The garden seems to catch a breath in autumn, a calm quietness after a hectic, buzzing summer, writes Will Livingstone.

At the beginning of the season, the garden is still full of things to harvest however, and the last of the summer veg is still in full flow. The wood ovens and fire pit are lit daily, filling the air with sweet smelling wood smoke.


Smoky slow-cooked courgettes, flame-grilled sweetcorn and wood roasted tomatoes all get the outdoor cooking treatment, giving the taste of summer an autumnal edge. The first of the chicory and endive are readying themselves to be paired with the richer flavours of the cooler months, offering an irresistible bitter sweetness.

French beans are a fantastic summer/autumn crossover. We sow the first batch back in May which provides us with sweet crunchy beans from July onwards. We also sow a late crop of dwarf French beans at the end of June to be harvested right through until the end of September. With a tremendous variety available organically and with high yield, French beans are allowed an eighth of the Kitchen Garden here at HQ.


French beans ‘Blauhilde’. Photo: Mark Diacono

For climbing French beans, we usually sow into root trainers before planting out in to the garden. Legumes appreciate a long root run and little root disturbance when planting out, so root trainers are perfect for this. Once the beans have reached 20cm and all risk of frost has passed, we plant them out at the base of a cane or string so they can climb to the skies. Climbing beans will climb to eight feet if you let them, so the more height the better.

For years, I have been sowing dwarf French beans into pots first, but direct sowing is far more affective. Direct sown beans are much less likely to become too leggy and have done really well. Just be sure to protect from pests, as the newly emerging beans are delicate and are susceptible to being munched! Once your beans start producing, start picking. Like most fruiting veg, the more you pick the more you get.

Here are my suggestions for three brilliant bean varieties:

• For fantastic, tender dwarf French beans try Aguillon, they produce scads of uniform slender beans.

• We favour the flat climbing French beans, like Limka or Helda. They are very high yielding and deliciously sweet.

• Climbing borlotti are certainly worth a try; they are beautiful and great for drying.


Kale ‘Pentland Brig’. Photo: Mark Diacono

Growing veg is not limited to the summer months, and it is now in autumn that the legwork is put in to fill the garden with delicious winter veg to see you through to the following spring. You are limited to what you can grow, however, as the short days and falling temperature allow only the hardiest of crops to thrive.

Kale is still on the rise in popularity, and rightly so. It is the easiest veg to grow successfully all year round, and the winter is no exception. Sow winter Kale in August. The last of the warmth will get your seedlings growing well and to a good size for planting out. As the seeds are small, I always sow into a seed tray first, then prick out into cell trays or pots ready for planting out. This will give you an assurance of a good strong plant.

Once mature, kale is very nearly the hardiest of all the veg. It will tolerate temperatures down to -10˚ and rarely has issue with slugs or caterpillars. But like all plants, during the early stages of its life it will need some protection. We grow some kale in the greenhouse over winter which gives you a much more tender and sweet crop than that grown outside. The kale outside will yield, albeit slowly through the depths, but as soon as the soil starts to warm in spring it will start growing on, filling the hungry gap with delicious, nutrient-packed leaves.

Here are my suggestions for kale through the colder months:

• For a tender winter leaf try Red Russian.

• For a hardy curly kale try Westland Winter.

• For something a little different try Dazzling Blue, similar to Cavolo Nero but with bright purple stems.

The moment when the leaves shrivel up in October and reveal the colourful crop of winter squash is a sign of change in the garden. I love it.


The toils of summer are finished and all we have to do is walk around and pick up the plentiful harvest. Squash is easy to grow. In most cases you can’t stop it. Germination can be tricky. Cucurbit seeds have soft seed coats which means they germinate fast but are prone to rotting out. We sow the seeds on their edge straight into pots in May. Sowing them vertically reduces the risk of excess water sitting on them and should help with germination.

Once your plants have two good sets of true leaves, they are ready to plant out. Squash will thrive in soil rich in organic matter. That’s why those rogue seeds always do well in the compost heap. Preparing your beds with lots compost or growing them in a “no dig” bed is essential to good healthy growth.

If your soil is relatively untreated then digging a planting pocket for the squash is advisable. Simply dig a large hole and fill with the best compost/well-rotted manure you can find and plant straight into that. Squash is also fantastic to grow through a membrane if you are starting a new area and want to keep the weeds down.

Regular watering in dry periods will help the squash to grow and the fruit to swell. When the first cold nights come in autumn, the squash is ready to harvest. Placing your harvested squash somewhere warm and dry for a week will cure the skins in preparation for storage. They should last for the winter provided they are kept cool and dry.

Here are my suggestions for sensational squashes to try:

• Try Uchiki Kuri, an amazing onion squash. They are relatively small, which is good for the domestic grower and have thin skins and lots of bright orange flesh.

• For a large interesting squash try Marina di Chioggia or The Old Man squash, so named because of its very knobbly skin.

As the leaves start to turn on the trees, the veg reacts in a similar way. Leafy crops start to yellow at the base, soft fruit bushes start to drop leaves and plants that store energy over winter start to retreat, throwing top growth energy down into their roots or tubers. It is this action that puts the sweetness into parsnips, causes the swelling of Jerusalem artichokes and produces some of the required energy for the following year’s growth.


At River Cottage, our garden serves as both a productive Kitchen Garden and an ornamental one. By clearing up fallen leaves and removing any yellow or dead material, we keep the garden looking sharp whilst removing potential habitat for grey moulds and slugs and snails.

For more from Will, follow him on Twitter @willgrow


This article was written exclusively for Smallholder magazine. 

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