Despite the short daylight hours, we have had some beautiful bright days during December.
The winter solstice has marked the turning point for winter gardeners and we know that the darkest point of the year has passed and the days will now begin to slowly lengthen over the months ahead. Despite the short daylight hours, we have had some beautiful bright days in December accompanied by sub-zero temperatures treating us to sparkling frosty garden scenes. We have even had snow, which is not a regular occurrence for our part of the world in December, giving the garden a festive feel.
Despite the cold snap, there have been plenty of jobs around the garden to keep us warm. Storm Caroline did a good job of stripping the trees around the kitchen garden bare of leaves and it was time to clear the garden of every leaf. As a self-confessed tidy gardener, this meant a thorough rake of the paths and beds followed by a hands-and-knees leaf pick. A good kneeler and warm pair of gloves are a must for this job. My tool of choice was a claw which is excellent for hooking leaves from around the base of hedges and plants. It is a real labour of love, particularly in such cold conditions, but it is the price I pay for loving a tidy winter garden. Elsewhere around the ornamental gardens, the oak trees are still holding on to their leaves, so there will be raking to do for a while yet.
On days when the temperatures were a little nearer normal, we dug our runner bean trenches. The bean support frame had already been moved to next year’s growing position and we spent a morning digging a trench all along both sides of the structure to a depth of around 18 inches and a spade’s width. Over the coming months we will put our fruit and veg waste from the kitchen along the bottom of the trench in layers; adding back a little of the removed top soil with each layer until the trenches are full. Beans are hungry feeders and love the rich, fertile root run that the composting trench creates. Courgettes and pumpkins will also benefit from the soil conditions this creates.
On colder days, when the soil could not be walked on, we kept ourselves warm by mulching bare soil with well-rotted manure or home-made compost. We barrowed the muck to where it was required before spreading with a rake from the paths alongside the beds to avoid treading on frozen soil. Over the coming months this will be broken down by the worms and the cold weather ready for digging over in the Spring.
We have also taken the opportunity to give the potting shed and our other storage areas a thorough tidy up and sort through. The seed tin has been organised and we have placed our seed order for 2018. The approaching new year is a good time to look back at the growing year and the successes and failures in the garden. For me, one of the beauties of gardening is that each new year brings a new start. The kitchen garden is a blank canvas ready to be filled once again with organic crops. Where crops have failed previously, we get a fresh go at getting it right; always learning and improving no matter how long we have been growing.
With Christmas approaching we spent a really enjoyable morning creating a festive wreath for the potting shed door. This has become something of a garden tradition here now, with the collection of plant material from all around the gardens followed by the crafting of a homegrown, homemade Christmas decoration. Carols were playing on the radio and we enjoyed mince pies and coffee to warm our frozen hands when it was complete.
As I write this, we have just carried out my favourite harvest of the year; the vegetables for the Christmas Dinner table. Despite all the impressive harvests of the summer and autumn, the Christmas one is my favourite of the year. The vegetables we grow for winter picking have been lovingly tended from the early spring and are now ready to adorn our dinner plates. We have harvested brussel sprouts, parsnips, celeriac, leeks and carrots. Added to these will be the potatoes, squash, peas and beans that were harvested in the autumn and have been stored in the larder and freezer ever since. It always brings great satisfaction to feed my family and guests with entirely home-grown fare (not including the turkey of course!) It is a fitting reward for the hard work throughout the year.
The festive period usually drives us indoors to celebrate and indulge. I always intend to take a much-needed break from the garden at Christmas and enjoy the warmth of the indoors having worked through the freezing weather we have had in recent weeks. In honesty, I usually last until the day after Boxing Day when I cannot resist the call of the garden any longer and the wellingtons go on and out I go! The garden is tidy and organised and ready for the New Year and I cannot wait to start sowing seeds under a growlight in a heated propagator in January and get the new gardening year underway.
Here are some of the jobs we’ve got planned for January in Stephanie’s Kitchen Garden:
- Sow chillies, aubergines, celeriac and celery in a heated propagator with a growlight.
- Spread compost and manure as a mulch over bare soil.
- Continue clearing leaves and debris from around the wider garden.
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