The leaves this autumn are spectacular. I don’t know about any of you, but I have a tendency to get a bit down towards the end of September. The nights drawing in, everything coming to an end in the garden and the thought of a long, cold, damp winter fills me with dread, gloom and doom.
But once the leaves have turned I force myself out of my sorry state of mind and there is nothing more cheery than a good walk in the local woods. I am lucky enough to live close to Hembury Woods, which skirt the River Dart and is full of many ancient trees. It is predominantly a western oak woodland with a wet alder wood in the valley. There are plenty of silver birch, beech, holly and hazel. The colours alone are so uplifting that the experience of walking amongst these trees really gets me into the spirit of autumn and winter, hot fires and chestnuts, big scarves, thick socks, woolly hats and all those sorts of things.
My point is there are lots of leaves falling off the trees at this time of year. Raking them up is a good idea and why not make some leaf mould which makes a great soil conditioner when left to rot over the winter and ready for the summer.
You don’t want to put leaves onto your compost heap as they are slow to rot down. If you have space, make a separate heap for leaves alone or otherwise a put them in a black plastic sack with holes punched in the bottom.
Some folk rake all the leaves onto the lawn first and then mow them up, which chops them up a bit. You can mix them with some lawn cuttings too to help speed up the rotting process a little. Either way is fine.
Put the leaves in heavy duty black bags. Once filled, pierce the bottom of the sacks and put them in a corner out of the way and by next summer you should have some good leaf mould. This is a great low nutrient soil conditioner and can be spread onto your flower or vegetable beds or added to pots and tubs. It will improve the structure of your soil.
Next gardening blog
I am going to give you tips on putting your gardens to bed for the winter and what you can do in your kitchen gardens to prepare for next year. I will also make suggestions on things to plant now for a spring display.
Throughout December, we’re posting tips, ideas, downloads and recipes on our Facebook page (our version of an advent calendar). Today’s tips come from John, Farm Manager on our farm in Devon. He has put together some tips on looking after plants in your garden over the winter months.
- Lots of winter veg can handle the frost, but it’s better to pull it out of the ground once it’s thawed, so rather than doing it on a frosty morning, wait until the afternoon.
- If you have root veg growing in your garden over winter, you can put straw around the crown of the plant to add some insulation.
- If you are growing celeriac, it’s best to harvest it before Christmas.
- When growing root veg, keep checking the leaves, as once they start to drop off, the veg is less likely to handle hard frost. You can harvest a batch and make a clamp by putting the veg in a small mound and covering with straw and then soil. When you want to eat the vegetables, pull them out and wash them.
- It’s a good idea to use garden fleece on your plants. Cover plants as early as you can to protect them from cold weather.
order garden fleece from Riverford Organic
Most of the veg is perfectly happy under snow; it is less of a problem than a hard frost and can even provide valuable insulation stopping frosts from penetrating into the ground and damaging roots. Picking snow encrusted cabbages can be challenging on the fingers in the morning but the real problem with the snow is getting the veg from us to your doorstep; sorry to those of you have had delayed deliveries this week
Ben worked all weekend and managed to get the last broad beans sown just before the rain came. The ground was still frozen in places making it a battle for the cultivators; not ideal sowing conditions and I would be feeling nervous were it not for the memory of our best broad bean crop ever being forced into a damp frosty seed bed. We now face the war of wits to keep the crows off the field until they are established.
Miserable in the fields this morning as we return to the normal warm, wet and muddy Devon winter. Beetroot bunches just too muddy to be acceptable for the boxes and all had to be hosed off in the yard. Very short of greens for the boxes; still feeling the effects of a poor growing year followed by a cold winter. Ongoing debate with the co-op members about what constitutes an acceptable green cabbage. Think we will agree to pay less and double up the small ones in the boxes rather than hope that they will grow on the field and risk losing them.
Off to France tomorrow to finalise the purchase of our farm in the Vendee and to look at the crop trials we are doing there. All being well we will be growing early crops there for the veg boxes next year. Didier, the retiring farmer, has become so enthused by the project that he is staying on as a partner.
2009 has started as 2008 ended; dry and bitterly cold. Not that we are complaining; it takes a while in the morning to get some of the older vehicles and younger staff going, but most pickers would choose cold and dry over warm and wet, provided the task at hand is fairly vigorous. It is a bonus to be able to walk cultivated ground in January without carrying ten pounds of mud on each boot and without having to be hosed down at the end of the day.
The frosts have got right down to our normally protected coastal fields; even the rock pools were frozen yesterday. Some of our less experienced co-op members are sweating a bit seeing their cabbage, leek, cauli and sprouting broccoli all frozen like iron. The last few nights have been minus six which would have been a disaster had it arrived suddenly on wet ground and soggy leaves. Plants are much better able to deal with a severe frost that builds slowly and arrives on dry ground. Provided the thaw is equally gradual I am confident the only casualties will be the cauliflowers that were starting to open, exposing some curd.
The most immediate problem for us is getting the stuff picked; you would need dynamite or a Kango hammer to extract leeks this morning. Picking frozen leaves is painful for our staff and risky for the veg; sometimes it will thaw out in transit well but sometimes it just slumps into a slime, so we are generally delaying picking until lunchtime. By then most of the frost has left all but the north-facing fields but this doesn’t leave enough daylight to get everything picked.