What to Sow in October 2023

“Remember – always sow the seeds. You can catch up on everything else – but if you get behind on that, there’s nothing you can do about it.”  

Do it NOW….  Every day the light is getting shorter, and growth is slowing.

Growing home-saved seed and supporting small, independent, and organic seed companies, ensures diversity and choice in our seed supply. Preserving crop plant genetic diversity by saving our own non-F1 hybrid seeds is becoming increasingly important for future food security


You can still sow these directly into the ground – covering with cloches later in the month in cold gardens. Or alternatively, and more safely, you could sow into modules of peat free compost.  I always do that at this time of year – modules are generally warmer, germination is much quicker, there’s less chance of seed rotting in cold, wet ground if we get a hard frost before the end of October, and far less chance of pest damage. It’s more economical with expensive seed, avoids possible slug damage or even total destruction! Modules can be grown on and then be planted into the ground when they’re ready if conditions are suitable:  

Winter types of lettuce* such as ‘Arctic King’, ‘Winter Gem’, ‘Rougette du Midi’, ‘Winter Density’, ‘Valdor’, ‘Rosetta’ (greenhouse/tunnel type), Jack Ice and Lattughino Rossa. Also Broad Beans ‘Aquadulce Claudia’** or ‘The Sutton’**, round seeded peas like ‘Meteor’, ‘Feltham First’, ‘Pilot’ etc.(protecting from mice!), some varieties of non-hearting leafy cabbage greens such as  ‘Greensleeves’, claytonia* (miner’s lettuce), corn salad*, landcress*, spinach*, winter & Oriental radishes, salad onions (scallions), overwintering onions such as ‘Hi-Keeper’ (growing onions from seed avoids possibly introducing onion white rot, which may be brought in on sets).

On well-drained warmer soils in mild areas, it’s still worth chancing a sowing of a fast-growing early carrot variety* such as ‘Early Nantes’ or ‘Amsterdam Forcing’ – particularly in southern areas – covered with cloches these may produce finger-sized roots by Christmas or certainly in very early spring. You can also try oriental salad greens/brassica salad greens* like Broccoli Raab/Rapini/Cima di Rapa, Mizuna, Mustards like ‘Red and Green Frills’, rocket, and fast growing salad mixes* for picking continuously as baby leaves and shoots – all will crop this autumn if the weather is mild. All of these will benefit from being covered with cloches or fleece suspended over hoops later in the month to protect from heavy rain, or potential frost and wind damage.

You can still sow green manures on any empty ground not covered with a crop, these will protect and improve the structure of the soil, adding vital carbon, holding onto nutrients and preventing possible leaching that can occur in heavy rain. Field beans and winter tares (both legumes which will also fix ‘free’ nitrogen from the air). Mustard is another useful, fast-growing green manure but is a member of the brassica family, so make sure it fits into your rotations, and Hungarian winter grazing rye (covering the latter on heavy soils with a light excluding mulch in late winter to kill off the top growth, which makes it much easier to dig in)

In Greenhouses, Polytunnels or in large cold frames

You can also sow all of the above undercover, in a polytunnel or cold frame. They will grow much more quickly in the warmer and more protected environment. You can also sow mangetout pea ‘Oregon Giant’ and sugar peas such as ‘Delikett’ and ‘Delikata’ – directly into tunnel soil if you have space, or in large pots and containers – all for pea shoots now, taking two or three cuts of shoots, then leaving to grow on in spring to produce pods. With a little warmth you can also still sow Italian giant flat leaf parsley which is hardier, more productive, and has far better flavour than the curled varieties. 

Sow all seeds into modules thinly to avoid overcrowding, ensure good air circulation and good drainage in order to avoid possible ‘damping off’ diseases in the cooler autumn weather. Lettuce in particular can be very prone to disease now, so either sow individually – or thin carefully to the one strongest seedling without damaging others, as soon as they are big enough to handle. You can also sow directly into containers under cover. Be very careful not to over-water seedlings now, always water modules from underneath by sitting in water just for a few seconds if necessary, until you can feel the compost beginning to absorb it.  Watering modules from the top may also possibly encourage disease and damage vulnerable seedlings. 

(* Sow early Oct.  ** Sow late Oct.)

