer. I grow perpetual spinach (the one with leaves the size of chard) for a big harvest and the ordinary, smaller-leaved spinach for baby salad leaves.

Both can be sown now, either direct into damp soil in a sunny position, in greenhouse borders or in pots of multi-purpose compost kept outside on the patio. Sow thinly and cover the seed with a layer of compost or soil equal to the height of the seed. If your garden is cold and exposed or the soil is heavy, cover the plants with a cloche or a layer of fleece raised just above the top of the plants, from the end of October onwards, to protect the plants from damage caused by cold.

Plant autumn onion sets

I like planting overwintering onion sets, such as ‘Senshyu Yellow’ or ‘Toughball’ this month if for no other reason than it can result in some cracking, full-flavoured spring onions to harvest in early spring. But leave them to mature and you’ll have some good sized, mature onions before May is out.

Space for a row of onions might be at a bit of a premium right now but it’s worth finding some if possible. If you have a badly behaved, overgrown pumpkin plant, you could always gather up some of the gangly stems and peg them onto a smaller area of soil to make room for a couple of rows of these onions to be planted. Space the sets 10cm apart in rows spaced 30cm apart.

As for all onions, the best place for planting is a sunny space in soil that drains well and hasn’t had any manure added to it recently. Plant the sets so the ‘tail’ at the top is just above the soil surface. If you leave too much sticking out then the birds (or in my experience potentially small children, too) will have fun pulling them out!

Plant out spring cabbages

A succulent spring cabbage is a real treat, picked fresh from the garden when a lot of summer veg garden staples haven’t even been planted out yet. It’s a marathon not a sprint for these brassicas though! Plants that are around 12cm tall are ready for planting out. Disturb as little soil as possible when making a planting hole (try using a narrow trowel or bulb planter) because firm soil is a must, in order for the plants to form tight heads in spring.

Plant one plant every 10cm and space rows 30cm apart. Make sure you protect the young plants from pigeons by covering the plants with horticultural fleece or closely-meshed netting.

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