Update for October, 2017: Early fall is my favorite time of the year in the Pacific Northwest. Cool, foggy mornings that magically transform into sunny days – and never get hotter than 70 degrees? That’s my kind of heaven.
2017’s first day of October feels pretty typical to me…everything about what I’m seeing outside aligns pretty well with how my gut “thinks” it should be. Which is a nice change after the never-ending rain of spring, and summer heatwaves that were only alievitaed by the smoke from wildfires.
The gardening year has seemed extra odd, but this fall feels just right.
October is a fairly quiet month in the garden. Your big chores are final harvesting and fall clean-up before you put the garden to bed for winter. Throw old spent summer vegetables and fruit to the chickens, or compost. Mulch beds as they empty to protect the soil from pounding winter rains. Take care of difficult weeds like bindweed now – if you let them go through the winter they will show up like a hydra next spring.
From a planting perspective, if you do nothing else this month – nothing – get your garlic in. Anytime this month is fine, but earlier planting means more time for your garlic to get its roots under it.
Printable At-A-Glance Grow-Guide!
If you like your Gardening To Lists simple and direct, you’re in luck! Just click the image below to download this October At-A-Glance Grow Guide as a printable PDF.
Or, continue reading for the full details on everything you should be doing in your garden this October.
Plan and Purchase
This is a great month to order bare root fruit trees and shrubs! I like Raintree for stuff like this.
If you didn’t get a garlic order in or save your own seed cloves, hit up your local farmer’s market and try to buy some hardneck garlic to plant now. My favorite variety is Music because the cloves are huge, but most of the hardnecks have great flavor.
Using low tunnels or cloches can extend your harvest of cool season tolerant crops for weeks or months. If you don’t have cloches, buy or scrounge up the stuff you need to make them. We use PVC pipe hoops and greenhouse-quality plastic for 6-8 week season extension and year-round weather protection.
Read more: The Keep It Simple Guide To Cloches
Don’t want to invest in greenhouse plastic? The 4 or 6 mil painter’s plastic at your local big box is pretty effective but you’ll get, at best, 2 to 3 years from it before the UV degrades it into uselessness.
Another great way to keep your garden in better shape over winter is with mulch. In the Maritime Northwest, most of our soil compaction happens in the winter, when pounding rain drives the soil into a dense, waterlogged mess.
Cover any open soil in your garden with almost anything – straw or leaves or cardboard or a nice cool weather cover crop – and you’ll help protect your precious, precious soil structure. Trust me, when you go in to plant your spring crops, you’ll be glad you did.
At this time of year, nearly everything you sow directly outside is an overwintering gamble. I’m not saying this to discourage you – there is much to be said for direct sowing in the cool of fall and harvesting earlier than anyone else in your neighborhood next spring.
But overwintering is a technique for the patient. Do not assume that you can sow carrots now and harvest them in 60 days, no matter what the seed package might suggest. That’s just not how cool weather gardening works. But if you want a shot at garden fresh carrots in, say, May, overwintering is the technique for you.
- Garlic – The sooner you sow it, the bigger the cloves will get.
- Legumes – Overwintering peas and favas. In a mild winter they’ll start blooming very early in spring. In a cold winter, they can be killed back.
- Late and overwintering greens – if you are using cloches, greenhouses or other season extension techniques, you can put in a direct-sown crop of fast-growing greens like winter lettuce, mache, arugula, mustard greens, spinach etc. and expect to harvest late this year. Without season extension, much of what you sow out may not really grow a whole lot this year, but may size up beautifully very early next spring, before anything spring-sown could possibly mature.
- Overwintering root crops – you can also experiment with overwintering carrots, beets and other root crops. I’ve found October sown root crops are generally harvestable around May of the next year. Bonus! You’ll avoid peak times for root maggots and other pests.
It’s a bit late, but if you have any lingering starts kicking around – chard, kale, broccoli, lettuces, etc. – and you have a spot for them, why not stick them in the ground and see how they do? Get them under a cloche and they’ll probably be ok.
I don’t know about you guys, but I’m super happy to be in the slower, less urgent days of fall harvest. But that doesn’t mean we lack for stuff to pick! Here’s what you might reasonably be harvesting in October:
- Asian Greens
- Broccoli & Cauliflower
- Lettuce and Greens
- Winter Squash
- Late plums
- Fall Raspberries
There’s this song parents sing to their young toddlers: “Clean up, clean up, everybody everywhere. Clean up, clean up, everybody do your share.”
This time of year when I look out at the squash vines, cucumbers and the tomatoes on the verge of collapse, that pre-school song runs through my head. It’s clean-up time!
- Weed – focus limited time and attention on yanking creeping perennials like bindweed or horsetail. These types of weeds are totally unphased by our winter, and will come up in spring stronger than ever. After that, yank annuals that are about to spread their seed (literally!) all over your garden.
