Cold, bleak, damp and foggy. No, not the names of four of Santa’s reindeer, but a quick look out of most UK back windows paints a less than encouraging picture. This time of year may seem more suited to musicians and poets but, without a blizzard setting in, the veg patch is requiring of a little bit of attention and who are we to deny her?
She’s worked hard all year blooming and blossoming so now is a great time to give back a well-deserved pampering. This means crimping, clipping and some extra manure with love. Turn over your beds to create a place of love and vigour, both of which will be needed for the seasons ahead!
Time for a Spruce!
Perhaps you have grown a small Christmas tree in an exposed corner bringing a welcomed bit of green to the slate-grey backdrop, well done you! Tree lopping and cuttings are all a good idea this time of year and the leaves can be gathered and mulched in earnest. Leaf mould might be a new scheme you can do. Find a neglected spot for your cage and put in four wooden stakes to a couple of feet and run them round with chicken wire. They will settle down by more than half over time but they can make a handy natural mulch and bed cover for the rest of the year.
Don’t forget to leave some natural secluded corners covered in leaves and debris for a hedgehog feasting invitation. They will sniff out the caterpillars before you’ve bent your back under your highest leaves. Get rid of all yellow leaves, particularly around your brassicas as you don’t want health issues such as botrytis just before arranging your Christmas produce. Your lovely big greens will profit from some netting if pigeons are hovering. Why not try pigeon pie instead of turkey this year? It is a traditional English dish after all.
Check all your fixings and clear out guttering and make sure your compost bins don’t leak rain and snow. Check your greenhouse for clips, cracks and breakages and have good general tidy up to make way for early planting trays. A crisp clear morning should be welcomed in with the sounds of tapping and sawing.
Garlic can still be planted out directly. Actually garlic responds very well to the imminent cold snap which often give them added size during their growth. Just remember that garlic doesn’t like sitting in water so if you have heavy soil you will need an inch of sand in the base and perhaps run a dribble hole out the side. Plant the clove directly into the top and fill around with good compost to drain away any rotting possibilities. Now let it enjoy its penchant for the cold.
Seed sowing can still be done. Onions will be okay to sow towards the end of the month and they will make excellent plants and bulbs with this extra growing time at the beginning. Sow directly into seed boxes or modules in the greenhouse. Cold frames are fine if they can be kept frost free. Extra newspapers or old carpet might be needed to seal out the cold. Don’t forget to check the ventilation as winter sun can still warm up considerably under glass. Cold and dry is the ticket.
Seeding plans and purchases can be started during December if the weather is wreaking havoc with your general joie de vive. It’s now time to rake through your seed catalogues and hunt for coupons in the sideboard drawer. Planning your garden is never a bad idea and it is always handy to get your combination gardening working better each year. Dark, damp December and January days are perfect for dreaming of the first shoots of spring.
Fruits of Labour
Hardwood cuttings of all your soft fruit can be taken. Propagate your gooseberries, red, white and blackcurrants, and any other berries you have. Choose well ripened shoots that are sturdy enough for the ground and cut below a bud and then trim down to just above. Blackcurrants should be taken at about 9” and up to 15” for other fruits. Insert them down to half their length. Leave all buds on blackcurrants but the others should have their lower buds removed.
It is now a good time to split your rhubarb. Dig up the crowns and use your spade to split down into three or four. Leave them on the surface so they get well-frosted before planting out again during the earliest throes of spring.
Bare rooted trees and bushes can be planted and the apple and pear trees will appreciate a good pruning. Cut down and burn any fruit canes such as, raspberries, to avoid the spread of fungal diseases.
Hopefully you will soon have your sack bulging with sprouts, cabbage, parsnips and caulies. Your winter green harvest can be stored for the larder after a quick blanch before freezing. Leeks can now be pulled whenever required. Just dig some and heel them back in loosely before the ground freezes and they should keep you supplied for weeks.
Carrots can all come up to avoid disease and stored in damp sand or peat. Jerusalem artichokes, salsify and kohlrabi can all come up as well as your root supply of turnips, swede and winter radish. Endive, chicory and spinach are all now ready for the pot and when digging up your potatoes be sure to remove any rotting tubers. Look for slugs that need evicting.
All your hard work since autumn now all comes to fruition, putting smiles on faces and helping flush down the turkey attack and mince pie infestation! With a bit of luck the kids can be playing out in the snow and all your hard work can be kept to a secret satisfying feeling of another year well done.