December in the garden...

December is traditionally the month where the seed order is put together. The kitchen table is covered with catalogues and then the fun starts. Now the seed merchants really sell their wares. Each variety looks better than the last and the new varieties promise better results with finer tasting crops than before.
So you think, 'I must try that' and 'that looks a must have'. By the end of the process you have a list as long as your arm and a bill that will involve a call to the bank manager to explain.

Time for a cup of tea and a rethink!

Be firm and cut things down to a reasonable number. You really don't want 8 packets of carrot seeds. One early and one main crop are going to be more than enough.

Don't neglect those half packets you have in the cupboard either. If you've kept them cool, dry and dark many seeds retain their ability to germinate for more than one season. One exception, old parsnip seeds are never any good. Use them or throw them, but saving them is pointless.

Your bean seeds will be good for another year and your carrots and tomatoes will last another beyond that. Most of your brassicas are good for 4 or 5 years and cucumbers 7. We found a packet of courgette seeds once that were 7 years old. As an experiment, I sowed the whole packet and guess what? Yes, they all came up!

Another fun job for December is to write your Christmas list. Do you really need some more socks? No, I thought not.

Now a decent propagator is really useful. I'm the proud owner of a Vitopod Propagator. It really is an amazing piece of kit. Accurate temperature control, controllable ventilation and best of all you can add an extra layer making a tall mini greenhouse. This lets you over-winter plants without heating the whole greenhouse and start things like tomatoes earlier knowing you can protect them through to the warmer weather.

Talking of the greenhouse, the difference between what you can do in a frost-free greenhouse and a cold greenhouse is tremendous. On our allotment the greenhouse doesn't have power but a paraffin heater keeps it snug in a cold spell. The reservoir holds enough fuel to keep it burning for three days, so you're OK if you are away for a day or two.

This is the month where the year changes, the shortest day being the winter solstice on the 21st December so good news, the nights are drawing out and the days are getting longer. It will be time to start sowing before we know it.

Christmas day is when, traditionally, the show growers sow their onions and shallots. Us mere mortals who just hope for a crop for the table, however, can settle down and watch a repeat of a James Bond film on the telly, if we're lucky and don't get the washing up!
Oh, and don't forget to post that seed order.

Copyright © John Harrison 2008
Author of the Best Selling "Vegetable Growing - Month by Month Guide"  and Editor of the Allotment Garden Website: