Putting the beds to bed

With the nights drawing in, the weather getting chillier, and the simple fact that I’m a bit of a fair-weather gardener, I’ve started to wind down the garden for winter.

The onion sets have already thrown up some green shoots, and I’ll plant garlic next month – so these should be well established by spring.

All that’s left growing in the beds now are leeks and celery, which I’ll harvest for as long as I can. I’ve tidied up the other areas, and I’ll cover any bare patches of soil up until spring. Last year I planted green manure to grow through the cold months. This should have protected the soil, stopped all the nutrients being washed away, and provided me with some lovely nitrogen-rich plants to dig in once spring arrived. Slight problem with that idea: the manure germinated and grew, I let the chickens out, and they promptly scoffed the lot. So this year I’m covering the bare soil up.

Chicken having a scratch in the vegetable patch

Chicken having a scratch in the vegetable patch

Onto each bed has gone a good layer of comfrey, a generous helping of hen house scrapings and the contents of the compost bins.  I’ve then put strips of old carpet on the very top. I’m hoping that the organic stuff will rot down and nourish the soil ready for next year’s crops. Not only that, but the carpet should help warm the soil up earlier, giving me a head start. Well… that’s the plan…

The last of the chillies and tomatoes have been ripening in the greenhouse, and the benches are looking decidedly bare now. I’ve used the space to sow some trays of broad beans and early peas in there, and will plant them out as soon as winter is over. You can sow the seeds straight into the garden to grow through winter, but last year most of mine got whipped out and eaten by mice: hopefully being under cover will offer a bit more protection.

Earthed up leeks

Earthed up leeks

Having said that, the broad beans I cut down earlier in the year have actually sprouted again, and the jury is out regarding their fate. Some gardeners have informed me that these plants are never likely to be top croppers. Others say they will be better as they will be more established. I’ve decided to leave them alone and see what happens: if all fails I have my reserves growing in the greenhouse.

The last job of the year will be to dig up, trim the foliage, and store the runner bean plants in a cool dark place – apparently they should regrow next year.

So with the garden tidied and some of next year’s crops taken care of, there’s nothing left to do but hang up my trusty trowel and retreat to the warmth of the house.

From there, I can keep a gentle eye on the garden, with a glass of something yummy, whilst flicking through the seed catalogue for next year’s goodies.

My perfect idea of winter gardening…

This one appeared in The Hinckley Times on 31 October 2013

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Spuds galore

This week I’ve harvested my first crop of new potatoes. The flowers have just begun to form, and yes, I know you shouldn’t dig them up until they have finished flowering, but I just couldn’t wait to see what was under the ground. I was delighted to find enough decent sized spuds to slap around our evening meal: I’m probably biased, but they were truly delicious. Now my curiosity has been satisfied, I’ll leave the rest alone for a couple of weeks.

Potatoes, peas and beans from the garden

Potatoes, peas and beans from the garden

We’ve also had our first crop of peas. True, there was only a small spoonful each, but they were fresh and tasty and looking at the forming pods, we will be in for a few more.

And that’s not all. Turning my attention to the rest of the plot, it all seems to have suddenly gone bonkers. I’ve got cabbage leaves coming out of my ears, so much so that I couldn’t physically make and store that amount of soup – so the chickens are receiving cabbagy treats. Which they love.

The first tiny courgettes are also beginning to form, as are the broad bean pods. I reckon we will be sampling those in just a couple more weeks. I’m also thrilled to report that some of the runner beans are now as tall as me, and look as though they may burst into flower any time now.

The greenhouse has produced the first tiny tomatoes, and I’ve been watering those and the cucumbers with comfrey tea.

To make the tea, I stuffed a load of comfrey leaves into a couple of old pop socks, tied up the tops and dangled them in the water butt to stew for a couple of weeks. I think the solution is ready to use, purely by the smell of it. Comfrey tea is funny stuff. You think that it’s pretty harmless, but once it’s out of the watering can, the stench jumps up and near on slaps you around the face. But it’s full of good stuff for the plants so I’ll have to get used to the greenhouse smelling like rush hour on the tube. Whilst on the comfrey theme, I’ve tucked a handful of leaves into the top of each grow bag hole. These should rot down gently and give the plants another vitamin hit.

All this feeding and tending is now for a purpose. I’ve had my programme for the Earl Shilton Town Show on 31 August at Age UK. There are loads of categories up for grabs including onions, beans, courgettes, cauliflowers and tomatoes –and that’s just the vegetable bit. There are sections for flower arrangements, home produce, crafts and a whole raft of things that children can enter. Programmes are available from Earl Shilton Town Council, and at only 20p per entry, watch out… I’m going for gold.

This one appeared in The Hinckley Times on 4 July 2013

The Hinckley Times 4 July 2013

The Hinckley Times 4 July 2013

Comfrey

Leafing through my gardening book earlier in the year, I came across a plant that would seem to be every gardener’s dream come true.

It’s not edible, or strikingly beautiful, but it contains nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus (or in layman’s terms, nutrients that plants LOVE).

The secret is all in the roots. Apparently they go really deep, and mine up a load of good stuff from way down in the soil, which is then stored in the leaves.

You can then do a number of things with comfrey leaves:

  1. Lay them on the soil around plants: they will gradually rot down and release food into the soil
  2. Chuck some in the compost bin: a two or three inch layer will give the bin a quick blast of energy
  3. Dangle some in your water butt: it turns the water into a miracle juice that’s a quick pick me up for tomatoes, cucumbers and beans.

Comfrey

I was sold! I imagined the day when the compost bin was a veritable furnace of energy, the tomatoes were tripping on nitrogen intake, and I’d have a never-ending supply of comfrey tea in the water butt. Added to that, the little flowers would attract bees and insects – I’d be a fool not to!

My book said to look for a variety called Bocking 14, as this one apparently won’t seed itself all over the place and you shouldn’t have to spend the rest of your living days digging it up.  A quick rootle round on the t’interweb turned up a supplier, and the plants arrived shortly after.

The blurb said to put it in a spot where it wouldn’t be moved about, and it was advisable to wear gloves when handling… at this point I did wonder if I was purely introducing a posh nettle to the garden.

A location was swiftly found, and the plants went in a spot at the back of the veg plot. They’d be nicely out of the way of any ‘brush past’ incidents, and they could stay there forever to mature into fine old specimens.

After the plants had established themselves and started to grow with gusto, I decided to make some of that there comfrey tea. Donning my gloves, I pulled a load of the larger, lower leaves off and with a piece of garden netting, made a giant teabag to hang in the water butt.

After a couple of weeks, it was beginning to work its magic. The water was coming out a greeny colour, and everything I’ve watered with it seems to be romping along. The only downside is that it smells like a wrestler’s armpit. There’s a certain breathing whilst watering knack to be deployed, but that’s a small price to pay for miracle juice.

Comfrey tea and a scone anyone?

Comfrey