You can also still plant rooted watercress cuttings

Plant these in rich soil in a damp shady spot in the polytunnel or greenhouse, outside under cloches.  Watercress is actually a perennial plant and will crop for a year or longer if fed, watered and picked regularly to prevent flowering. I take fresh cuttings from healthy plants every year in early autumn to provide my winter crops.  I

move it out of the polytunnel and planting it elsewhere in a shady spot for summer. My current plants have been producing well for at least 10 years now! Cover with fleece if a hard frost is forecast, and keep an eye out for late cabbage white butterfly caterpillars!

Garlic cloves can be sown/planted now both outside and in polytunnels or greenhouses

For a really early crop of big bulbs next year – choose firm, plump and healthy outside cloves either from this year’s crop, or buy certified virus-free ones from garden centres – not supermarket-bought bulbs which will most likely be unsuitable for this climate and also may carry serious diseases. 

I prefer to plant organic garlic bulbs – and these are available from Fruit Hill Farm in Cork, where they have a wide range of varieties including Morado – a high-allicin, really good-tasting garlic which I love. Be careful to go through packs in garden centres and choose the really plump firm bulbs. Don’t buy any that have sunken patches, feel soft  or squashy, or are mouldy, as these have rotted and may be diseased.

‘Christo’ is weather resistant, reliable, a very good keeper and very hardy both inside and out which can also be spring planted, ‘Thermidrome’ and ‘Marco are ‘autumn planting’ varieties which are both excellent for growing in polytunnels, where they produce huge bulbs if planted now. Both have excellent flavour and are good keepers. All of these are good in polytunnels – whereas some varieties may prefer outside only. The very centre cloves from the bulbs, which do not produce good bulbs later on, can be planted into pots to provide leafy green garlic shoots for ealy cutting for salads etc. – rather than wasting them.

Saffron bulbs can still be planted

Many bulb companies have good value offers at this time of year, as this is late to be planting them. Bulbs will flower this year and then like many other flower bulbs may take a year off – but if well-fed while still in green leaf after flowering, they may not do this and will flower again as normal next year.

None of these are hard and fast rules

As the weather is so unpredictable now. Climates can vary widely in individual gardens and different parts of the country. You must play it by ear depending on the conditions and you may need to adapt these instructions in order to take into account your particular garden microclimate – its aspect and soil, as well as current weather forecasts. Conditions can deteriorate suddenly at this time of year, and every garden is different – you will know your own local climate best.

It’s also worth saving some of your own seed from non-F1 hybrid varieties of crops. This will save a lot of money and may even preserve hard to find or disappearing varieties.  This is happening increasingly now with many smaller seed companies being swallowed up by the huge and powerful Agrichemical/Pharmaceutical giants! 

Below is a picture of a young plant of ‘McGregor’s Favourite’ beetroot – a variety which I saved from extinction in the late 1980s when Carters were taken over by Dobies/Suttons and it was deleted from their catalogue. It is an extremely valuable, high-polyphenol phytonutrient cultivar which I use for salad leaves.

Young plant of McGregor’s Favourite beetroot

A note on seed composts

I always use an organic, peat-free seed compost for sowing all my seeds. The brand I use is Klasmann, which is available from Fruit Hill Farm in Cork, or from White’s Agri in Lusk, and also a few garden centres here in Ireland.  It is an excellent, free-draining compost, which promotes healthy seedlings – I have never lost any seedlings to ‘damping-off’ disease since using this compost. 

Using peat composts causes the release of large amounts of carbon, which contributes to climate change and destroys much biodiversity – including many plants which bees, insects and other creatures depend upon – thereby causing loss of biodiversity. Destroying peat bogs also leads to increased flooding, as the carbon contained in bogs acts like a giant sponge – absorbing water and then releasing it much more slowly into the environment. Peat composts are not a natural environment for plants as they are also sterile, with no microbial life, and they contain synthetic, fossil fuel-derived chemical nutrients, which also accelerate climate change. 

Make a cropping plan and start to make rough drafts of your seed orders as soon as the catalogues arrive or are available online. Go through this year’s remaining seeds to see what will still be good for sowing next year. This avoids duplication, over-buying and prevents potential waste.

Growing tips for October – as well as more information on seed varieties, growing fruit, wildlife gardening etc. can be found under the relevant diary entries for each month as they are added to the diary. I also give seasonal growing and eating tips at the beginning of each month on Gerry Kelly’s Late Lunch Show on LMFM radio – which you can listen to live or find the podcast later, and also listen to previous ones on the ‘Listen’ button on my home page.