Stephanie's Kitchen Garden Diary December 2015
It has felt more like Easter than Christmas this month, as the weather has been incredibly mild. Unfortunately the sun has been conspicuous by its absence and we have had lots of grey days and plenty of rain. No sign of a white Christmas in Stephanie’s Kitchen Garden this year.
I consider myself to be an all-weather gardener, rarely put off by what the winter throws at me. However, occasionally I get to the point when I am just fed up with being wet and muddy. Very wet and windy weather also reduces the jobs that can be carried out as digging or walking on saturated soil is a definite no-no. On days such as these, I have retreated into the shed to have a thorough sort out, tidy up and clean. We are a fairly tidy gardening team here in Stephanie’s Kitchen Garden, but we still benefit from an autumn and spring clean. We used the opportunity to take stock of feeds and supplies of pest control and place our order for supplies long before we need them. The shed windows were cleaned and the floors swept and we completed the job by decorating with fairy lights and making a Christmas wreath from a bit of chicken wire, some moss and plant material from all around the garden. It certainly put us in the festive spirit!
Our Sneeboer tools are cleaned everyday after use, before being hung in their designated spot. During the winter months, when the weather is too much to bear, we give them some extra TLC with our maintenance set. On wet days this month, we started this process and will continue it well into the new year.
We’ve made the most of the dry, calmer weather to clear away the many leaves and debris being left on the garden by the winter winds. The trees surrounding the kitchen garden have almost finished shedding their leaves, but a couple of stubborn oak trees are still holding on to a few. As most of the leaf fall is over, we took to our hands and knees with a hand cultivator to remove the leaves that the rakes don’t reach such as those in the bottom of the fruit cage net, tucked under the box hedges or in raised beds. It was time consuming, and I needed good kneeler, but at last the garden is getting back to the neat and tidiness I love. Due to the problem of box blight in the Kitchen Garden, we are not composting our leaves this year, for fear of spreading the disease via the leaf mould that we use as a mulch all around the garden. We will certainly miss the leaf mould next year, but the risk is far too great to take the chance.
Inside the greenhouse, the mild temperatures have kept our chilli plants and winter salads happy. We even have an aubergine plant that is still looking very healthy. However, the light levels are incredibly low due to the time of year along with the dull days, so we have set up our grow light to help keep our winter crops happy until the sunny days return. The bubble wrap and heater are doing a great job of keeping temperatures at a constant comfortable level.
Also this month, we have given our fruit trees their first winter wash of the season. This was applied on a calm, still day and is always a job I carry out at the end of the day. Winter wash does a brilliant job of keeping the trees free of pests and diseases, but I hate the smell of it so I like to be able to clean up and change clothes soon after using it. We will be applying another dose later in February.
Our last job in the garden before Christmas was to harvest our Christmas veg ready for the big day. On the menu are brussel sprouts, parsnips, celeriac and kale, along with potatoes harvested in the autumn and stored. There is nothing quite as decadent as serving your own home grown organic Christmas dinner; a chance to show off the fruits of all your hard work.
At Christmas I always look forward to having a break from the garden, particularly if the weather has been bad. I always enter the festive break with good intentions of taking the chance to have a few days sitting and resting, only to find that come Boxing Day I can bear it no longer and reach for my gardening gloves! This year the itch to be outside will probably be exacerbated by the very mild weather. There are plenty of weeds sprouting and leaves still falling, so there will be no shortage of jobs, and in the new year, there will be much digging and barrowing of manure to be done, so shedding the Christmas weight gain shouldn’t be too much of a problem!
Here are some of the jobs we've got planned for January in Stephanie's Kitchen Garden:
Sow aubergines, celeriac, celery tomatoes and peppers at the end of the month in the heated propagator.
Clean all pots and trays ready for use.
Add well rotted manure or compost to soil.
We're always here to offer help and support. Go to the Ask the Expert section on our website and email Horticultural Advisor Jo Blackwell with your Kitchen Garden queries or Pest Expert Gavin Hatt and they'll do their best to help.
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Our 108 page Autumn catalogue is out now and is packed full of gardening ideas and products to solve the problems every gardener faces, plus plenty more seasonal ideas for harvesting, storage and preserving solutions.
Merry Christmas and a productive New Year!