October is the golden month that stands between the end of growth and the barrenness of winter, when Mother Nature puts on a final glorious show and the trees are a fiery blaze of leaves, the last burning embers of the autumn. The year is aging, growing tired and mellow.
An old Kentish proverb says “There are always nineteen fine days in October and though there is now a crispness in the air as the days become visibly shorter, October weather is often still fine and fairly warm here. However, the longer, cooler nights mean the fields and hedgerows are shrouded in mist most mornings, making the trailing gossamer webs of spiders pearly white in the hedgerows. As children we collected them in a hoop of twigs to make ‘magic mirrors’ in order to see the future.
Tradition has it that at the beginning of October swallows begin their seasonal migration from Britain, taking all the luck and blessings of the summer with them. The rooks circle and ride the rough autumn winds over the brown, ploughed fields, while pheasants scavenge in the stubble. Smoke plumes from house chimneys and drifts from the bonfires smouldering in cleared gardens and vegetable plots, making bonfire smoke the scent of this month. The oak trees drop their acorns, and the squirrels are busy collecting nuts to bury to keep them through the winter. The natural world prepares itself for winter with a flurry of activity and seasonal migrations. In the parklands, the stags are belling, calling out during the rutting season as they compete for mates, fighting with a rattling clash of horns. Most of the insects have disappeared now, and the birds who relied on them for food are getting ready to fly south for the winter, gathering in flocks; rows of them perching on the telegraph wires outside my office window.
Mother Earth has given us all she has, and we have harvested her bounty. Now, after the autumn sowing, it is time to feed the land and let it rest. In October, as the world descends into the dark half of the year, Mother Earth draws her energy back into her womb to protect the sleeping seeds (and the dead) that lie within it, deep in the earth. A traditional English proverb states “In October dung your field/ And your land its wealth will yield”. Any gardener or farmer knows that if you want to get something out, you have to put something in, which is all the Gods ask of us.
Like the animals and birds, it is time for me to make preparation for the winter. The frosts will be here soon, and putting the garden to bed for the year always feels slightly sad, but life is a cycle and it will be renewed in the spring, so this is not an ending, just needful preparation for next year.
I cut my withered annual plants and put them on the compost heap, and collect the last of the seeds from my flowers. It will soon be too cold for growth in the greenhouse, so I’m collecting the last of the tomatoes, bell peppers, chillies and cucumbers. This is the chutney making time, when the last of everything goes into the jam pan.
With everything removed, I clean and tidy the greenhouse, so all the pots of frost-tender flowers and herbs can go inside for winter. The tools are cleaned and put away in the shed. One of the last things is to manure the vegetable plot.
© Anna Franklin, October 2020
 Traditional folk saying