- Prune and pull – Anything past its seasonal prime, like squash vines, tomato vines, or corn stalks, and anything that looks sick (mildew on leaves, dark blotches on stems, signs of rot, unmanageable insect pressure or damage….anything like that needs to go.)
- Water – At this point, even though the big rains aren’t back, it’s so cool and there is enough ground moisture that I don’t need to water. If you have a lot of your garden in pots or under cover, keep up with watering.
- Start a new compost pile if needed to handle the end-of-season debris.
- Cover crop (at this point select a very fast germinating option) or deep mulch to protect soil structure through the winter.
- As you wind the garden down, think about what worked and what didn’t. What do you want to change for next year? What was easy and rewarding? What was hard or just a big flop? What do you want to change for next year?
- Consider soil preparation you can do now that will make it easier next spring. If you have chickens, rotate them into beds that finish producing and you’ll benefit from the chicken triple threat of insect and weed reduction, nitrogen addition, and soil loosening. If you don’t have chickens – think about loosening your soil gently with a garden fork or a thick overwintering sowing of daikon radish in addition to fall mulching.
- If you’ve sown a fall and winter crop of veg, set up your cloche or season extension systems now.
How is your fall garden looking?
Oooh, questions and more questions now! Forgive the barrage in advance: Garlic–I had no idea I could plant it before October 15th. You blew my mind. I was taught to prep the bed with bone meal and blood meal but do you think I could get by with a sprinkle in each hole? Sick of giving all the weeds free fertilizer! Chard…will it be a biennial for me? I love me some English Youtube gardeners and they say it grows 2 years. Does it do that for us in the PNW? Mine barely germinated but I love the dears that made it through our hot summer in the successional sowing I did. Storing winter squash: can you point me to a post where you cover good methods for storing when you haven’t got a reliable place to keep it cool but not frozen? And how to tell when to harvest? My pumpkin and butternut vines are all mildew-ridden but the stems on the fruits are still green so I haven’t harvested yet. Watching those night time lows every day! Nosiness: do you really have just one fridge? I can’t manage to store all the condiments that have been opened and not finished *and* have enough room for basics let alone keep ferments or anything needing extended storage in there. That carrot sowing nudge: did you mean us folks in Eastern WA too? We usually have a hard freeze by Nov. 15th and then rotten weather till April and May. Can I actually keep baby carrot plants alive with just mulch? Last question…are you ready to smack me over the head for so many random questions? 🙂 My book arrives tomorrow, how can I possibly work in the garden when there is your new book to devour!
Tracey Hunt says
Lovely post! It’s my first gardening season ever and it’s quite interesting to try doing something you’ve never done before. Well I have some basic skills, but don’t know a lot. Thanks to your tips and advices it’s going great. Thanks for the printables!
Is this a good time to move my asparagus? I had them lined up neatly in a bed until last spring one(or more) of my hens decided that was a beautiful spot to dig. Now they are in clumps in the box. Do you think it would be ok to dig them up and straighten them out now? (I live in Idaho)
Wendy Rosen says
Hi. This is my first time reading your stuff. My husband and I are living off our 1 1/2 acres in Auburn, WA. We’d love to have you here for dinner sometime. I’ve always maintained that he’s the best home chef on the west side of the mountains! Everyone who eats here agrees. We do not make our own dairy products or grow our grains, but we do raise all our own meat: lambs and a wide variety of birds. Anyway, thanks for confirming so much of what we’re doing. We hope to host you some day.
It’s killing me to think I’m going to have to yank my tomato plants while they’re still producing if I’m going to get my garlic in on time. Honestly we’ve had enough tomatoes (I didn’t know that was possible) but it’s the principle of the thing.
I saw in your recent garden tour video that you grow a lot of delicate squash. For the first time, I planted them this year and they ended up being quite successful. Are they more delicate than other squashes? Do you cure them the same way you would a butternut or acorn? I have about a dozen on my kitchen counter at home and was wondering what to do with them all in the next few days. I thought I’d heard or read somewhere that they just didn’t keep as well as other fall squash. Have you tried canning them? Any suggestions would be appreciated. We like to eat them with a sausage filling, but not night after night. Thanks!
Anyone else in the PNW have very dry soil, after our 2.5 mo drought? Even with mulch on this summer, the heat just sucked moisture out of my sandy soil, down to 10″ or more. And the water bill, just to keep important plants/areas alive, was awfully high. I think I’ll put off any more mulching until my soil gets moistened by a lot of rain. Maybe put off garlic planting, too, until we’ve had a couple of soakers, with the soil bared to absorb.
BTW, I loved Erica’s detailed research on the bentonite clays…. it is really helpful in my efforts to get more moisture-holding clay into my soil. I’ll also be adding as much biochar as I can buy/make. I think we’ll be having more of this kind of ‘drought’ in the future.